accomplishments · RESEARCH · slice of life

Save the Purple Ones!

Have you ever heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? It was a research study about delayed gratification, self-control, and willpower.  Here’s more about it:

It began in the early 1960s at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, where Mischel and his graduate students gave children the choice between one reward (like a marshmallow, pretzel, or mint) they could eat immediately, and a larger reward (two marshmallows) for which they would have to wait alone, for up to 20 minutes. Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the Bing preschoolers and found that children who had waited for the second marshmallow generally fared better in life. For example, studies showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index (BMI) 30 years after their initial Marshmallow Test. Researchers discovered that parents of “high delayers” even reported that they were more competent than “instant gratifiers”—without ever knowing whether their child had gobbled the first marshmallow (Retrieved from on 3/13/15.)

So what does this have to do with my kid?  Well, I’ll tell you.  While she can be impulsive (She’s four!), I think she’d wait the 20 minutes for the two marshmallows.  Here’s why:

Isabelle’s favorite color is purple.  Last summer, she wore purple nearly ever day.  (The only days she didn’t wear it was when I needed to do laundry.)  She has a purple winter coat, purple backpack, and purple quilt.  Even her lunchbox carrier is purple!  Purple, purple, purple!

IMG_1764Every day, Isabelle selects a Flintstone’s Vitamin to take. They come in three colors: orange, pink, and purple.  When she started taking Flintstone’s vitamins, she would select the purple ones.  Then the pink.  Finally, her bottle was filled with orange ones.  She didn’t like the color of them, but she ate them anyway.  (Little does she know my mother allowed me not to eat the orange ones when I was a kid because I claimed I didn’t like them.)  She didn’t like getting to the end of the bottle with just orange vitamins left. On her own, she developed a mantra in late December in an effort to make sure she had purple vitamins by the end of the bottle.  I’d present her with the several vitamins in the cap and I’d let her choose one.  Suddenly, she began saying “Save the purple ones!”  And wouldn’t you know it?  The last bottle of vitamins she finished ended with a purple one.  Her favorite.

The “save the purple” mentality continues.  It’s interesting to shake out a few vitamins into the cap every day to see which one she’ll pick.  Inevitably, she always selects a pink or orange one since she wants to save the purple ones.  But this morning, her hands had food in them when I came over with her vitamins.  I said, “tell me with your voice.”  She tried to put her banana and napkin down, but she looked like she couldn’t move fast enough.  So instead she blurted out, “purple.”  I was shocked.  I’m wondering if having she choose purple since I told her to pick with her voice, not with her fingers today.  Or maybe she felt she had picked enough pink and orange ones this week so she could treat herself to a purple one.  Whatever the reason is, I am still confident she’d pass that marshmallow test.

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RESEARCH · technology · Waldorf Education

Screen Free Week is Coming!

Screen Free Week is an annual celebration from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), which encourages “turning off screens and turning on life.”  CCFC’s Screen Free Week begins on Monday April 29th and lasts through Sunday, May 5th.  It’s a response to public health concerns about the amount of time children spend with consuming screen media (e.g., computers, smart phones, television, and video games).  Isabelle’s screen usage is already well below the average American preschooler’s, which some studies studies estimate between 4.1 to 4.6 hours per day*.  (Including multi-tasking, children 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours per day with screens*!)  I credit Waldorf philosophy with the fact she spends no more than an hour (Two hours two days a week when I let her watch “Sesame Street,” plus an occasional half hour watching “CBS This Morning” with me a couple of mornings a week when I’m just craving information.) in front of a screen each day.  And that time is in front of an iPad doing expressive and receptive language activities alongside me.  Therefore, instead of those couple of hours of “Sesame Street” during Screen Free Week, I’m vowing to spend a bit more time outside.  I’ll also be sure I wake up a full hour earlier than Isabelle during all of Screen Free Week so I have ample time to watch the news before she wakes up.  As usual, Isabelle and I will read a lot together.

