Monday, 19 November 2012

Preschool Education Deserves Expansion, Investment: National Education Policy Center Brief

Preschool Education Deserves Expansion, Investment: National Education Policy Center Brief

Many years ago I attended a seminar lead by James Garbarino, who had studied how  positive early childhood education experiences could affect adult education social and moral outcomes. He urged awareness that a greater investment at this formative age would reduce subsequent spending on law and order, drug rehabilitation and other social remediation programmes. Looks like his message fell on deaf ears. Pity. It's always about money.

Full article can be read from the link above.

In a brief released Tueday, National Education Policy Center managing director Dr. William Mathis urges policymakers to invest in high-quality preschool education, citing its universally acknowledged economic and social benefits.

According to Mathis, in inflation-adjusted dollars, overall funding per child is lower than a decade ago, despite the fact that high-quality, intensive preschool education for at least two years has been found to close as much as half the achievement gap.

Involvement in preschool programs can also yield more positive adult outcomes, such as fewer arrests, less drug use, fewer grade retentions, higher college attendance rates, higher employment and earnings, greater social mobility and less welfare dependency.

Mathis goes on to explain the key elements of a quality preschool program, which include small class sizes and ratios — 20 or fewer children, with two adults. He also says programs should boast well-trained, adequately compensated teachers and include strong links to social and health services. The author highlights the importance of featuring a mix of child-initiated and teacher directed activities, with adequate time for individualized and small group interactions.

According to Mathis’ brief, economically deprived children benefit most from preschool, but all children experience some advantage from participation in such programs. Branching off that, children from middle-income families tend to struggle with access because they are not eligible for programs like Head Start, which enrolls fewer students than state or district programs. Results indicate Head Start is a cost-effective program with lesser but nonetheless positive results, suggesting it should be retained but also strengthened

Besides broad investment in preschool, Mathis recommends states develop and monitor early education standards in order to ensure quality programs. Furthermore, programs should be expanded to include three-year-olds, with an emphasis on needy children and promoting the well-being of the “whole child.”

The results of a Chicago-based study released last June bolstered the findings from similar, smaller studies showing that high-quality preschool "gives you your biggest bang for the buck," according to Dr. Pamela High, chair of an American Academy of Pediatrics committee that deals with early childhood issues. The study tracked more than 1,000 low-income, mostly black Chicago children for up to 25 years, including nearly 900 who attended the city’s intensive Child-Parent Center Education Program in the early 1980s. Overall, those who attended the program fared much better in life than their peers who did not attend preschool, recording fewer arrest and securing better jobs.

Jeanne McCarty: Want to Interest More Kids in Science? Bring Science Down to Earth

Jeanne McCarty: Want to Interest More Kids in Science? Bring Science Down to Earth

I love the quote " Our children don't lose their curiosity once they enter school, but they often lose their drive to learn", how true. They often enter a one-size-fits-all system where anything not enshrined in the curriculum is considered a distraction. Any experience that is not quantifiable (for the purpose of ranking and obtaining funding) is interfering with "real" learning.

Full article can be read from the link above.

It may have seemed like just another day for NASA.
But when I heard that rapper of the Black Eyed Peas debuted his new song, "Reach for the Stars," from Mars, I grabbed my iPad to learn more. Here was a Grammy-winning artist promoting science education, and more specifically STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). His teenage fans could relate to something as unreachable as space exploration by connecting it to something they do every day -- listen to music.

As the Executive Director of REAL School Gardens, an organization that creates learning gardens that increase academic achievement, I applaud's efforts. I hope he's turned the heads of teens who might otherwise scoff at science. is right: we need to make STEM more appealing for young people, especially if we want to grow the pool of talent for scientific and technological innovation.

Without a solid foundation in science, students will find it difficult to integrate it with math, engineering, and technology. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than 60 percent of U.S. fourth graders aren't proficient in science. And even though our eight grade scores are on the rise, 65 percent of students weren't proficient in 2011. Our students are capable of so much more.

