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Question of the Week: When Should Kids Start Pre-K?

In England, kids start pre-kindergarten at age four, but a new study from Cambridge is suggesting putting it off until six.

The study itself took six years to complete, with 14 authors, 66 research consultants, 28 research surveys, over 1,052 “written submissions,” and 250 focus groups. The result is a report that’s 600 pages long. The conclusion: Kids are not allowed to be kids. They don’t have enough time to play, and preparing for standardized tests puts them under unwarranted stress.

How old does she look? Old enough to start Pre-K?

How old does she look? Old enough to start Pre-K?

The survey also suggests getting rid of testing for children between the ages 7 through 11. Finally, the study recommends focusing on improving basic skills — namely literacy and numeracy — shifting away from more specific subjects like history and geography while adding more emphasis on history and the arts.

Clearly, a lot of effort has been put into the study, but many parents are taking issue with the suggestion.

Barbara Ellen, columnist for The Guardian, suggests that the study doesn’t take into account working parents. With parents juggling more than ever — especially the many families that must have both parents working — pushing Pre-K off another year or two would be harmful to the middle and lower class.

“Most British parents deeply love their children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be delighted when they’re ready for school,” Ellen writes. “Could it be that this is simply the last taboo – parents admitting that, among other important things, they view school as a reliable form of childcare?”

While the study took place in the U.K., the U.S. struggles with the same issues that Ellen highlights. Though Pre-K often starts at five in the U.S., delaying our children’s entrance to the school system by even by a year could be tough on working families.

Delia Lloyd has spent time with the public school systems in America and Britain. In a recent article for Politics Daily, she explains the diverging ideas in how Pre-K education are developing. She writes, “As an American, I’ve always been struck by how rapidly children are forced to grow up in the U.K… The expectations facing kids seemed quite high — not just academically, but in terms of discipline, play and what kids were supposed to get out of extra-curricular activities.”

It’s clear that how we view our view on education — both here and across the pond — is rapidly developing growing up, maybe even faster than kids for a change.

When should kids start pre-kindergarten? Discuss!

Ticket to Ride… As Cheaply As Possible

If you’re like me, you don’t care about luxury air travel. You just want to get from point A to B as cheaply as possible. As airlines cut capacity, finding inexpensive airfare is becoming tougher and tougher. But there are a few good tips to find cheap seats.

Remember when flying was inexpensive? Me neither.

Remember when flying was inexpensive? Me neither.

An article by Rick Seaney at ABC News rebukes several myths that are often associated with the quest of finding a cheap flight, such as waiting for the last minute to buy a ticket, higher prices on weekend fares, and buying tickets at midnight on Tuesday.

Instead, shopping early — about four months before the departure — is usually when airlines are filling their cheapest seats. Sales are more likely to occur at the beginning of the week. Saturday is an inexpensive day to fly; Sunday is one of the most expensive, which makes sense since most people are trying to make it home for the work week. Last, Seaney notes that Tuesday is when the most flights are purchased, but there’s no evidence that it’s the cheapest day.

Seaney also encourages signing up for airline newsletters. It may be a hassle having your inbox spammed with ads from even your favorite airline, but it just might be worth it to catch a good deal.

The radio program Marketplace Money recently interviewed George Hobica of Airfare Watchdog, a service that tracks daily deals from all major airlines. Hobica encouraged people to be diligent about scouting out airfare, recommending that buyers check fares three times a day to find the best deal. Hobica also had advice for those who don’t feel like sitting at their computer and refreshing airfare search engines all day.

I think people need to look at alternate airports and alternate airlines. For example, if you’re flying from the Chicago area to Orlando, there’s a little airline called Allegiant Airlines that flies from Rockford, Ill. to Orlando Sanford. And last time I looked, the fares on Allegiant for peak holiday travel were about $100 each way and they are $500 on the major airlines. So think of smaller airports, smaller airlines. Make sure you look at Southwest.com, which does not share its fares on the major third-party booking engines.

It’s also worth noting that Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines are the only companies that will give you a credit if a ticket you’ve purchased becomes cheaper after you buy it.

8 "Best" Homemade Halloween Costumes Ever

There are a lot of clever ideas for Halloween costumes. Unfortunately, for every good idea, there are an equal number (if not more) bad ones. Here is a sampling of laughably bad ways to go trick or treating.

Transformers

Transformers: morons in disguise.

Transformers: morons in disguise.

Tom Cruise in Risky Business

Cue "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger. Also cue "Public Indecency Charges" by your local police department.

Cue Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger. Also cue Public Indecency Charges by your local police department.