Random House Children’s Books is issuing an UNPLUG & READ Challenge during Screen Free Week.  It was inspired by Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged , which is about a robot who discovers real life experiences trump virtual ones. I’m delighted this blog will be one of the stops on Random House’s UNPLUG & READ Blog Tour on Thursday, April 25th, which is when I’ll review Doug Unplugged.  

While it’s not feasible for me to eradicate all screen usage that week because of consulting and blog-related commitments, I will be lessen my media consumption that week so I can get outside to draw (which I haven’t done since we moved to PA almost four years ago!), spend more time reading books and in favor of my writer’s notebook as opposed to writing on my computer.

Looking to decrease your child’s media consumption during Screen Free Week? Click here for the UNPLUG & READ Parent Guide.

*=Random House Children’s Books provided me with the above-mentioned statistics.
media · RESEARCH · Waldorf Education

Does watching televeision harm children as readers?

This month, in the Parent/Child Program my daughter and I attend twice a week, we are studying the topic of media and its role in our children’s lives.  My daughter’s teacher provided us with an article by Susan R. Johnson, M.D. entitled “Strangers in Our Homes: TV and Our Children’s Minds.”  This article provided me with a better understanding of how the brain works and why exposure to television is harmful to young children.

I have to admit, I do allow my daughter to watch some TV.  She watches about 30  minutes of “The Today Show” alongside me as we get ready in the mornings.  As cute as it is that she waves back at the crowds in NY when she watches “The Today Show,” I’m realizing that we probably don’t need to have the TV on at all.  (Therefore, it’s up to me to wake up well before her so I can get ready with the TV on so that I can get my fill of news for the day.)  In addition, I let her watch an episode of “Sesame Street” a few days of the week.  However, reading the articles my daughter’s teacher has provided us with has made me rethink the amount of TV she watches.  In fact, I’ve even turned off “Sesame Street” this week, which I usually let her watch while I cooked dinner.  I’m scaling back because I am beginning to truly understand why television is harmful to children.  (The AAP’s statement on media consumption before two didn’t resonate with me as much as this article did since it explained why children need that human interaction, which my daughter does get lots of, rather than the screen time.)

There was a portion of Dr. Johnson’s article that made the literacy specialist in me take note.  She wrote:

Our visual system, “the ability to search out, scan, focus, and identify whatever comes in the visual field” (Buzzell 1998), is impaired by watching TV.  These visual skills are also the ones that need to be developed for effective reading.  Children watching TV do not dilate their pupils, show little to no movement of their eyes (i.e., stare at the screen), and lack the normal saccadic movements of the eyes (a jumping from one line of print to the next) that is critical for reading.  The lack of eye movement when watching television is a problem because reading requires the eyes to continually move from left to right across the page.  The weakening of eye muscles from lack of use can’t help but negatively impact the ability and effort required to read.  In addition, our ability to focus and pay attention relies on this visual system.  Pupil dilation, tracking and following are all part of the reticular activating system.  The RAS is the gateway to the right and left hemispheres.  It determines what we pay attention to and is related to the child’s ability to concentrate and focus.  The RAS is not operating well when a child watches television.  A poorly integrated lower brain can’t properly access the higher brain (Johnson, 1999, 5).

If I want my daughter to be a successful reader, then I have to do more than model positive reading behaviors and read her stories.  I have come to realize that I must limit the amount of time she spends in front of the TV.  While I don’t think I’m going to go cold turkey on TV with her, I now know that I am doing her more harm than good by having it on.

bedtime stories · picture books · RESEARCH · Three Books Before Bedtime · Waldorf Education

How many books should we read to children at bedtime?

I’m reading a fantastic book about children’s development my daughter’s Waldorf teacher lent us. It’s Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing our children from birth to seven by Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley (Michaelmas, 2000). This book is helping me reimagine how we live and work as a family.

