Saturday, April 28, 2012

Screen Time Limits Ensure Better Early Childhood Growth & Development


Our children are growing up in a technological world.  Everywhere we look there are screens – television, computers, video games, tablets, smart phones.  Most technology related businesses spend a great deal of time marketing educational activities to parents.  They claim that your children can learn a great deal from spending time in front of screens with educational programming, games and software.  They do not, however, inform you that research is increasingly proving that screen time is detrimental to early childhood development and growth.

Just as preschools try to lure people with technology, the State of New Jersey has proposed regulations for early childhood centers significantly limiting screen time – and well they should.  As far back as 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published recommendations regarding screen time.  The Academy recommends no screen time for infants and toddlers.  They recommend that preschool age children and older should have a maximum of two hours of total screen time per day.  That total includes school and home use of televisions, computers and other video equipment. 

Most people realize that sedentary activities like sitting in front of a television or computer are contributing factors in the fight against childhood obesity.  The use of that technology also limits cognitive growth and language development.  A study from 2007 showed that the more television a baby watches, the fewer words he/she actually learns.  Parroting words seen on television or video is not the same as learning words that have meaning to them.  Early childhood experts agree that babies learn to speak with purpose from interacting with people and not from television shows or video games.  Marketing videos as educational was legally challenged in 2009 when, under threat from a class action law suit, Disney began offering refunds for Baby Einstein videos.

As children enter the preschool years, socialization and building knowledge become priorities.  Sitting preschool students in front of computer or other screens limits the amount of time they interact with peers.   

Young children cannot learn about sharing, for example, from songs and skits.  They need to experience taking turns and using items together.  They need to discover what it feels like to wait, be kind or receive kindness. 

Screen time also limits the human interaction that teaches them essential skills such as non-verbal communication.  Cartoon characters and puppets cannot teach children about the importance of eye contact or the expression on someone’s face when they are happy, angry or afraid.   Studies show that the inability to interpret and use appropriate non-verbal clues impacts social success in both children and adults.

Fine and gross motor skills are not developed properly by the use of technology.  Children cannot develop a strong pincer grip by pushing buttons or tracing with one finger on a screen.  Those muscles are developed best by holding writing implements and working with up and down strokes while painting or drawing on an easel.   The use of handheld video games also does not encourage children to make gross motor motions that cross the midline of their bodies.  When children cross the midline with large movements that cross limbs to the other side of their bodies, both hemispheres of the brain are accessed and developed. 

Preschools can limit screen time.  In New Jersey, they will be required to by law, but what is a parent to do?  Your homes are bombarded with this technology.  There are a few things you can do to turn passive activities into active ones.  When your children are watching television, watch with them.  Talk about and ask questions about what you are watching.  If using video games, use those that encourage physical rather than sedentary activities.  Use car rides to develop listening skills by using books on tape rather than DVDs.  Always keep in mind that nothing can help your child grow and develop better than hands-on, interactive, independent play in nature and with people.


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Part 2: Burnout Among Young Learners – Early Childhood and Over-Scheduling


Note: This is the second installment of a two part series. Read the first part on this blog.

Enrollment isn’t a term used solely by schools anymore.  It seems like everyone wants to enroll young children in something – dance, music, swimming, drama, organized sports, art.  The list is endless.  The number of organized activities available for children as young as toddlers is startling.  They run from one place to another all day long with little or no downtime.    Children as young as toddlers have schedules that look more like adult calendars that that of 2 year olds.  It is no wonder that this over-scheduling is a contributing factor to the burn out that we are seeing in elementary school students. 

What happens to these over-scheduled preschool and elementary school students?  According to Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, former head of child psychiatry at Stanford University and author of The Over-Scheduled Child, “"By the time they reach high school, they are bored and burned out… their parents have the well-meaning idea that the right way to parent is to over-schedule them, with hopes of keeping them busy, active, and out of trouble."  They are bored not only because they have been involved in activities for so many years but also because the endless organized activities have led to the expectation that they will be entertained all the time.  By the time they reach high school, students have forgotten how to explore and create.  We need to revisit the activity level of our youngest students to prevent this from happening.