Science doesn't have to be as cool as sending a song to Mars to engage students. If we bring science down to Earth, we can use the simplest of resources to make it relevant: the outdoors. As a mother of a three-year-old boy, I am constantly reminded that science comes naturally to young children when they are outdoors. My son knows which brick to turn over to find roly polies, and when he finds them, the questions begin: Why do they live there? Do they live there when it rains? Do they like the summer? His drive to learn is strong, and while I like to think my son is special, his sense of wonder is common among children his age.

Our children don't lose their curiosity once they enter school, but they often lose their drive to learn. Once we start treating the outdoors as a living laboratory, children will continue exploring the things that attracted their attention in the first place.

Take for example a fourth-grade lesson on sedimentation. Teachers often extend a textbook lesson by bringing examples into the classroom or by building a hands-on model with cookies and whip cream. Children learn about these processes at a basic level, but probably don't know how to apply that knowledge in a real-world setting. Imagine what happens if you take children on a scavenger hunt to find examples of sedimentation on their school grounds. Children see sedimentation occurring in a natural setting, notice what else is at play in the environment, and understand the larger context in which the process occurs.

The outdoors -- and especially well-designed learning gardens -- also give purpose to data collection, experimentation and problem-solving. In an indoor classroom, students graph data that is given to them by their teacher. In a school garden they collect data that is necessary to the garden's growth and survival. They record and graph the daily temperature of their compost bin, determine the necessary conditions for decomposition, and problem solve if the compost cools down. At the same time, they learn about a sustainable way to manage waste.

In the climate of high-stakes testing and a growing achievement gap in our country, some may argue that outdoor teaching takes kids away from the classroom instruction they desperately need. The greater danger is depriving them of the engaging, interactive and real-world learning opportunities that nature provides. Rather than a substitute for "book learning," the outdoors and school gardens are living classrooms that reinforce, extend and bring to life what children are learning indoors.

Over the past nine years, REAL School Gardens has worked with 81 schools serving children from low-income families. We build learning gardens with a variety of educational features (vegetable beds, wildlife habitats, geology beds, composting systems, ponds and rain barrels, to name a few) and train teachers to use them as academic resources. This year, 84 percent of the fourth- and fifth-grade students surveyed report being more engaged in learning math and science while in their school's garden than the classroom.

Thank you again,, for your efforts to make science relevant for young people. But please don't forget: some of the most relevant things are much closer than Mars -- a step away, just beyond the classroom door.

Free Range Kids » Mom of Nut-Allergic Teens Asks School to Remove Oak Trees

Free Range Kids » Mom of Nut-Allergic Teens Asks School to Remove Oak Trees

Another great article from Lenore at Free Range Kids.

I understand the fear that drove the mother to demand such an extraordinary thing. I was once asked to design a playground with foliage "that won't attract birds, bees or any insects or animals". I think they went with another designer who gave them a "beautiful" KFC playground.  I was once told, "If you're very very careful, nothing bad, or good, will happen to your children".

Full article can be read from the link above.

Hi Readers — Here’s a story getting a lot of attention, for what I think are good reasons. As reported in today’s Toronto Star:

A York Region mother is fighting to have oak trees removed near her child’s school, fearing that acorns could pose a deadly threat to students with severe allergies.

Donna Giustizia said the young trees on property owned by the City of Vaughan next to the St. Stephen Catholic Elementary School are littering the area with acorns. The school, meanwhile, is nut-free to protect students with potentially life-threatening anaphylactic allergies.

“A false sense of security is putting a sign on the door that says nut-free and there’s nuts all over the place,” said Giustizia, who has two teenage children with anaphylactic food allergies, one of whom attends St. Stephen. “I’m not a crazy mom, I’m not asking for anything that’s not already there.”

 - I agree the mom isn’t crazy. But she also isn’t thinking straight. If she thinks the school should chop down all its trees, does she think the whole country should chop down its trees? Because it’s hard to believe that the only acorns her kids will ever encounter are those on school property.

It must be very scary to have children who are severely allergic. It is made scarier by the belief that the only way they can be safe is for their parents to personally hunt for and remove every possible trigger the kids could ever encounter. That’s impossible. No parent can create perfection, though it is this generation’s curse to try.

The truth is: We cannot child-proof the world, so it is our job to world-proof our children. Teach them how to be safe, prepare them for the path ahead, say a prayer and send them forth. – L.