This morning I read the chapter on play and there is something the authors included that I can’t out of my head. The literacy specialist in me was completely taken aback by the following passage:

“There is a lot I could say about books. But basically, children love to be read to and love to hear stories told to them. It is good to have some books with pictures and some without. Children like the opportunity to picture their own scenes, to do their own internal imagining. At night, don’t read too many books in a row before bedtime because there will be too many images in their heads. It can give children a kind of mental indigestion that they take into their sleep. It is very rewarding to alternate story reading with storytelling, either from your own adventures as a child or from a tale you have taken the time to memorize (69).”

It never occurred to me to that multiple books before bedtime would fill a child’s head with too many images. I try to read Isabelle three books before bedtime. Sometimes she’s not in the mood and we only get through one. Other times she keeps handing me board books and picture books out of her book baskets to the point where I have to say, “just one more,” before putting her down for the night. I can’t imagine limiting the picture book reading we do now or in the future unless I do some additional research to support the author’s assertion.

That being said, I know that watching television and using a computer before bedtime (as an adult) can interfere with sleep. There was a recent article in The NY Times about this. Even though I’ve never thought of books with pictures before bedtime as a way of causing “mental indigestion” in children, there is something important to glean from what is said in the book. If my child were having sleep issues (which I’m thankful she doesn’t have and hope she never will), then I would consider limiting. However, if one’s child is sleeping well, why limit books before bedtime?

nonfiction · RESEARCH · TCRWP

Embedded Text Structures

Text structures help you pay attention to books in a different way. Natalie Louis, one of my section leaders at the TCRWP Reading Institute, spent a lot of time teaching us that understanding nonfiction text structures can help kids to organize their thinking about their reading.

The seven text structures that entire books, chapters, or sections of books can have are:
1). Question/Answer
2). Lists
3). Categories
4). Problem/Solution
5). Process
6). Cause & Effect
7). Compare & Contrast

As a result of today’s session, I’m going to start paying greater attention to the text structures of the nonfiction books I buy and read aloud to Isabelle. I know that many of the nonfiction board books we have in our home are question/answer and list types of books. I’m now going to be more intentional about looking for a greater variety of text structures when I seek out nonfiction books for our home.

nonfiction · RESEARCH

Another plug for nonfiction

I blogged about the importance of balancing nonfiction books with fiction books (and poetry) in our home library.  Just when it was beginning to slip my mind, I remembered an opinion piece I recently came across from The New York Times about the importance of kids reading nonfiction for summer reading.  Though my little one is years away from summer reading book lists, I thought it was worthy of sharing a link to the piece in this forum.

Some Books Are More Equal Than Others

By Claire Needell Hollander

Sun., 6/24/12

critical literacy · meme · parenting books · raising strong girls · RESEARCH

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

This week I’m participating in Book Journey‘s “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” Meme.  Last week I did the one over at Teach Mentor Texts, which I plan to do a lot.  However, since I just finished a non-children’s book that I’m longing to blog about, I figured the Book Journey Meme would be more appropriate.

Several months ago a like-minded mom tagged me in a post on Facebook with a link to Peggy Orenstein‘s book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.  I pre-ordered it on Amazon and then let it sit on my bookshelf for way too many months.  I finally had made the time to read it last week and I’m thankful I did because it’s armed me with the information I need to guide my daughter through the things she’s going to encounter as she matures.  When I say “things” I mean things like princess mania, making sure she plays with girls and boys so she develops healthy friendships with members of both sexes, everything surrounding the color pink (e.g., toys, clothes), body image, the way girls are portrayed in the media, consumerism, navigating cyberspace and social networks, etc.  That list, which is not inclusive of everything Orenstein discusses, can make one’s head spin!  However, I have come to believe that the only way I can help my daughter make smart choices as she navigates through all of these things is by understanding what’s coming down the pike.