When I speak with preschool parents about the importance of children having time to play, they tell me that they do play.  Some parents point out how much fun they have at dance or acting or sports.   Activities organized by adults to meet adult goals are not play.  Other parents tell me that they enjoy playing with video games or on the computer.  Sedentary activities in front of a screen are not play.  Play is child created and not adult driven.   Play is the way children explore and develop an understanding of their world.  It is an essential part of proper brain development and uses all of our senses.  I remember many an afternoon as a child in front yards and backyards.  I remember laying on the grass watching amazing ants carry things twice their own size.  I remember children riding bikes and feeling the wind in their hair.  I remember setting up toys and pretending.  Play helps children to learn critical thinking skills, develop self-esteem and become confident decision makers.  Children cannot do that while they are meeting the objectives of other people who measure their own success by the children’s ability to perform or to get a high score.

There needs to be a balance between learning to participate in group activities and having time to think.  As soon as an adult says “here is how we will do this,” the children stop thinking.  They just begin to follow instructions.  Following instructions and trying to achieve goals has its place.  Free time has to have its place, too.  Children need time when pressure is not imposed from outside them.  Don’t you need that time?  After a long day of work, don’t you sometimes need to just be left to do things that are not meant to please anyone but yourself?  If you need that – and we all do – then so do our young children. 

That balance needs to take place at home as well as at school.  Preschool schedules should reflect a balance of teacher directed and child directed activities.  At home, make sure to add free play time to your daily schedule.  Block off some time to allow your children to slow down, think, and build upon their own knowledge through exploration.


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Part 1 - Burnout Among Young Learners – Early Childhood and Academics


A friend recently emailed an article to me that he thought I would find interesting.  The article was about overachieving students and their rate of burnout.  I immediately thought of my college age son who is double concentrating within his major and, therefore, overloading on credits.  I also thought of my high school age son who is cringing at the thought of PSAT, SAT and college application time.  I began reading the article and discovered that it didn’t apply to either of my children.  It was, in fact, about overachieving elementary school students and their rate of burnout by the 5th grade. 

What are we doing to our children?  According a 2006 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Parents are receiving carefully marketed messages that good parents expose their children to every opportunity to excel ... and ensure their children participate in a wide variety of activities.”  The pressure to have children excel has only increased in the past 5 years.

As an early childhood education professional, I see the signs of this need to have children excel every day.  Parents of 2 year olds are concerned about how much success preschools will guarantee in regard to reading and writing.  Children are enrolled in activity after activity with their peers and we often note pre-k students comparing themselves to others.  Competition seems a part of their everyday life both in academics and recreation, from the time they are too young to remember any other way.

We can simply bemoan the pressure placed upon children or we can try to understand its origins to see what we can do to mitigate it.  Most people would agree that the increasing rate of burnout in elementary school is unacceptable.  We have 7, 8 and 9 year olds showing signs of stress, depression and fatigue.  How did we get here?  To really examine the cause of the pressure on the youngest students, we must discuss two distinct areas of their lives – school based activities and recreational activities.   The current state of each is reflective of our ever changing world but each has its own origins.  Thus, the topic requires a two part discussion.  Let’s begin with academics.

With college admissions becoming more competitive and increased emphasis on annual standardized test scores, we seem to have forgotten some very basic facts about how children learn best.  The pressure begins early – in early childhood centers.  We cannot open up children’s heads and pour information into them.  Children have to be developmentally ready to receive the information.  Our youngest learners, those in early childhood settings through 3rd grade, learn best by building their knowledge through experience.  They are not at their best when placed in front of endless workbooks.  They are at their best when exploring their world.  They are most receptive to new information when all of their senses are engaged in learning.  Jean Piaget, a cognitive psychologist whose studies have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of child development, taught that when you attempt to teach a child something before they are developmentally ready,  you deprive the child of the opportunity to understand it completely.  Children can memorize facts and figures but that doesn’t mean that they have a deeper understanding of the information they are regurgitating.   A child can count to 1000 but not understand the meaning of the number 3.  A child can put sounds together to read but be unable to demonstrate meaningful comprehension. 

