Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Review of the Reggio Emilia Approach

An example of non-Reggio teacher-defined and regulated art
Although I have never seen the Reggio Emilia Approach in action, it appeals to me a great deal.

One aspect that I applaud is the emphasis on the process of learning. There is another educational philosophy called the Project Approach that closely resembles Reggio Emilia. I've been told that International Baccalaureate schools teach with an emphasis on learning how to research information rather than memorizing facts. The Project Approach and the Reggio Emilia Approach both seem beneficial to that end. In a world where so much information is available on the Internet and the reaches of human knowledge are constantly expanding, skills to gather, critique, and synthesize information are vital.

What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

A child's drawing from Reggio Emilia, Italy
The Reggio Emilia Approach is a philosophy and set of practices for early childhood education that were developed in Italy in the city of Reggio Emilia. The approach has gained popularity in America, and while only a handful of preschools are strictly “Reggio,” a growing number are “Reggio inspired.”

The first Reggio Emilia school was opened after WWII. The community was rebuilding, and in a backlash against Fascist ideology, the town wanted to make sure the new school allowed students to define what they learned, rather than allowing traditional top-down teaching. The resulting school was one in which teachers spend a great deal of time observing children and then presenting information of interest to them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Empowering Children to Solve their Own Problems

My last post was about letting children solve their own problems. Even as young as three, I find that children can resolve their own conflicts if you empower them with the right phrases. Preschool children want to get along with their peers, but sometimes they don’t know what to do when problems arise.

For example, when one child bumps into another, the child that was bumped into might start crying and run tell the teacher. The child who did the bumping might not know what an accident is, and he might think that any time he hits someone else, he could get in trouble. He might not know that a simple “I’m sorry,” can solve the problem.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adult Intervention

I recently watched the following scene take place among fourth grade boys on the playground. The boys were playing kickball. One boy kicked the ball deep into the outfield. As he rounded second base, the shortstop intentionally stuck his foot out and tripped him. The boy stumbled, but did not fall over. He stopped running and turned to the boy and said in a condescending tone “What are you doing?” The batting team started yelling at their teammate to keep running. The boy ran and tagged home and then turned back to the kid who had tripped him and said “But seriously man, what are you doing? What’s your problem?” He didn’t yell, but he got close to the boy’s face. The boy had nothing to say, and the base-runner finally dropped the subject.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creativity for Life

“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.” Maria Montessori

In my last post I mentioned that secondary and post-secondary education often do not deliver the skills most needed in the workplace. Creativity is one of these skills, and its absence in education extends all the way down to preschool.

Bloody Mary: The Perfect Drink?

Lately, I've been on a Bloody Mary kick. Its a great all-purpose drink. It's salty, spicy, and delicious. It has tomato juice for nutritional value. According to my V-8 container, one glass contains two servings of vegetables, and I put lemon and lime juice in mine as well. Best of all, your allowed to have one with breakfast. That covers all my criteria for a great drink.

I try not to buy pre-made mixes because they come with MSG and preservatives. I've been tinkering with some other recipes, and I've put together my favorite Bloody Mary recipe. Its pretty flavorful and spicy, but feel free to tone it down to your tastes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Failure of Secondary and Post-Secondary Education: Just Grab a Dang Parachute

Secondary and post-secondary education is failing us. A growing number of critics have realized that the skills and knowledge young adults of my generation are equipped with in high schools and liberal arts colleges have little correlation to real-life jobs. We find that no one will hire us, and if we get a job, little of what we learned in school prepared us to do that job.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Granola Part 2: Health Calculus

For a recipe see Granola Part 1.
Generally I think granola is a health breakfast choice. Oats are a whole grain. They will give you fiber and nutrients. From there it gets a little more complicated.

Even if you’re trying to lose weight, its a good idea to get plenty of calories in the morning. I’ve read eating when you wake up tells your body its time to start burning calories. It also prevents you from getting hungry mid-day and snacking from the vending machine or gas station. More specifically, its a good idea to get some protein and healthy (unsaturated) fat  in the morning, because calories from protein and fat will keep you fuller longer that carbohydrates. Go for nuts and seeds. 

