Parents are told that we have the power to make our children smarter by playing certain music, or buying specific toys, or signing them up for special activities. Unfortunately, in our quest to help our kids be successful, we are running ourselves - and our kids - ragged.
Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek has some good news for exhausted parents: allowing your kids free time to play may be the best thing you'll ever do for them. With Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, she has written a book called, "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How our Children REALLY Learn - And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less."
She explains that kids need free time to play so they can discover their own creativity; playing and talking with your children will aid their development more than anything else you can possibly do, as well. Hirsh-Pasek visits The Early Show to offer four simple things you can do to help develop your child's creativity and further their learning.
Eat Dinner Together: Over dinner, the family has 20 minutes or so to talk with few interruptions. "These occasions become contexts for learning," Kathy writes. "We sequence our daily events to recount them, encouraging the development of memory and narrative." When you ask kids about their days, their answers require some creative thought. Kathy cautions that you must ask specific questions. Did you paint at school today? What did you draw? What colors did you use? What did your friend Jenny draw? Was it fun? From these answers your child is not only developing memory and narrative, he is talking about colors and shapes and feelings and friends. Dinner is also a great opportunity for you to model behavior for your kids.
Find Unstructured Family Time: Dinner is a predictable, fairly structured activity. Set aside other times to play together as a family. Decree a game night or go for a walk. On your walk see what catches your child's eye and talk to her about it or make up a story about it. This is an opportunity for your child to let her imagination run wild and for you to be along for the ride. Remember to let your child remain in control of play time, follow her lead.
Read Aloud: Don't underestimate the importance of reading to your kids - the National Academy of Education Commission on Reading says that reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for ensuring success in learning to read. But just reading is not enough - you need to really engage your kids. Ask them questions about what they see on the pages, what they think may happen next and how they think the characters are feeling. And don't just ask questions you're certain they can answer. Push them a little bit beyond what they can do on their own.
Limit TV And Videos: Parents hear this all the time; it's not a surprising piece of advice. However, what is a bit unusual is that Kathy extends this advice to include educational TV and videos such as "Sesame Street" and "Barney." TV is not inherently bad, she explained, but it is passive. Your child learns more by doing than by watching. Kids watching TV don't come up with fantasy games; they are not interacting with other kids. They are being handed entertainment instead of learning to entertain themselves.
Read an excerpt from "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards."
IT'S NO WONDER that parents and educators are tired and frazzled. We have been caught in a whirlwind of cultural assumptions about how to raise and educate the next generation. We are told that faster is better, that we must push learning along at a rapid pace. We are told that we must make every minute of our children's lives count, that our children are like empty rooms to be filled by the adults who serve as the interior designers of their lives. These assumptions about children and how they learn are at complete odds with the messages coming from the halls of academe, where child development experts have researched how children grow and learn. This book tells the story of development from the scientist's point of view. It thus offers an antidote not only to the hurried child but also to the hurried parent and hurried teacher!
The seeds for this book were first planted back in the mid-1980s, when Professor David Elkind of Tufts University came to Philadelphia to speak about his classic book, The Hurried Child. Professor Elkind had his finger on the pulse of the problem long before the "decade of the brain," when parents were told they had to put their children's brain development on their to-do list. He worried about the adultification of children as they began to appear draped in Baby Gap attire while participating in an array of adult-oriented activities revamped for preschoolers—everything from computer science to cooking classes to soccer leagues. His warning signs appeared even before parents could get quick child-rearing advice with just two keystrokes on the Internet. I (Kathy) was a junior professor at Haverford College, doing research on "hurried children," and I was thrilled to host Professor Elkind during his speaking tour. I was also a parent of two young children, Josh, age 4, and Benj, age 2. While I knew that Professor Elkind was theoretically right about finding more downtime with our children and enjoying more playtime, I also felt the pain of hurried parents. Every time my friends would tell me about another art class, or another soccer league for toddlers, I worried that my children would be left behind in the rush toward success.
As a developmental psychologist, I knew that Professor Elkind was correct about the plight of the modern-day parent and child. Yet it took all the knowledge I had to resist the temptation to push my children too far and too fast. Using child development as my guide, I let them play. And 16 years later, I am happy to report that my two oldest sons (I now have three boys) both have gotten into the colleges of their choice and are happy, intelligent, and very creative people.