Read more »

Question of the Week: Is Fame Dangerous to Kids?

A ride to fame... and everything that comes with it? photo by vovchychko

A ride to fame... and everything that comes with it? photo by vovchychko

Tell me if this sounds like a good idea—you make a weather balloon; you tell your son to hide in the garage, and then, after releasing said balloon, you call the authorities in a panic to tell them something terrible has happened. If everything goes well, you get famous and ink a reality TV deal.

As everyone who keeps up with television or the internet now knows, the above episode basically describes what authority’s believe Richard and Mayumi Henne did, temporarily shutting down Denver International Airport in the process. Perhaps the saddest part of this story: it worked, provided you accept the 24 hour news cycle represents “reality.”

That’s all well and good for the parents, but what about the children or in this case the child: the six year old Heene son. While “Balloon Boy” isn’t such a big downgrade from Falcon, there may be more serious repercussions than a bad nickname as he grows up. The trauma of watching his parents go to jail could be one in the not-too-distant future, while the excessive media attention at his age could also pose certain risks.

There’s well documented anecdotal evidence that celebrity, especially a parent’s quest for celebrity, can impact a child’s development in a bad way. Think Britney Spears, Macaulay Culkin, a young Drew Barrymore, the list goes on.

That said, what kid doesn’t want to be famous, and there have been plenty of child stars who turned into seemingly normal, productive members of society, like Ron Howard and Drew Barrymore, eventually.

That said, would you want your child to become famous? Is fame too dangerous for kids? Discuss!

Where the Kid-Appropriate Things Are

Cuddly but child friendly?

Cuddly but child friendly?

The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are opened with an impressive gross of over $30 million at the box office last weekend. But the movie’s journey from production to theaters is a widely covered tale of artistic vision pitted against commercial viability. Wild Things was set to premiere a year ago, but the entire film had to be re-shot because Warner Bros. Studio believed the film was too weird for the young target audience.

Now there’s a new controversy: is the film appropriate for kids? Read more »

Denigrated or Defended, Video Games Hold Educational Promise

There's no two ways about it: kids love video games. Photo by sean dreilinger

There's no two ways about it: kids love video games. Photo by sean dreilinger

Do you have a convincing argument about the evils of video games? Pamela Eakes of Mother’s Against Violence does. In her article posted on a PBS website examining the impact of games, she enumerates the various problems video games can cause — addiction, increased aggression, and social isolation among others — and she urges parents to take an active role in monitoring, as well as restricting, their kids’ game usage.

In certain circles, hers are commonly held beliefs, supported in part by studies like one presented in a 2008 Washington Post story, which indicates that violent video games really does raise children’s hostility levels.

Eakes’s views, however, are not unanimous. While MIT professor Henry Jenkins probably wouldn’t encourage parents to ignore their offspring’s gaming habits, he details a series of misconceptions about video games on that same PBS website, many of which seem to contradict Eakes’ fears.

Jenkins suggests that games have become a scapegoat for certain social problems and actions that have nothing to do with gaming at all, and there is certainly some evidence to support this. Revelations about the school shooting in Columbine, like these myths illuminated by CNN, revealed that the assailants were not part of the “Trench Coat Mafia” gaming culture as previously supposed.

As with many controversial topics it becomes difficult to get the facts exactly straight. Virtually everyone can agree, however, that video games do hold tremendous power to capture the kid’s attention — something a recent edition of the NPR radio show Soundprint addressed, with a focus in particular on educational gaming.

Because of their appeal to youngsters, the information they allow people to access, and the skills they can develop, many educators and game developers believe video games have incredible potential in the field of education; the difficulty so far has been finding that balance between entertainment, learning value, and of course, profitability.

Achieve it, and you could very well have a product that everyone one can get behind, but the day that sees an ideal blend of teaching tool and adventure saga remains a ways off, so kids and parents will have to make do with the current offerings, as well as the concerns they continue, rightly or wrongly, to produce.

Question of the Week: Are Disney Princesses Bad Role Models?

Seven dwarves, one wicked influence? Photo by jmacphoto.com

Seven dwarves, one wicked influence? Photo by jmacphoto.com

Last month a $110 million museum opened in San Francisco, dedicated to the life and accomplishments of Walt Disney. Located in a former army barracks and two adjoining buildings inside the city’s 1,491-acre Presidio National Park, it houses some of the earliest sketches of Mickey Mouse, audio recordings of Disney himself, as well as notes detailing his thought processes during on early projects, and of course numerous pieces of memorabilia.

