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 Montessori materials and lessons are outdated.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.