Granola Part 1: "Granola, So Easy!"

Why is granola so expensive? I don’t know. Its cheap and easy to make. Several years ago a friend named Robin made this “ratio” for me by scanning several recipes and finding the common denominators.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Everyone's a Winner- The Self-Esteem Parenting Model

The Self-Esteem Parenting Model is one common parenting strategy that has been nearly universal among middle-class families from at least the 1980s to the present. The model assumes that a high self-esteem is essential for a child’s success and that parents should promote and defend their child’s self-esteem as often as possible. Parents frequently tell their children that they are smart and great. They praise every half-hearted crayon scribble their child produces. Competition is avoided. Four-year-old soccer games are not scored, and whatever the game is, there are never any losers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Crappy Toy Dilemma

I cringe when I walk into a child care facility or child’s bedroom and see a field of mismatched, broken, dismantled toys scatted about the room. A Playschool truck missing a wheel. A naked Barbie. A few Monopoly dollars. This scene is caused by what I call the Crappy Toy Dilemma.

The Crappy Toy Dilemma is a catch 22. We buy children toys that are poorly made from low quality material, usually plastic, because we anticipate them being lost or broken. But children loose and break toys because we do do not teach them how to take better care for them because we know their just cheap plastic.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Farming with Oxen

I just read an article in the New York times about farming with oxen. Apparently its coming back into use on a few farms. Farmers claim that, largely due to rising fuel prices, it is cheaper to farm with animals than tractors. Oxen are fueled by grass, a renewable resource. Plus you get the added benefits of the oxen hoofs aerating the ground, and oxen droppings fertilizing it. Isn’t it convenient how these little cycles work?

Some experts predict an oil crisis. A sudden crisis seems less likely than continuous decline in availability until prices are so high that it becomes cheaper to replace the burning of fossil fuels with other methods of transportation and production. Oh wait. Thats whats happening here.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Language Evolution and the Brain

The brain is extremely interesting. We know so little about how it works and its capabilities.  How does it store memories or newly acquired information?  How do we learn language, the ability that distinguishes humans from all other life? An article in the Economist last week discussed two new studies about the evolutionary origins of language.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Cons of Montessori

For all its positive features and beneficial outcomes, Montessori has room for improvement is several significant ways:

1. Montessori materials and lessons are outdated. In the “practical life” area, children in Montessori schools today still learn how to polish silver and wash clothes on a washboard. I can’t think of a skill less practical for someone born in 2007 than washing clothes on a washboard.

The Pros of Montessori

Children educated using the Montessori method perform higher academically and are more socially developed than their peers. Montessori students generally outperform their peers at the secondary level, and Montessori students are more motivated and better socially adapted.

The Montessori method must be doing something right. From my early childhood education research and my experience working in Montessori, I believe the positive outcomes of Montessori are derived primarily from these features:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is Montessori anyways?

Montessori Materials

When I mention that I have worked at a Montessori school, a common response is “I went to a Montessori school. All I remember is...(I always wanted to make snack, my teacher let a kid wear his shoes on the wrong feet, etc.) What is Montessori anyway?”

Montessori is a method of education developed by the Italian physician and teacher Dr. Maria Montessori. The Montessori method begins with the premise that children have an absorbent mind that learns from the environment more than from teachers. Therefore, the Montessori classroom is one where teachers serve as guides and students learn from a “prepared environment.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reach Out and Read

Last week the New York times published Rx: Read: Training doctors to promote literacy in their youngest patients. It reports that a non-profit organization called Reach Out and Read is improving language development in children of low-income families.
The program trains doctors to encourage parents to read to their babies. Doctors hand out books at each checkup. They are also trained to use books as a tool to asses children's development. For example, a doctor might assess the motor skills of an infant by how well an she can lift a book or the cognitive skills of a toddler by how closely he looks at the pictures.

