In Chap 1 the authors stress the importance of talking with your child that, and I quote,"exchanges with our children promote thier intellectual skills...and asking children to describer their day helps them to understand and express thier experience which in turn, helps them think, learn and increase their vocabularies." We understand, agree and accept this as an important part of childrearing, yet as a result from the Hart and Risley study we know children from welfare homes , at the age of 3, have less than a third of the vocabulary than children from professionakl homes. Thus, the rationale for programs , such as Headstart. So, my dilemma in reading this book, is although I agree with the authors, I know that a lot of our children need to be in school at a young age. Our challenge is to find the right balance between allowing them the time they need for natuarl exploration and dicovery while helping them develop the language acquisition skills too many of them lack.

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I've really enjoyed reading this book so far because I feel like it offers a great insight into the world of parenting through the vignettes. I don't have children myself and sometimes I feel like I am always looking at raising children through the standpoint of an educator and don't fully understand why parents act the way they do with different situations or why they have made certain choices regarding their child. As a result I feel like I sometimes make personal judgments of these parent-child relationships. And although this book is definitely a great read for parents; I believe it is helpful to people in my situation to get an idea of what is going on in today's world in regards to the stresses that parents are under to raise their children. One quote caught my attention in Chapter 1 "The issue of children's intelligence has become just another factor, along with the newest car and the nicest appliances in the age old pressure to keep up with the joneses." This struck me because its crazy to think that intelligence has almost become something materialistic as if you could buy your child's IQ through all of these "baby smart" products. I know growing up that I was left to free play outside with my friends most of the day and my Mom maybe turned on the occasional sesame street or read a story before bed here and there. I attended a pre-k three days a week which consisted of eating snack, singing nursery rhymes, taking a nap, and making a weekly craft. As a result I have grown up to be a successfully educated person and never felt that I was severely lacking in any area because my mother did not make me memorize flash cards at 1 years old.
Therefore I am an advocate of play, but with the understanding that there are several kinds of play. Yes, children do need to have free play to be able to establish social skills on their on terms without adult intervention. But, in direct regards to many disadvantaged students, there needs to be play that is adult influenced and that has purpose such as the centers that exist within our classrooms. The children are learning but are also have fun and gaining valuable social skills that ultimately help with their academic skills. Many parents of the wealthy and middle classes establish this type of environment with their children early on through play dates, mommy and me classes, and community events. However students with disadvantaged parents or parents that don't speak the language many times miss out on these types of learning environments due to lack of money and lack of knowledge. Therefore it is imperative like Sue C said that we provide the disadvantaged students as well as students of the norm with an environment that is play based but has purpose and structure that will ultimately provide them the most valuable, educational experiences possible.
I agree that play is part of learning. For example, some of our math lessons call for students to explore the math manipulatives such as geo boards, or base ten blocks. Through this exploration, the children learn that if I have 3 longs and 5 cubes, that equals 35! It is through this hands on exploration that they are learning. However, if an outsider would look in, it would look as if the children were just "playing" with the manipulatives. This makes me hesitant to allow for a longer period of time for the students to spend with these tools and move on quickly to the next lesson. For some children, it takes a longer period of time for some of these concepts to "click" and they need to spend more time exploring and playing in order for the concepts to make sense.
I was hoping that this book was going to take away some of the pressure of parenting/educating. Instead, it seems to justify what we have been doing all along...providing a stimulating environment with as much one on one interaction as possible. Interestingly, when describing the rats' study, the authors described that the rats kept in small cages with no stimulation had the least amout of brain growth. They believe that there is no comparison between the rats raised in solitary confinement in that study and children "except in cases of the very worst deprivation". It does help to reinforce the idea that students who come from homes with little stimulation have less brain development than those with interactive homes. I also liked that the authors reinforced that children enjoy repetition which makes our routines in teaching meaningful and keeps us from feeling like we constantly have to change to keep them motivated.
While reading the first two chapters, I actually found myself cheering and even resorted to highlighting several passages. Most were sections I felt parents of today, pushy or neglectful, need to read or know. I found myself reflecting back to my childhood and felt that most of what was said about the importance of play was common sense. It bothered and continues to bother me that parents push, compare, and stress out their kids. It became apparent, involving children in numerous sports or lessons outside the classroom is really an easier way of not having to talk, communicate, or relate to your child. Parents put themselves on auto-pilot while transporting, and believe that they are doing their best for their child, but in fact they are doing a disservice. It's time to get back to basics. This year my class is so involved with any type of game I bring in. Maybe we could invite parents and children for a game night of gameboard,card, dice type games,- family games. The enjoyment and lessons learned on a family night at home are irreplaceable. Well I digress--on to the next chapter!
I have learned that children learn at their own pace and that there are times that they are developmentally ready to be introduced to new concepts. Giving children a multitude of opportunites to learn and using teachable moments to engage children in exploring the world around them, will help children from all backgrounds to become critical thinkers. I think the book focuses on children who are from families who use every opportunity to help their child be successful. We know that many of our students do not get the exposure to extracurricular activites and educational experiences that they may need. I think it is important that we continue to use every opportunity in the classroom to expose our students to rich, meaningful curriculum and to set expectations for them just as we would for our own children.
I too agree that this book would be a great read for parents & have suggested it and other literature on child development to my parents. I feel that parents don't always fully understand the importance of play. At home, it seems to be (for some families) that "play time" is a time for children to occupy themselves while parents are doing other things. I feel that some parents don't understand that this is the time when their children need them the most. They may not realize that the language rich interactions that children engage in with an adult are what lead to a greater vocabulary, the creation of logical thoughts, and the ability to link ideas together, among other things. Because of this, we are seeing some children come into our classrooms with a small vocabulary, lack of socail skills, and some children who actually do not know how to play or use toys/ classroom items with purpose. During parent-teacher conferences, I had a parent ask what she could do at home for her child & my response was "talk to her, have conversations with her, play with her." The parent said "oh ok, yeah I guess I really don't ever have conversations with her." This was a parent that wanted to help her child, not a neglectful parent- but it's just an example of how it doesn't always occur to parents to join their children in play & casual conversation. As early childhood educators & professionals, we understand the importance of play and the opportunities for learning that it provides. Play allows us to follow the child's lead/interests and challenge them in a playful way. It allows for meaningful learning or "learning in context" as stated in the book, rather than rote memorization. For example, a baby learns what "more" means because he wants another of something- there is an emotion attached to this, therefore the learning of the word "more" is very meaningful for the child. There are so many important things going on simultaneously during early childhood. As educators I think we can provide academic challenges, meet social/emotional needs, and address a variety of skill development through allowing children to engage us in natural exploration in the structured and language rich environments we provide in our classrooms.

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