Museum board member Diane Disney Miller, Disney’s daughter, was quoted in a Bloomberg article saying, “I think a lot of people don’t know [Walt Disney is] anything but a brand… I want people to know who he really was.”

By most accounts the museum makes a fitting and honest tribute to the visionary cartoonist’s legacy, but it’s that very legacy and the Disney brand that have sometimes incited controversy. In particular, Disney’s fascination with and promotion of princesses has concerned parents who sometimes see these slender and arguably over sexualized icons as potentially dangerous role models.

In a 2006 New York Times article, author Peggy Orenstein wrote:

There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed…

While some of Disney’s more modern characters like Mulan or Pocahontas have defied female stereotypes to a point, Orenstein says, they are usually not the ones marketed to girls and held up as figures to emulate. One counter argument is that a princess obsession is a harmless phase that girls grow out of, but not everyone is convinced.

What is your take? Do Disney princesses make for bad role models? What do you see as the Walt Disney legacy? Discuss!

Seriously… What's in a Name?

Choosing might be more important than you think.

Choosing might be more important than you think.

Would a CEO by any other name be as successful? The guys who wrote Freakonomics raise a similar question in one of their recent New York Times blog post. The answer? No, they say, names don’t affect how successful or unsuccessful someone is.

But the importance of names is not a point of universal agreement. A piece in Time written earlier this year also addressed the role a names play in shaping someone’s life. In an article titled “Can Your Name Make You a Criminal?”, John Cloud cited a study suggesting that your moniker can in fact increase the chance you end up in jail.

While the piece acknowledges that social class and upbringing also factor into people’s judgment, it does posit that certain names can lead to negative assumptions and sometimes negative treatment. It concludes that maybe parents should just settle for boring names, and judging from another Times article by J. Marion Tierney, they may be right.

“You can sort of understand parents’ affection for the sound of Chimera Griffin, but Monster Moor and Goblin Fester? Or Cheese Ceaser and Leper Priest? What provokes current celebrities to name their children Sage Moonblood Stallone and Speck Wildhorse Mellencamp?”

At the very least, it may be hard to take people with these names seriously, but do these names or others really have a negative impact on people’s lives? Some say yes, some say no, and others suggest that a bad name can actually make it easier for kids to roll with the punches.

Never fear, however, if you’re having trouble thinking of the perfect name for your new baby. Bloggers like the Name Lady at Namecandy.com are more than happy to give you some advice.

Question of the Week: Could Spanking Your Child Make Them Dumber?

The morality of corporal punishment is a tough issue with many parents, but have you ever considered the fact that being spanked might make a child stupider?

Spanking: is it helping or hurting?

Spanking: is it helping or hurting?

Though it seems pretty unlikely (and somewhat out of left field), Murray Strauss, a professor in the sociology department at the University of New Hampshire, has two studies that show a correlation between children who were spanked and lower IQ scores. Strauss and his colleagues surveyed parents of 1,500 children and found that children who weren’t spanked between the ages of two and four had an average IQ five points higher than those who were; children between age five and nine saw a similar trend, but less striking.

But there could be other factors at work here. Strauss surveyed families from 32 different countries. Spanking is more taboo in developed countries, which could explain the difference in IQ scores. Plus, couldn’t the frequency of spanking be a determinant? NPR got Strauss on the phone and asked him about these possible explanations.

“The data suggests but does not prove that another reason the IQs are higher in these countries is that there is less corporal punishment where there is higher economic development,” he conceded.

Still, Strauss’s work is something to consider. Even if there was a chance that your child might be smarter — or at least have a higher IQ score — would it be worth foregoing corporal punishment entirely as a means of discipline?

What do you think: could spanking your child make them dumber? Discuss!

Blogger Spotlight on Jackie Burrell

Jackie Burrell shares her family travel tips.

Jackie Burrell shares her family travel tips.

Formerly the education and family reporter and currently food editor for the Bay Area’s San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, and Oakland Tribune, Jackie Burrell is no stranger to putting her family experience into words. She’s also writing online for the Bay Area News Group’s parenting blog, aPARENTly Speaking, and About.com’s Young Adults section.

We caught up with Burrell to ask her about planning family vacations — what to do, what not to do, and how to avoid disaster.


Life360: You have four children and have gone on numerous family vacations to fun places in the U.S. and abroad. How do you plan ahead for family trips? How do you decide where to go?   We start planning six months to a year ahead and do a lot of research on the internet to find really memorable experiences, whether it’s luge rides in Austria (highly recommended) or a dinosaur dig in Montana (ditto). As the kids have grown, we’ve given them a lot of say in what we do and where. Read more »