Organic Foods and Household Items

I just read 12 Things You Should Definitely Buy Organic, and I recommend it.
The article mentions that it can be expensive to buy everything (from potatoes to sofas) organic and suggests that these items might be the most important if you have to make trade-offs. My tip is, don't rush out and buy all new glass Tupperware until your old ones wear out or get lost (unless maybe you're pregnant or have a newborn). That plastic hasn't killed you yet.
In fact, if you start choosing foods and toiletries that come in nice glass containers and saving them, you might find you don't need anything new. And check the thrift store! Forget recycle. Reduce and reuse.

What Makes You Fat

I just read this an article called Diseases of Affluence. The comments on the article are a discussion about whether it is diet or lack of mobility that makes you fat.
Is it diet or exercise? Is it what you eat or how much? Is it lifestyle or genetics? Are all calories equal or do some make you fatter than others. I often find myself in these discussions, and I find there are a lot of misconceptions.

Health Fads Part II: Trick of Treatment

I recently read Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine (Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst MD, 2008). Each chapter is about a different alternative medicine, its history, its uses, and all the information the authors could gather from large reputable studies about their effectiveness.
Usually when drugs or treatments are tested, some studies show that they work and other studies show that the same treatment does not work. There may be problems with the studies that the researchers do not realize. Before the scientific community comes to a consensus on something, a lot of studies have to be done. Then researchers do mega-analysis of those studies to come out with a verdict.

Health Fads Part I: The "Truth" About Beauty

There is a streak in me that longs to put aloe vera in my smoothies and mushed banana on my face. My interest in alternative treatments took off in late high school when I bought a book called The Truth About Beauty by Kat James.
The truth, Kat tells us, is that real beauty does not come from diet cokes and low-fat, low-carb, low-flavor highly packaging, highly marketed diet products as she once thought. Nor does it come from expensive cosmetics or prescription drugs. All these things are supposedly damaging. True beauty comes from a healthy diet of natural foods supported by high doses of vitamin and mineral supplements.

Diet Pills

Last Wednesday (2/2/11) the New York Times published the article “F.D.A. Fails to Approve Diet Drug.” The prescription diet pill Contrave will not be approved until a long-term study can prove that it dose not raise the risk of heart attacks.
In recent months the FDA has turned down two other weight-loss drugs. Now experts believe the decision will discourage drug companies from developing weight loss drugs. Several commentators expressed disapproval echoing that of by Morgan Downey, editor of the Downey Obesity Report,  that “the FDA has decided that the most significant threat to public health will not be treated by any drug.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nutrition by the Cup

One day while I was working at Starbucks, a customer asked me “What’s the skinniest thing you have?” Starbucks has several lattes made with artificial sweetener and skim milk that they call “skinny” lattes. I knew she was looking for something like that, but I couldn’t resist. “Black coffee,” I replied. She frowned, and said she was looking for something more “fun.” I relented and helped her pick out something more like what she wanted.
The marketing labels at issue here are a little misleading from a nutritional standpoint. There are four main elements that determine how healthy or unhealthy a coffee, tea, or espresso drink is. Antioxidants, caffeine, fat and sugar.

The Food Industry Continues to Sell What People Want to Buy

The New York Times recently published the article “Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods.” Wal-Mart has a five-year plan to lower the prices of fruits and vegetables and to lower the amount of salt, sugar, saturated fats and trans fats in many of its store-brand packaged foods. Wall-Mart is the country’s leading grocery seller. Michell Obama is endorsing the plan.

When Life Hands You Avocados, Make Brownies

Two days ago I made avocado brownies. This ridiculous baking endeavor was inspired by a book called The 10 Things You Need to Eat: and More than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them (O’Connor and Lieberman).
“Superfoods” are one of the latest health fads. When you start reading about the all the fiber and nutrients in spinach and the all the health problems that eating more spinach has been shown to reduce the risk of, you probably won’t deny that its a pretty super food. And some foods have disease-fighting properties that are more than the sum of their parts, such as cabbage and its ability to reduce the risk of cancer.