Getting kids outdoors makes them happier, healthier – and smarter

Getting kids outdoors makes them happier, healthier – and smarter

An inspirational mother who has given her children an exceptional gift that will resonate through their lives.

Full article can be read from the link above.

"To Liza Sullivan, a mother of two, the Earth is more than the grass beneath her feet. It’s a place where her children foster creativity and confidence, develop character traits like empathy and resilience and learn the importance of taking risks. The quality of her twins’ growth is rooted in their time outdoors, she said.

So much so that two years ago, Sullivan decided against her kids’ last year of preschool, quit her job as the associate vice president of education at the Chicago Children’s Museum, and decided to use that time to teach the then-3 1/2 year olds on her own through free play and time in Chicago’s natural environment.

After visiting 50 parks in 50 days and returning to favorite forest preserves, nature centers, farms, museums, beaches and playgrounds throughout Chicago, Sullivan said her children have started kindergarten with an amazing foundation. Now she is committed to helping other parents who might not be professional, full-time educators through co-chairing the Let's Play initiative at the Alliance for Early Childhood and writing informative blogs.

..... During the time the Wilmette mom spent with her twins, she witnessed first-hand the benefits shown by research. At a forest preserve, her daughter used the setting to re-enact fairy tales. After her son saw a snake, that night he slithered around their living room. Even climbing a tree became a learning experience. The twins would determine which way would enable them to climb the highest, yet still deciding for themselves how high was too high. Their curiosity was endless, said Sullivan. “When we walked into nature, the kids’ play was different. It was much more open-ended and much more rich,” she said. “For them, it was more exciting and, for me, it was more of a respite.”

....Sullivan used her knowledge as an early-childhood educator and let her kids take the lead. They decided where they wanted to go that day and how they wanted to play. She modeled, read books and assisted her twins when necessary, but for the most part, the day was theirs.

......Letting go wasn’t easy. Sullivan said getting outdoors was a learning experience for her, too, as she had to get over the fear that her children’s safety was in jeopardy.......“It’s really scary to be a parent, but I don’t want my kids to be totally afraid,” she said. “I want them to feel they can trust their decisions, feel comfortable handling risk and know what to do if something goes wrong.”

The two years with her children were a luxury for Sullivan, and she understands time is an issue for most parents.....“Whether you have an hour or an afternoon,” she said, “if you can leave your watch, your Blackberry, or iPhone aside and just focus on your kids and the space you’re in, it’s an exhilarating experience for your family. It’s about getting back to the basics.”

In order to get back to the basics, she avoided scheduled activities. Organized sports and extracurricular activities were not a part of her family’s daily life. Instead, a backpack full of books and packed lunches ensured longer, more relaxed periods of time outdoors.

.........With winter approaching, there can be a tendency to spend less time outdoors. That doesn’t mean there aren’t outdoor-play opportunities available. “We went sledding, built forts, went for nature walks and went to the beach,” Sullivan said. “I found that if I bundled the twins up and brought hot cocoa that most days they were fine.”

Grow your own food to protect city from disaster, Sydneysiders urged

Grow your own food to protect city from disaster, Sydneysiders urged

An interesting article that talks about a topic that's very close to my own heart, self sufficiency. Something that comes from an awareness of my natural environment and a desire to participate in it. Awareness that ''The average distance food travels is 1500 kilometres'' means something is exceptionally wrong with our greater models of sustainability and survival.

Full article can be read from the link above.

SYDNEY'S fresh food would only last two or three days if a cataclysmic disaster struck, experts say.

Steven Newton, the chairman of the Retailers Action Working Group, which plans food industry responses to potential national crises such as pandemics or floods, said that ''fresh food would be the first thing to go in a crisis''.

He said the supply channels of Australia's increasingly concentrated and commercialised farming industry were more vulnerable to disaster shocks than the dispersed small-scale farming model of 30 years ago.

Sally Hill, of the Youth Food Network, wants to turn back the clock to a time when fresh food came from local farms distributed across the urban hinterland and people grew vegetables in their backyards.

