Week of the Young Child, 2012

April 22-28, 2012 is The Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The week is designated as a time to recognize that children’s opportunities are our responsibilities, and to ensure that every child experiences the type of early environment—at home, child care, school, and in the community—that will promote early learning. As my small contribution to The Week of the Young Child 2012, I am reintroducing children’s book reviews by Jocelyn from The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver.

Every child of today should be fortunate enough to explore the ideas and perceptions of author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Jocelyn has raved about Rosenthal’s books in her holiday reviews, still found on the “tips and previews” page of this blog. I also love Rosenthal’s books, but this newest 2012 publication holds a special place in my heart. Imagine that we could grow, harvest, and share kisses like we do flowers and vegetables. All my backbreaking work of spreading mulch in my yard last week would take on new meaning. And, believe me, I would be right up there in what I would expect to be a long line of interested consumers at our Madison Farmer’s Market this Saturday. Sharing this book is the next best thing to sharing the real thing.

Jocelyn’s review: Plant A Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

It never ceases to amaze me how a talented author and extraordinary artist can create a masterpiece whose sum is greater than its parts. With a few well-chosen rhymes and masterfully understated illustrations (including just a touch of sparkles), this book is the perfect example; how “little miss” planting a kiss ends up with “endless bliss” is a joy to behold the unfolding. I won’t be giving anything away by saying she dared to share. How thrilled I was when a friend shared this book with me! Enjoy!

More reviews on “Tips and Previews” page.

Redshirting: How to Make a Bad System Worse

In school, there is a standard curriculum that is offered to all learners who are grouped according to age. This is an antiquated system, but it is the way we have been doing it since the industrial revolution, and—as I’ve written before, changing that system is not happening. Instead, it seems, it’s being exacerbated. On a recent edition of “60 Minutes,” Morley Safer examined the practice of redshirting children for kindergarten. Redshirting is defined at the beginning of the interview as “holding your 5-year old back from kindergarten until he’s 6 so he’ll be among the oldest and smartest in class.” One parent elaborated that she preferred her son be older in kindergarten so he would become a leader rather than be younger and a follower. All this was news to me—older equals smarter and leader.

Safer suggests that a sharp increase in redshirting is a direct response by parents to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers.” I was disturbed by this book when I read it, not because of Gladwell’s premises as much as by his conclusions. Gladwell’s comments on this show make me even more appalled. In January 2010, I quoted from the book regarding Gladwell’s observation that smart children studied by Lewis Terman who happened to be poor did not “make a name for themselves” as adults because “they lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.” Gladwell saw them as squandered talent and I agree with him that they didn’t need to be.

Redshirting, however, is not helping poor children but most likely putting them at greater disadvantage. As the show pointed out, low-income parents can neither afford to hold their children back nor to send them to private schools. Redshirting is not “putting a community around them.”

I agree with Samuel Meisels, President of the Erikson Institute, who on the show calls redshirting “educational quackery.” I believe in “cumulative advantage” but not in the way Gladwell defines it. Cumulative advantage does not imply that older is better or that the older a child the greater his or her leadership potential. It means carefully planning special, supplemental educational experiences, starting early in school and continuing into college, graduate school, and professional life. It means studying deeply and broadly. It happens when students are introduced purposefully to concepts, programs, activities, career possibilities, and people, who in turn introduce them to more and more possibilities until the right one clicks. It happens when their learning activities are aligned with their interests, abilities, and motivations.

I agree with Meisels that children need a level playing field and that they develop at different rates. It is true that cumulative advantage is about being in the right place at the right time, and that it usually does not happen by coincidence. Ideally, we would be putting all children in the right place at the right time. The only way we are going to prevent the kind of squandered talent that Gladwell deems unfortunate is to open more and more doors of opportunity.

