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Looking for Some Valuable Parenting Advice? Read This Book!

Looking for some valuable parenting advice?  Read this book! **

Last spring at a conference, I came across a book by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Family and Childhood Relationships in the Digital Age.  I picked up a copy, read it non-stop and highlighted and dog-eared almost the entire book!  I actually read from this book at all our curriculum meetings this fall. 
This November, I attended the WONDERPLAY conference at the 92nd Street “Y” and was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Steiner-Adair and listen to her lecture.  I was even more inspired. 
After the lecture, I wanted to share what I learned at the lecture with parents along with some of the suggestions Dr. Steiner-Adair shared at the conference.  Quite accidentally, I found the following article from Huff Post Parents which is beautifully written by a parent and capsulizes some of the information I learned from her lecture—
The following article includes tips that will help a parent be more “there” for their child.  This is only a small portion of what is discussed in the book.  Learn how digital devices affect a developing brain and at what age technology is appropriate for your child.

9 Tips That Helped Me Beat My iPhone Addiction

Dana Mark New York City mother of three

I consider myself to be a particularly hands-on stay-at-home mom of three. I rarely miss a pick-up or drop-off at school. I eat with the kids almost every meal. I chaperone their field trips, attend their school chapels, and try to be a shout away from them at home. But I do all of it holding my phone.
I went to a lecture recently by a woman who I wish was my therapist. In just an hour, Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., a Boston-based, soft-spoken, clinical psychologist and co-author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Family and Childhood Relationships in the Digital Age, got me to rethink my entire approach to parenting.
My iPhone is another member of our family. My kids know my number by heart. They've figured out how to unlock the keypad to take pictures. They help me search for it 10 times a day. They know I'm always "just checking" or "doing one quick thing," hurriedly pinging with my clunky index fingers like a beginning typist. I'm no worse than anyone else I know. I don't breech social etiquette. But I often do a quick email triage right in front of the kids.
When I'm checking my phone or emailing on my computer, I know I'm not at my best as a mom. I kind of hear the kids' voices clamoring for my attention as I focus on the task at hand (or at fingertip), but not really. I know I tell them to "hold on," and I don't always say it so nicely. I can't seem to think and talk. They have to wait a minute. Mommy is busy. I'm physically there, but I'm an absentee mom. I'm like a crack addict, stopping whatever I'm doing with them if I hear the ping of a text. But then, wait, kids? Where'd you go?
According to Steiner-Adair, I'm not alone. She suggests comparing how you respond to being interrupted in the middle of scrambling eggs to being interrupted while finishing an email. Totally different, right? In the eggs example, your tone is probably softer, you can focus on what the person is saying, but in the computer example, you're on edge, curt and short. Guess what? Kids suffer as a result.
After interviewing hundreds of kids and grown-ups, Steiner-Adair has found that what kids feel the most is sad, isolated and alone. They feel like it's impossible to get their parents' attention. Walking into a room to talk to a parent and being told brusquely "in a minute, hold on," makes the kids feel deflated and bad about themselves.
As Steiner-Adair spoke, I flashed back to that morning as I checked email first thing.
"Mommy, Mommy!" my daughter had said, waking up.
"Hold on two seconds," I said. I ignored the fact that she had slept through the night. I didn't give her a good morning hug, look her in the eye or pay undivided attention to her. She got quieter and quieter, saying, "Aw," as she waited for me. Seriously, what was so important?
As I sat in the crowded auditorium, I started to cry. I kept thinking of more examples of times I wish I'd been more emotionally available to the kids, times when I'd given myself credit for simply showing up somewhere, like an out-of-the-way playdate in a snowstorm, but hadn't stayed present. Before I could throw myself off the mommy bridge, Steiner-Adair gave several reasonable suggestions. Not easy. Reasonable.
1. Don't use your phone as an alarm clock. Set a real alarm, turn it off and roll inward, towards your spouse, for a quick hug or touch, before rolling outward to check your phone. It's telling your spouse that he's your priority. To be good parents, you need to maintain your relationship as a couple first.
2. Do all your email checking before the kids get up. Get up earlier. They need parents not to be checking while they go through the huge transition of preparing for their day at school. Be a scrambled eggs parent. Give them your undivided attention when they need it most.
3. No phones for anyone on the way to school. Kids hate it when parents check email or talk on the phone as they drop them at school. It makes them feel like they don't matter, leaving them powerless and lost. They're going through typical anticipatory anxiety before the school day. They need you to be there, really there. Definitely don't let your kids be on an iPad themselves; they need to be preparing themselves for this transition, not distracting themselves.
4. When you pick them up from school, don't tell them you can't wait to hear about their day, but then respond to a text. They won't believe you. It doesn't feel good to them. It's only a few minutes a day. Don't squander it.
5. When the kids walk in the door from school, don't let them start playing computer games. It's another important transition time. Let them calm down and acclimate, don't let them self-stimulate. Promote imaginative play, not reactive play on a screen. Let them learn the social emotional intelligence that comes from interacting with their siblings and friends. They need to learn the ability to talk, the capacity to listen and self-regulate. They don't get that on a device.
6. When you walk in the door, don't be on the phone. Finish your conversation or text exchange outside. Don't quickly peck hello and then say you have to go check email. If you're not ready for that, come home later. Plug into your family when you're there.
7. No devices at meals. Period.
8. Don't deal with your phone as you put the kids to bed. Wait until they fall asleep and then go back to whatever you need to do.
9. Share your family values about technology. Talk to kids about what it's okay to do. Remind them that any texts they send are not private. Link their accounts to yours so you can see what they send and receive. Teach the art of conversation. Talk about when to have dinner, don't just send a text: "Dinner? 7 pm?" Teach them kindness, not the snarky, witty, fast responses of online banter. Teach kids the capacity for solitude, a time they can connect to themselves, without feeling anxious or bored.
I walked out of the lecture and resisted the urge to immediately check my phone. It had been an hour. Could I make it another one? I heard Steiner-Adair's voice in my head: "It'll be hard, but it's important. It's an addiction you have to cure." I left the phone in my purse and decided to open my eyes to the world around me.
Of course it isn't realistic to stop emailing or answering texts. But I can learn to manage better. I've disabled the sound of texts coming in. I'll check when I want, not when it wants. I'm going to follow some email time guidelines. I'm also only going to open an email if I pass the following test: "Is this a situation in which it would be appropriate to start opening a bill?" I'm going to battle this addiction until email becomes something I contend with, preferably from my computer, not something that rules my life and affects the well-being of my children. I will manage it. I have to. Now I just have to figure out how to get on Steiner-Adair's patient list.