''The average distance food travels is 1500 kilometres,'' Ms Hill said. ''If anything interrupts that flow you have a real crisis on your hands.''

The Youth Food Movement, which grew out of the global slow food movement, argues that sourcing food locally and from smaller farms would not only insulate supply from the interruptions of disasters but also alleviate longer-term threats to food security such as climate change.

''If we had a really broad network of people going through local [farmers] or growing it themselves in their backyard you have a lot more resilient system,'' Ms Hill said. ''That tackles a whole lot of associated problems, like emissions from transporting food.'' She encourages young urbanites to think critically about where their food comes from and buy from local farmers - or grow their own.

But getting young people interested and involved in agriculture is a difficult undertaking. The Bureau of Statistics has found the average Australian farmer is 55. Enrolments in agriculture courses are down dramatically. This year the University of Western Sydney's campus in Richmond - formerly Hawkesbury Agricultural College - suspended its agriculture course due to low student interest.

Making people think about food and improving the prestige and profitability of farming, by cutting out the middle man, is her solution. ''We don't know what it's like to produce food,'' Ms Hill said. ''If people grow one vegetable they will never look at food the same way and underestimate the value of the farmer.''

A change of mindset, Ms Hill said, would not just strengthen Australian food security, but was also required for action on the global food shortage. ''We grow around 6000 calories per person per day: enough to feed us all three times over,'' she said. ''The issue is not food production; it's food distribution.''

Mr Newton said urban farming was unlikely to ever substitute for a commercial system with economies of scale and meet the demands of a much larger population. But he agreed it should complement commercial farming and make Sydney less vulnerable

Philip Chard - Our 'nature deficit disorder' needs a remedy

Philip Chard - Our 'nature deficit disorder' needs a remedy

Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer - or

A very interesting article. Chard displays surprise that we as a species are so ignorant of our environment, often to the extent of paying for that ignorance with our lives. I don't think it is ignorance. To me ignorance is something that is unknown. However the separation with our environment that I see on a daily basis is borne out of an active fear and apathy and the "pink fluffy cloud" world most of us exist in where everything will be the same as it is forever.

Full article can be read from the link above.

We live on a planet, but a lot of us don't act like it.

We suffer what eco-psychologists call "nature deficit disorder," which is the absence of both knowledge about and a heartfelt connection with the natural world. Unfortunately, examples abound.

I am flummoxed to hear of people who are oblivious to nature's laws, often to their peril. Consider one couple who died less than a mile from a convenience store because they hiked into the unforgiving Sonora Desert in midday with no water. Then there are folks who drive into rising water during a flash flood. It takes less than 2 feet of water to float most vehicles, transforming them into flotsam and, too often, coffins.

During my backpacking forays, I've encountered day hikers attempting to summit alpine peaks without food, water or appropriate gear, including boots (I've seen them in flip-flops). Others have sought my guidance after dropping their GPS in a river because they didn't know basic navigation.

I mean it's not Disney World out there. Particularly when venturing into the wild, one should be self-sufficient and well versed about the local ecosystem. When you're beset by hypothermia or dehydration, or injured in a fall, a tram isn't going to come along and pluck you from the wilderness like it's some theme park.

What's more, many people lack a rudimentary understanding of weather, including how to recognize an approaching storm, safety around lightning, what to do if caught in the open near a tornado, etc.

Unfortunately, these individual examples echo throughout the larger culture, explaining, in part, why we are depleting and poisoning the planet upon which we are utterly dependent for our existence while also busily denying that our abusive activities are having any deleterious effects. It's ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand stuff, and ominously frightening.

I believe our collective ignorance in this regard is a product of having so many individuals who are alienated from, and clueless about, the natural world.

Recently, I asked a 10-year-old where milk came from, and she replied, "Pick 'n Save." I laughed and told her I meant its original source, but she only stared back blankly. Years ago when my daughter was carping about having to take swimming lessons and asked me why she had to, I replied, "Because two-thirds of the planet is water." We live here.

Our indifference toward the power of Mother Earth creates a "What, me worry?" attitude toward trashing the planet, which is pretty self-destructive given that nature can level any human edifice and any species. It builds mountains, carves canyons and wipes the land clean with fires, storms and floods. It gives us air to breathe, food, water and the very atoms that make up our bodies. And it can take them away.