Right now Isabelle is a “toddler.”  I put toddler in quotes since I learned that toddler is not a term that deals with the psychological development of children.  “[A]ccording to Daniel Cook, a historian of childhood consumerism,  it was popularized as a marketing gimmick by clothing manufacturers in the 1930’s.  … It was only after ‘toddler’ became common shoppers’ parlance that it evolved into a broadly accepted developmental stage” (36).  So really, I still have a baby on my hands!  A baby my husband and I must guide through this ever-changing, complex world where she will encounter provocative messages and images.  Some people might say, “Don’t worry about cyberbulling and the effect of the way Miley Cyrus dresses now.  She’s just a baby!”  And you know what, they’re partially right.  I don’t really have to worry about it now.  However, princess mania is going to start between the ages of two and three, which is just ’round the corner, so I’m thinking about how to deal with it before the madness begins.

Throughout the book, Orenstein shares excerpts of conversations with her daughter, Daisy.  I noticed Orenstein often asked Daisy open-ended questions and got her thinking more deeply about the messages and reasons behind the way someone acted, why someone said something, or what something could mean.  Their conversations reflect thoughtful discussions and are similar to the work we teach students to do under the umbrella of critical literacy.  (Here’s a link to a PDF I used with my fifth graders, who are finishing 11th grade this month, to help them ask questions of texts.  It was compiled using a articles by Barbara Comber and a book by Stephanie R. Jones, that dealt with critical literacy.)  What I took from the constant conversations Orenstein and her daughter had is that you have to do more than just keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your child.   Part of my job in raising a literate human being will be to constantly push her to think critically about things she encounters in her daily life.  As Orenstein says in the final chapter, “Girl Power — No Really,” of the book that “involves staying close but not crowding them, standing firm in one’s values while remaining flexible” (192).

Cinderella Ate My Daughter should be mandatory reading for every mother of a girl.  To me, it’s like a manual for raising a strong, healthy, confident girl in the 21st century.  It’s a book I’ve discussed with my husband and would like him to read. (Right now he’s reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, as well as Derek Jeter’s new book.  Next up I want him to read Blessing of a Skinned Knee.  After he finishes that, I’m certainly having him put Cinderella Ate My Daughter on his Kindle!)  This book is one  my mother and mother-in-law want to read after hearing me talk about it so they, too, can help Isabelle on her journey towards being a self-reliant and happy woman.  Cinderella Are My Daughter is the kind of book I foresee myself returning to again and again as I guide Isabelle through the various stages of her life.

picture books · read aloud · RESEARCH

Creating a Balanced Home Library

Elementary school classrooms should have a balance between fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in the classroom library.  This gives students a wide variety of books to choose from and shows them that all kinds of reading is valued in the classroom.  In addition, the read alouds teachers do with children should be balanced too.  If teachers just read fiction to students, then it sends a clear message that only stories are valued.  Conversely, if the read alouds are too heavy on the informational side, then children don’t get the chance to lose themselves in a story.

Barbara Moss, Susan Leone, and Mary Lou DiPillo published “Exploring the Literature of Fact: Linking Reading and Writing through Information Trade Books” in Language Arts (October 1997).  They asserted:

If children are to become familiar with well-written exposition, they must have up-to-date information trade books available in the classroom.  Such books should constitute approximately one-fourth to one-half of the classroom library collection at every grade level.  Information books selected should address a wide range of topics and encompass many different levels of difficulty.

Book selections should be made on the basis of the “five A’s”: a) authority of the author; b) the accuracy of the text content; c) the appropriateness of the book for children d) the literary artistry; and e) the appearance of the book (420).

Finding that balance isn’t easy, especially when budgets are tight!  However, finding quality nonfiction texts for children is of paramount importance.

I recently looked over the list of books I read aloud to my students during my final year as a full-time classroom teacher.  It was not balanced.  In fact, it was heavy on the fiction side.  No one ever encouraged me to take stock of my read alouds to ensure they were balanced between narrative and exposition.  While I’m not proud of the lopsided nature of this book list, I know there’s something I can learn from it as a parent.