We give children the best chance of later success when we recognize that everyone develops at different rates and we allow them an environment that encourages individual growth & fosters their curiosity.   It is fine to expose 4 & 5 year olds to tracing letters and recognizing beginning sounds but to expect or guarantee mastery by every child of that age is simply unrealistic.  Studies show that the majority of student’s abilities level off by 3rd grade.  I promise that no college has ever called me for preschool transcripts.  Parents face just one question – What do you want your child’s experience to be at the age of 2, 3 or 4 years old?  A child who is developmentally ready to read at age 4 does not realistically have a better chance of college acceptance by age 18.  A lot can happen in those 14 years.  Many things happen that you cannot control.  You have little or no control over the pressure placed on students in the elementary schools to produce acceptable standardized test scores.  You can, however, determine the experience that your child will have in the preschool years.  Do you want your child to have a love of learning that will be the foundation for future school experiences?  That love of learning comes from an early childhood environment that fosters self-esteem, decision making, exploration and curiosity.  It comes from preschools with realistic, age appropriate goals.  I encourage you to seek out a preschool environment that has as its goal providing your child with a well-rounded start to a lifetime filled with a love of learning.

Coming soon….Part 2:  Burnout Among Young Learners – Overscheduling and Competition

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Do Your Rules Make Sense?


Children live in a world in which they often have little control.  Rules abound.  Some rules are for their safety.  Some are to ensure good health.  Rules can be the only thing standing between us and utter chaos.  Sometimes, however, rules we impose on children have no real purpose and impede their creativity.  As the Director of Schools at Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, it is my job to determine which rules are important and which rules make no sense.  Think about what we impose on children when we say:

  • “Don’t mix the Play Doh.”  - Why?  Why can’t children mix the Play Doh?  For some reason, adults have decided that the Play Doh must stay segregated – one color per can.  After all, if we mix it how will we know which lid to put on the can?  Think about how much children learn when they mix the Play Doh.  They learn that when you combine colors, you get a different color.  They learn that the consistency won’t change even though the color does.  At The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom, we mix the Play Doh.  I admit it.  I am that crazy school director who has banned the “Don’t Mix the Play Doh Rule.”  The children still enjoy using the substance.  When it dries out, which it do anyway, we simply replace it.  No harm done.
  • “Don’t peel the paper off of the crayon.” – Why?  Why does the crayon have to have a wrapper?  The ability of the crayon to be used for coloring is not impeded by the lack of a wrapper.  Chances are that the children using the crayons are not reading the name of the color.  They are looking at the crayon to determine if it is or is not the color they need. The wrapper is really an advertisement to help adults remember which company produced the crayon.  It is a means of keeping their brand in the forefront of your mind.  Keep the wrapper.  Peel the wrapper.  It really doesn’t matter because the crayon still works.
  • “You must say ‘I’m sorry’” – What do the words “I’m sorry” mean? What impact does it have on a child when they are forced to use those words?  I submit that the words “I’m sorry” are meaningless to young children.   Those two words are actually far less meaningful than asking a child to say that they will not do something again.  If a child pushes a friend, it is important to discuss how pushing can hurt someone.  Rather than say “I’m sorry,” ask the child to tell the friend that he/she will not push again.  If a child grabs a toy from a friend, it is more meaningful to ask the child to say, “I will not take the toy from you again.”  Even as adults we admit that once you do something offensive, “I’m sorry” doesn’t take it back and it doesn’t repair the damage.  Teaching children to think about their behavior will be a lesson that will last much longer than the use of two words that lack substance.  I do agree that use of these words is a social convention that is hard to avoid.  If you do feel that your child should say “I’m sorry,” be sure to add the expected behavior to the statement.  I’m sorry.  I will make the next paragraph shorter.
 When teaching children in a classroom or interacting with your children at home, take the time to consider the adult concepts we impose on our youth.  Rules should have a logical reason for existing.  They should help children make sense of their world.  Do the rules you impose ensure health, safety and make sense?


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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