I think that deserves a little respect. As residents of this planet, we need to learn about and adapt ourselves to its realities, as well as balance our lifestyles in keeping with its laws, not our own.

If not, we'll collectively end up like that couple on the Sonora Desert.

Let them love the land before they need to save it - The Irish Times - Tue, Sep 04, 2012

Let them love the land before they need to save it - The Irish Times - Tue, Sep 04, 2012

An very interesting Irish perspective on the effect of nature deprivation on children

Full article can be read from the link above.                                                                                                                             
Parents and teachers’ concerns about health and safety have disconnected children from their land. When the term “nature deficit disorder” was first coined by writer Richard Louv in 2005, it sounded laughable. Only in America . . .
                                                                                However, the US perspective on modern living has
a habit of creeping up on us and, just seven years later,
it doesn’t seem such an over-statement of the problem after all. Parents’ fear for the safety of their children combined with the lure of screens indoors means there is an increasing disconnect between youngsters and the natural world.

The effects of this on their physical and mental health are seen, it is argued, in rising figures for childhood obesity, attention-deficit problems and depression.

Some 60 per cent of Ireland’s population now lives in cities or towns and, even in rural areas, children are so often driven from A to B, they have little opportunity to engage with the landscape...

Even if they live in “one-off” rural housing, their lifestyle may be closer to their city peers than neighbouring children growing up in farm families who are focused on the land.

Farmers’ markets, which have become increasingly popular in urban areas over the past decade, go some way to bridging what was an ever-widening gulf between the consumption of food and its origin. Consumers have more interest now in “local food” and meeting the people who produce it.

Schools can learn a lot from farmers’ markets, according to David Sobel a US academic who promotes place-based education. He was in Ireland recently to address a two-day symposium entitled From Apathy to Empathy – reconnecting people and place. .....“Schools should be more locally grown – reflective of the culture, heritage and nature of that area rather than being homogenised,” he tells The Irish Times during a break in the symposium, which was organised by Burrenbeo Trust in Kinvara, Co Galway, and supported by the Heritage Council.

At the same time as children have become more cooped up at home, so have schools become more isolated within their own walls – for similar reasons. Concerns about health and safety limit the chances pupils have of being allowed outside the classroom, never mind beyond the school boundaries.

By making the walls between schools and their local community more permeable, education becomes more grounded, more concrete and more accessible, argues Sobel. Primary school children should be learning the geography of their neighbourhood before they start learning the geography of the whole country or other continents........“All those free play experiences in the natural world – building forts and picking your own paths in the woods – are the basis for environmental values and behaviours in adulthood,” he points out. “If we don’t have kids out doing that stuff, we are ensuring they will not be environmentally responsible when they get older.”

........There are many barriers to taking children outdoors, including concerns about the risks, the demands of the curriculum and worries about managing a large group outside. These have prevented the access to the outdoors that she believes most people want for their children. “It is about trying to change the perspective of the value of being outdoors and learning outdoors.”

........Younger teachers may not have grown up with much outdoor play themselves, she points out, and can lack the interest or confidence in bringing their young charges outside......“In our own heads, we think Johnny is brilliant if he can work a computer. We have no value on Johnny being able to climb a tree.”

.......Teachers are uncomfortable taking children outside, agrees Sobel. “They don’t know how to create good outdoor learning environments and good outdoor learning expectations.” They have to get it across to children they are not going out for a break but for learning......Adapting the national curriculum to the local community does take effort, he acknowledges. “It is harder work to figure out how to teach subtraction using the trees on the playground. It takes effort but it is doable.”

There is also a mindset among parents, particularly of secondary school children, that trips outside the classroom detract from the “real” business of school, which needs to be challenged....“There is a lot of research that suggests that when you do this engagement in real challenges or issues in the community, the need for the learning is much more obvious to the students,” says Sobel...........

The Best Playground Is The One Nature Provided | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

The Best Playground Is The One Nature Provided | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

The picture takes me back. Long careless lunch breaks in the playground. It's been a long time since I felt "care-less", how about you? Great article.