At its foundation, educational opportunity should not mean forcing all kids to learn the same curriculum at the same pace and with the same strategies—whatever their age. Let them start at age 3 if they are ready and a kindergarten classroom is where they’ll best develop. Let them start at age 6 if they are not ready and a delayed start will mean a better fit with the learning environment when they are ready.

May bullying and boredom never become a part of the conversation! Oh, my mistake, Meisels pointed out that behavioral problems and boredom are already being detected in these opposite-of-pushed children. I’ll not go there—for now.

Multiple Intelligences

I’ve been playing around with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in my mind. First, they are the basis for Color Me Smart, my current children’s book manuscript, which I may (or may not) publish in 2012. Second, as I’ve been reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I couldn’t help trying to categorize Jobs within the eight intelligence types.

When I’m working on my book, it is with a degree of certainty — children need to be recognized and encouraged for all kinds of abilities. Teaching the multiple intelligences framework to children and their caregivers should help us, as a society, to be more appreciative of children’s innate strengths. Further, we could then be expected to encourage a greater degree of excellence in education and production. But there is also a degree of uncertainty. Many children are multiply intelligent, and to typecast them could potentially limit others’ understanding of them. I especially felt this when casting children as people- or self-smart when I had already perceived them as another kind of smart.

When reading the Jobs book, I felt an even greater degree of uncertainty. It was almost the opposite of what I was feeling with my child characters. I never doubted that Jobs was smart. But, what kind of smart? He certainly didn’t have interpersonal intelligence (people smart), yet even within this realm he ultimately succeeded by repeatedly forming and leading what he called an “A team.”

So what are multiple intelligences and where does Jobs fit? This is an especially intriguing question given Isaacson’s conclusion (p. 566): “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power.”

According to Kac, what most geniuses have is “ordinary genius,” the kind that most of us might observe, “I could do that if only I were better at …” But the magician genius is such that we can’t fathom how the end result came about. Jobs consistently expected the seemingly impossible and made it happen. He didn’t achieve it himself; he led others to do it for him.

In rethinking Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, I conclude that we are broadening our definition of smart or intelligence within the realm of the ordinary. And, I still think that’s a good place to start. We need to recognize word, music, math, picture, body, people, self, and nature smart in children, but maybe there is more. Just as I’ve never liked the federal definition of giftedness because it positions academic ability, intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, and artistic ability as parallel categories — and they are not, so magician genius does not seem to parallel multiple intelligences. Creativity and intuitive leaps must cross them all. Jobs had a talent for recognizing talent in others and bringing them together such that their individual abilities became a part of the whole. Together they fostered his magician genius. His magician genius crossed all aspects of excellence required in the design and engineering of the products for which he is known.

I wonder if Gardner is playing around with the concept of magician genius?

 

 

Macaulay, Schatz, and Other Children’s Book Authors

The title of this posting is misleading, I admit. I can hardly place myself in the company of David Macaulay. But, Jocelyn included Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart among the books she reviews this week − including Macaulay’s Black and White, and I am honored to be on the same page (so to speak) as Macaulay.

Macaulay’s first book was born just two years after my first son, and Alex grew up with Cathedral. Thus began his lifelong interest in architecture, construction, and all things beautiful, helped along by Macaulay’s soon-to-follow publication of Castle and City. Alex was hooked and, indeed, started his adult career in the fields of city planning and landscape architecture.

I had the distinct privilege of hearing David Macaulay speak in 2008 at the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Arbuthnot’s classic work, Children and Books, had guided my choice of books in the classroom and at home, and to be there when Macaulay was honored in her name as a distinguished writer, educator, and children’s literature scholar was an opportunity I would never have expected. He talked of how ideas “rattle around in my brain,” and shared, “this life [as a creator, researcher, writer] is simply too much fun.”

That lecture was the stimulus for me to start my grandchildren on Macaulay. I bought The Way Things Work and Black and White. The former was a typical Macaulay book, packed with details, artfully designed, and comprehensively presented. The latter intrigued me. I had never seen a book quite like this one and had not seen or heard of it until that night. I finally gave it to my grandsons this year, thinking that at ages 6 and 8 they were ready to tackle the mysteries of the merging stories. They love it!