The book spines say it all!

After re-reading the article for the grad course I’m teaching, I took stock of the picture books that are in my daughter’s play room.  As I suspected, they’re predominately fiction!  (Thankfully, her board book are a bit more balanced in terms of being informative, rather than just stories.)  Therefore, I am now going to make a concerted effort to locate and purchase quality nonfiction books (using Moss et. al.’s five A’s criterion) for her at-home library.  Ensuring that she has a balanced diet of books at home is one of many ways I can make sure she is well-prepared not just as a reader, but as a well-rounded person.

read aloud · RESEARCH

Read Aloud Commandments from Mem Fox

Earlier this afternoon my daughter picked through books in one of her bedroom book baskets.  She paged through them on her own in an effort to read independently.

I’ve been spending a lot of time away from my computer due to some issues I’ve been having with my wrists and hands when I type.  Alas, I had to work on an author study PowerPoint today, for the graduate course I’m teaching next month, which means I’m back on the computer.  Therefore, I figured I’d take a few minutes to blog about something interesting I came across as I was preparing a segment of my lecture on Mem Fox.

My students will be reading Carol Gilles’ Talking about Books “Mem’s the word”: Examining the Writing of Mem Fox (2000) prior to a class discussion on Mem Fox as a writer and as a mentor author for children.  As I was preparing the Mem Fox part of the lecture, I was on her website and came across her Ten Read-Aloud Commandments.  It’s a FANTASTIC list that everyone who reads to children should examine closely.  Here are three highlights that resonated with me as a mom (rather than as an educator):

MEM SAYS:  Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.

I THINK:  This is spot-on advice.  If you commit to reading three stories a day to your child, starting tomorrow, then it will take you less than a year (333 days) to share 1,000 stories with your child.

MEM SAYS:  Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

I THINK:  Even as an adult, there’s nothing worse than listening to a dull read aloud.  Whenever a reader’s voice goes flat, I loose interest almost immediately.

To that end, I remember watching “Three Men and a Baby” back in the 80’s.  Peter, played by Tom Selleck, was reading Mary an issue of Sports Illustrated aloud.  One of his roommates questioned why he was reading a baby a sports magazine.  He said, “It’s the tone of your voice that matters, because she doesn’t understand the words anyway.”  As babies grow into toddlers who do understand what’s being said an animated read aloud matters!

MEM SAYS: Please read aloud every day, mums and dads, because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.

I THINK:  How true this is!  I would hope all parents know they should read aloud to their kids daily.  However, transmitting a love of reading to one’s child is different than going through the motions and reading a book to a child at bedtime.  In order to make read aloud time fun at home, it’s so important to find books that YOU love, as an adult, to make this time work for you as well as for your child.

captions · comprehension · RESEARCH · vocabulary development

Turn the Captions On

Every now and then I like to write notes to the FutureMe.  Essentially they’re a high-tech way of holding myself accountable in the future.  After reading “Using Captioned Media as Mentor Expository Texts” by Strassman, MacDonald, and Wanko this morning, I remembered something I long told my students’ parents to do.  TURN THE CAPTIONS ON when you’re watching TV at home.  The authors of this article cited eight research studies that confirmed the following:

The results of these studies show that captioned television aids the development of vocabulary and comprehension (2010, 197).

Therefore, I wrote a “note to self” this morning using the FutureMe service. I wrote:

Dear FutureMe,

Take the advice you gave to your students’ parents when you were a classroom teacher.  Be sure to turn the captions on so that TV watching is enhanced for Isabelle.  Multiple research studies confirm what you’ve known for years.  Comprehension and vocabulary development will increase by turning the captions on.  So… get the TV manuals out and figure out how to put the captions on today!

Warmest regards,

Stacey of March 2012

My letter will arrive in 2014 when Isabelle is three years old.  Until then, she shouldn’t be watching that much television, so I won’t be turning the captions on just yet.