Full article can be read from the link above.

You can take homo sapiens out of the wilderness, but not the wilderness out of humans it appears. For decades, scientists have reported our species exhibits a consistent, if not quite understood, response to spending time around nature: it boosts our mental and physical well being.

.......... A 2001 study of public housing found the mere presence of trees and grass reduced reduced reported aggression and violence. Another showed people shown a stressful movie recovered to a normal state--as measured by metrics such as heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure--"faster and more completely" when exposed to natural rather than urban environments.Children spent twice as much time playing in the natural landscape, and were less sedentary after the renovation.

Those studies are now moving out into everyday life. One of the most recent in the area by the University of Tennessee looked at the way natural playgrounds--built from wooden structures, gardens, and other natural features--affected children’s behavior compared to conventional plastic, metal and "artificial" playscapes.

Dawn Coe, an assistant professor in the Department of kinesiology, recreation, and sport studies at the University of Tennessee spent time observing the behavior and time children spent playing on a local playground. After playground renovations added a gazebo, slides, trees, a creek, and a natural landscape of rocks, flowers and logs, Coe returned a year later to observe differences. Working with a statistician, Coe found children spent twice as much time playing in the natural landscape, and were less sedentary after the renovation and more active.

“Natural playscapes appear to be a viable alternative to traditional playgrounds for school and community settings,” said Coe in a university statement. “Future studies should look at these changes long-term as well as the nature of the children’s play.” ...........Cities aren’t waiting for definitive studies. Natural playscapes are part of a growing trend appearing in cities across the US including Boston, Phoenix, Chicago, New York, Auburn and others.

Screen-addicted children may have newest mental illness

Screen-addicted children may have newest mental illness
Finally the people who define the "norm" have realised that there may be a problem with younger children being introduced to computers (which are just tools) without proper guidelines or supervision.  To have them finally formally categorise the problem means that the symptoms are showing. How long until we (collectively) do something about it. Although as I write this I'm watching a mother in a shopping centre , actively ignoring her children as she bonds with her iPhone - I wonder where the children get these ideas from?

Full article can be read from the link above.

Children addicted to using electronic devices 24/7 will be diagnosed with a serious mental illness if a new addiction, included as ''internet-use disorder'' in a worldwide psychiatric manual, is confirmed by further research.

The formal inclusion of the new addiction has been welcomed by Australian psychology professionals in response to a wave of ''always-on'' technology engulfing kids.

The Sun-Herald has spoken to parents of children as young as seven who are aggressive, irritable and hostile when deprived of their iPads or laptops. Psychologists argue video game and internet addictions share the characteristics of other addictions, including emotional shutdown, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if the gadgets are removed........

......Commentary in the United States about the move has raised the spectre of children being over-treated and even medicated for playing computer games.

But some Australian psychologists argue there should be an even broader diagnosis of internet-use addiction, allowing proper treatment of children obsessed by other technologies such as texting and a proliferation of devices such as iPads, tablets and Nintendo DS.

Reflecting problems with children's over-use of technology, Mike Kyrios from Swinburne University of Technology - one of the authors of the APS submission and a clinical psychologist with more than 15 years experience - is formally pushing for the revised manual to broaden internet-use disorder beyond gaming addictions...... ''With kids, gaming is an obvious issue. But overall, technology use could be a potential problem,'' he said.
........In January, Emil Hodzic, a qualified psychologist with seven years experience, established a video game addiction treatment clinic in Sydney's CBD, because of what he saw as growing demand from frustrated parents and damaged children. He said he was seeing clients as young as 12 addicted to the internet and video games.

.......Mr Hodzic said about 70 per cent of his clients were children and teenagers, with many showing addiction symptoms closely related to anxiety and depression. ''A lot of kids I have coming into the clinic have difficultly in being able to tolerate distress without zoning out via the internet or via the games,'' he said.

But psychiatrist Rhoshel Lenroot, the chairman of child psychiatry at the University of NSW, said it was still too early to know how detrimental technology overuse could be. ''I think [it] can be dangerous in not learning how to pay attention in a focused way, but in balance there is nothing wrong with technology.''