Will This Toy Get My Kid into Harvard?

Hi Readers! Here’s my piece from today’s Wall Street Journal:


Remember when a ball was just a ball? Now it is a tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills.

Really. Strolling through the international Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York City last week was like walking through the brightly painted halls of a children’s hospital—at once cheery and sad. Cheery were the shiny bikes and busy ant farms. Sad was the way the marketers made it sound like they were peddling early intervention in a box.

Take “Baby’s First Construction Marble Raceway Set” from Rollipop—a very cute plastic set of chutes and curves that any marble would be delighted to loop through. It looked ready to delight any kid, too, and better still keep him occupied while Mommy checks her BlackBerry. But according to the box copy, this was no mere diversion. It was an educational show-stopper that “encourages hand-eye coordination,” even while “visually stimulating” the brain and developing “fine motor skills.”

Read the rest here!

Help This Mom Save Recess!

Hi Readers — Here’s a plea for some great ideas from a mom whose “excellent” public school has killed recess. Has your school tried this, too, and realized its folly? If so, how did it come to its senses? Or is your school considering this and you, too, are trying to figure out how to stop the soul-crushing steamroller of “test success at all costs”? Do tell! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: My son just started kindergarten a few weeks ago and I have been so worried about the lack of “Free-Range”-ness in schools — like free choice and play time. Everyone assured me kindergarten was fine and it has been, but the innocence is over in 1st grade: Our school district as DONE COMPLETELY AWAY with RECESS!

The reason? “Just not enough time.” Huh!? What about games and socialization? No, now everything is about test scores. They are keeping 6-year-olds inside for 6 hours to study for tests.

The truly sick thing is that it is an EXCELLENT school academically…great scores. It also prides itself on character building. But my question is: How are they doing all this character building when the students are learning test prep instead of going to recess?  In second, third and fourth grade the kids are literally only learning test-taking skills with the other subjects worked in.  It is a complete disaster and, in my opinion, the school administrators have become so caught up in their reputation for having good academics, they have lost sight of how children learn best and how to mold young children well.

Another mom and I are going to be taking this up with the school and then ultimately the school board.  We have written a letter and are gathering parent signatures.  Any advice/support you could offer I would really appreciate.  This sort of short-sidedness that could really harm the gentle minds our children is devastating to me. Thanks for the support. — Meg

Meg — Lately, child development types have begun emphasizing the importance of “self-regulation,” the ability to control oneself. And it turns out the very best way to develop this ability is by playing with a group of kids, who say things like, “Wait your turn!”  And that is how a kid learns, indeed, to wait her turn.

A great book on the importance of play is Susan Linn’s, “The Case for Make-Believe,” which goes into all the studies and psychology of creativity, play and development. Plus, it’s readable! Another wonderful source of info about free play and all the good it does is KaBoom, the playground-promoting people. And I just read this article on English schools cheating kids out of all-important, tumble-around play.

Please let us know how your crusade progresses. And go get ’em! — L