** Thanks to the generous donations from last year’s Read-a-thon, I was able to start our parent lending library.  There are five brand new copies of The Big Disconnect so you can check out the book for yourself.

Need a Holiday Gift?  How About a Children’s Picture Book!

With the winter holiday almost upon us and the gift giving about to begin, I thought it would be nice to share a children’s picture book list, just in case you might want to do some holidays gift giving or use the holidays as an opportunity to enrich your home library. 

Originally, I thought I would share a little list of children’s books but I soon found out, when it comes to children’s books, no list is a small one. It got very difficult to stop adding books to this list!  Our annual Read-a-Thon will begin in March. I will take that opportunity to elaborate on the book list then.

In the interest of organization, I have put the books into categories to make selection easier.  



Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Froodle and Not a Box, by Amy Portis
Interrupting Chicken and Ol’ Mama Squirrel, by David Ezra Stein
Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
Oh No George! by Chris Haughton
Spoon and Chopsticks, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Stuck and The Day the Crayons Quit, by Oliver Jeffers


Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Press Here and Mix It Up, by Herve Tullet
Tap the Magic Tree, by Christie Matheson
The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin
Warning, Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe

New York, NY:

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson
Blackout, by John Rocco
I Live In Brooklyn, by Mari Takabayashi
My New York, by Kathy Jacobson
Subway, by Christopher Neimann
The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown


Do You Know Which One Will Grow, by Susan A. Shea
Maps, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska (for grow-ups and kids too!)
Me, Jane, by Patrick McDonnell

Owls and Birds

Birds, by Kevin Henkes
Little Owl Lost, by Chris Haughton
Little Owl's Night, by Divya Srinivasan
Mama Built a Little Nest, by Jennifer Ward
Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell
The Best Nest, by P.D. Eastman

So Sweet Stories:

Cloudette, by Tom Lichtenheld
Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio
How to Heal a Broken Wing, by Bob Graham
Kittens First Full Moon and My Garden, by Kevin Henkes
Little Pea. by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Maple, by Lori Nichols
Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zielow-Miller