So thank you again, Jocelyn, for reviewing my book, reviewing Black and White, and tickling our curiosity with a plethora of new titles.

Read to Your Young Children Every Day

For the past month I have been posting the titles of exciting books for young children − mostly for preschool age, but also for children in grades K-2 who are still into picture books. In fact, I recommend picture books for all ages. They can be read by children and adults for not only enjoyment, but for conceptual development as well. Never underestimate the thought and discussion potential from reading simple statements and, moreover, from reading pictures.

Reading with Young Children

Unfortunately, the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, reports that about 10 million children have difficulties learning to read. Even people with mild reading impairment do not read for fun and suffer from a low self-esteem. A surprising statistic is that reading problems affect girls at about the same rate as boys. Because boys are more apt to act out whereas girls more often enter a quiet dream world, boys receive more attention in schools for their reading difficulties. Long-term studies have shown that from 90 to 95 percent of reading-impaired children can overcome their difficulties if they receive appropriate treatment at early ages.

Parents can make the difference. Head Start research on the affects of reading to children under age 3 reports that English-speaking mothers who begin reading to their children as babies have toddlers with greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive scores by the age of 2. Likewise, Spanish-speaking mothers who read to their children every day have 3-year-olds with greater language and cognitive development than those whose children do not have the benefits of early reading. Researchers advise that parents take advantage of every book a child wants to read. Even out-dated books conceptually (for example science books) can connect with a child, convey basic information to build upon, inspire questions for further exploration, and simply provide parent-child bonding and fun.

Jocelyn of The Tattered Cover Book Store continues to recommend great new as well as some tried-and-true titles for the little ones. You will find these on the Tips and Previews page of this blog.

Grandma is Reading at Liliana’s

Every Sunday evening Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg welcomes families, giving parents the opportunity to kick back, while their children (under age 12) eat free. This Sunday night there is an added bonus. I will be there, reading my book to children ages 0-7. If you live in the Madison, WI area or will be there for any reason on Sunday, Dec. 4, stop by anytime after 5 p.m. with your children.

 I look forward to meeting you, exploring ideas with your children, and signing books as well.

Start your child off reading like this little guy. A world of wonder is the result.

 

For more information on Liliana’s go to http://www.lilianasrestaurant.com/. And don’t forget – every Sunday is Family Night, and kids eat free.

Chess Club Versus Football

Freeman Hrabowski, an African American with a Polish heritage (explaining his last name), was arrested at age 12 for participating in the “Children’s March” in Birmingham, Alabama. He also excelled in school, started college at age 15, and became president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). I was intrigued when his story aired on 60 minutes on November 13. Under his leadership UMBC has become known for innovation, interesting students in math and science careers, and for its high standards of discipline, community and achievement.

Of his students and educational philosophy Hrabowski says, “We teach Americans of all races what it takes to be the best. At the heart of it is … hard work. I don’t care how smart you are, nothing takes the place of hard work.” Football? Not at UMBC − no football. One student explains, “You might go to another university and the football team might be top dog. Here, it’s the chess team that’s top dog. Yeah, it’s cool to be smart.”

Hrabowski speaks of a typical first day message on many campuses: a dean saying, “Look at the person to your right and the person to your left. One of you will not graduate.” Being assured that from day one turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, at UMBC they say, “Look at the student to your left. Look at the student to your right. Our goal is to make sure all three of you graduate and if you don’t, we fail; And, we don’t plan to fail.” He explains that he wants his students to keep dreaming about future possibilities while at the same time understanding that hard work, a positive attitude, and getting support from each other are their keys to success.” Underlying his passion for education, it’s clear, Hrabowski truly believes it’s cool to be smart.

PS The list of good books according to Jocelyn from The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver is growing. Check it out on the Tips and Previews Page of this blog.