At the same time, I (Roberta) was raising my two children while a professor at the University of Delaware. Jordy (now Jordan) was 9 and Allison was 5. I remember when my son interviewed to attend a private school and I wondered whether I had failed him by not teaching him to read. But he was 4! The culture had worked its effect on me, despite the fact that I should have known better: I was a developmental psychologist. And yet I resisted because I knew that pushing children can backfire and create children who dread learning. It's not that we sat at home. We did our share of music classes and religious instruction, but we tried to draw the line in the sand at the extras that would have taken away the children's cherished playtime.
When my children were offered coed ballroom dance classes at a country club, I blew the whistle. But it wasn't easy to say "no." The invitations were embossed! And many of my friends' children participated. But, as I have since learned from my children (now 20 and 24), they treasured the time they had to play at home and with their peers. Recently, my daughter shyly told me that as a child, she played a game with the fingers on her hand, imagining that they were a family and each had a role. She loved that game. My son loved the extra staircase we had before we renovated our kitchen because it was such a great place to play hide-and-seek. And they both remember playing inside a box we received with a delivery of an appliance and turning it into their private hideaway. Did they miss out because they didn't take those dance lessons and learn how to interact in mature ways with the opposite sex? Have they suffered socially for lack of the foxtrot or box step? I don't think so. My son graduated from an Ivy League college and is already making a contribution to society through his membership in the Teach for America program. My daughter, still at a fine college, does her share of volunteer work through her involvement with a rape crisis center. Both are caring, happy, and resourceful people.
We tell you these things so that you know that even we, trained to understand how children grow and develop, had our doubts in trying to forge a balance for us and for our children. We tell you these things so that you know that you are not alone when you follow your "gut" and say "no" to that extra activity that all the other kids are doing. We tell you these things so that when your children grow older, they, too, can look back and tell you how important the time they shared with friends and family was to them and their development and how happy it made them.
WHY THIS BOOK NOW?
The pages of this book were written to share the remarkable story of child development with parents, practitioners, and policy makers. The last 4 decades have witnessed an unparalleled burst of scientific study on infants and toddlers, and we have been privileged to be a part of this revolution with our colleagues around the world. As scientists, each with more than 25 years in the research field, and as parents ourselves, we genuinely want to help children and parents get their lives back. We want you to know the story of how children develop so that you can make wise choices based on scientific evidence and then apply your knowledge at home, in the classroom, and in policies for children.
Much of what the media reports about research on child development contains only a grain of scientific truth. News stories and advertisements tell parents that toys build better brains and that infants and toddlers are mathematical geniuses. Here we set the record straight. We chart the terrain of how children really learn as we help you to move from the scientific journals to practical applications of the research. Stocked with "teachable moments" and sections where you can "discover hidden skills" in your children, this book will empower you to resist the temptation to try to create young geniuses and will better equip you to raise happy, healthy, and intelligent children.
WHO ARE WE?
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. A professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, she is director of the Temple University Infant Lab. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and directs the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware in Newark. We both are internationally recognized scholars, and we have worked together on research since 1980. In addition to serving as each other's best listener and child-rearing advisor, we have written and edited a total of 10 books and more than 80 articles in professional journals. With our colleagues in the field, we are discovering the story of human development.
We have shared our views on various aspects of child development at professional meetings across the globe. Funded by your tax dollars through federal grants, we are determined to "give back" and share the fruits of our labors with parents and professionals. Together we study how children learn language—a mysterious feat accomplished by the age of 3! Our earlier book How Babies Talk has been translated into four languages, perhaps because our enthusiasm for our topic is contagious.
As we mentioned earlier, we can identify with hassled parents who feel as if they are trying to make the most out of limited, often rushed time. As we were raising our children, we, too, experienced ever-mounting pressure. Sometimes we made mistakes in overscheduling, and we always noticed who suffered as a result: We did. Why? Because our children were cranky and tired and stressed. Parenting is a hard job. It often felt easier to go to work! Even though we never used flash cards with our children, all five of them are toilet trained, know how to read and write, and love learning.
We are also joined by Dr. Diane Eyer, a psychologist who teaches at Temple University and is an acclaimed author of several books on mothering. Her books Motherguilt and Mother-Infant Bonding were well-reviewed in the New York Times book review. Diane's help was instrumental in pulling together some of the research that we wanted to share with you and in making sure that the writing was always readable and engaging.
Reprinted from "Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really
Learn - And Why They Need to Play More And Memorize Less" by Kathy
Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer,
Ph.D. © 2003 by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff,
Ph.D. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.