Winter and Holiday:

How the Grintch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
Stick Man, by Judith Donaldson
The Magic Dreidels: A Hanukkah Story, by Eric Kimmel
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Classics no Children’s Bookshelf Should be Without:

A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer
A Chair for my Mother, by Vera B. Williams
Are You My Mother, by P.D. Eastman
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina
Chicken Soup with Rice, by Maurice Sendak
Corduroy, by Don Freeman
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Swimmy, by Lio Lionni
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf

The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K

I am sharing this October 21st New York Times article, The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K, by Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager.  If you haven't read it yet, you should!  Of note is that I received several emails from CHP parents who forwarded the article to me with comments that they thought of CHP when they read it. Enjoy!

WITH the introduction of universal pre-K in New York City, we have created a new entry point into our public school system. This raises a key question: What do we want our children’s first experiences in school to be? What does a good education look like for 4-year-olds?

This summer, Bank Street College of Education led training for 4,000 of New York’s pre-K teachers, including both veterans and hundreds of people who started teaching pre-K for the first time last month. Worried teachers talked about how the pressure to achieve good outcomes on the third-grade state exams has been trickling down to early childhood classrooms in the form of work sheets, skill drills and other developmentally inappropriate methods.
The problem is real, and it is not unique to New York City. Earlier this year, Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem, educational policy researchers at the University of Virginia, found strong evidence that current kindergarten classrooms rely too heavily on teacher-directed instruction. Their study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” revealed that the focus on narrow academic skills crowded out time for play, exploration and social interaction. In a 2009 report for the Alliance for Childhood, “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” Edward Miller and Joan Almon reported that kindergarten teachers felt that prescriptive curricular demands and pressure from principals led them to prioritize academic skill-building over play.
This is a false choice. We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor.
While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.
What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.
In the block area, two girls build a bridge, talking to each other about how to make sure it doesn’t collapse and taking care not to bump into the buildings of children next to them. In an area with materials for make-believe, children enact an elaborate family scenario after resolving who will be the mommy, who will be the grandpa and who will be the puppy. Another group peers through a magnifying glass to examine a collection of pine cones and acorns. On the rug, children lie on their stomachs turning the pages of books they have selected, while at the easel a boy dips his brush into red paint and swoops the paint mostly onto his paper.
The teacher observes and comments. She shifts from group to group, talking with children about their work (“I see that you made a big red circle.”); helping children resolve a conflict (“You both want to be the mommy. What should we do?”); posing an open-ended question to stimulate exploration and problem-solving (“What do you notice when you use the magnifying glass that is different from when you use your eyes?”); and guiding children to manage themselves (“When you finish your snack, what activity would you like to choose?”).
Barbara Biber, one of Bank Street’s early theorists, argued that play develops precisely the skills — and, just as important, the disposition — children need to be successful throughout their lives. The child “projects his own pattern of the world into the play,” she wrote, “and in so doing brings the real world closer to himself. He is building the feeling that the world is his to understand, to interpret, to puzzle about, to make over. For the future we need citizens in whom these attitudes are deeply ingrained.”
Earlier in the 20th century, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky made the related argument that children’s thinking develops through activity-based learning and social interactions with adults and peers. When teachers base their curriculums on Dr. Vygotsky’s ideas, there are significant benefits for children’s capacity to think, to plan and to sustain their attention on difficult tasks.
Play has long-lasting benefits. What is referred to as self-regulation in preschool becomes resiliency in high school. The University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that this trait, which she famously calls grit, can make or break students, especially low-income students. Over the past three years, the New York City Department of Education developed a framework to support the core behavioral elements that drive college and career readiness. Many of them — persistence, planning, the ability to communicate and the capacity to collaborate — have their roots in early childhood.
Next fall, there will be more students in pre-K in New York City than there are in the entire school system of Atlanta or Seattle. To his credit, Mayor Bill de Blasio has not only pushed for expanding access but has also insisted on improving quality and put real money into training and materials. This is a strong start. But we still need to help parents, administrators and policy makers see what the children themselves know intuitively: Classrooms that pulse with meaningful play are our smartest investment.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, who served as senior deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education from 2011-14, is the president of Bank Street College, where Nancy Nager is a professor of education and child development.

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