Happy Parents, Happy Kids

Perhaps one of the fastest ways to pick a fight with a stranger is to comment on their parenting style. Around the country, let alone around the world, each culture or region is convinced only their way is right. Yet, American education has been in decline for years, currently ranking 27th in the world.  On the world happiness index, the US only ranks 18th. How do we, as parents, raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive children? Let’s take a look at a few approaches to child-rearing from beyond our shores…

Strict Helicopter

Parenting books number nearly as high as the number of parents, but several have made headlines. At one end is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  China, with more than a billion people vying for jobs, education, and housing, is perhaps the most cut-throat parenting system of all: children seen with potential are removed from homes as young as three, and raised by the state to become champion athletes, mathematicians, scientists. Parents are relentless in ensuring their child’s excellence, demanding study or practice eighteen or more hours a day in a method most Americans would label sheer abuse. Imagine the pressure on an entire class where being #2 is not an option. Chua has no qualms about pushing her daughters into being virtuosos and Ivy League scholars.

Don’t Bug Me, Kid

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman focuses on the ways the French raise their 

children. “The result of raising children French style, Druckerman writes, is “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents.””  French parents have a me-first attitude – if the baby won’t sleep through the night by four months, let him cry. They don’t like to breastfeed, because it interferes with intimacy. They don’t speak to their infants in baby talk, treat patience and waiting as the highest virtue after social manners, and feed their infants table food, resulting in children who like to eat normal food. Are French children perfect? Bien sȗr, non, but they seem to have far fewer struggles than Americans.

One Big Happy

The Danish Way of Parenting, by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl may just have a little more power behind it. The Danes often score #1 on the list of Happiest Country in the World. They have high taxes, but they get free education, healthcare, paid maternity leave, and more – those things that are crushing us. To discuss Denmark (and many of the Scandinavian countries), one has to first understand the concept of Hygge, which rules everything the Danish do: Hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-guh) is that warm, huggy feeling of comfort you get when you’re doing something with your family: sitting by the fire drinking cocoa, playing a board game, or maybe decorating cookies together, in one of those commercial-like scenarios where everyone is happy and the kids aren’t fighting and the dog isn’t chewing the game pieces – except, in Denmark, this is actually reality. It’s the land where Norman Rockwell must have taken notes.

The Danes rear their children with this mindset, which transforms them into happy adults. In (very) short:

  1. Don’t overpraise. Find something specific and praise that one thing instead. “What a nice, straight line!” Encourage growth; don’t let your child think s/he’s perfect.
  2. Let your child play. Play. With sticks, rocks, toys, not electronics. Play builds thinking skills, motor skills, social skills, and spatial relations a child needs for education.
  3. Promote togetherness. Family game nights, dinner, movies, puzzles, walks or sports or just playing in the park. Do it together, or with friends. This promotes strong social ties and models appropriate behavior. 40% of American families eat dinner together less than three times a week – 10% never do.
  4. Reframe negative thinking. Dwell on good things, not bad. If your child says they hate school, remind them of the things they do like.
  5. Practice empathy and compassion. Talk about emotions, and help your child learn to recognize them in themselves and others. Compassion for people and animals makes for a caring society.
  6. Let children figure things out for themselves. Don’t hover. Let preschoolers settle their own squabbles (within reason. If Agatha is beating Bjorn with a shovel, you might want to step in). 

There are no absolutes to child rearing. Some children are just darling; others seem to come out of the womb looking for trouble. But in a time when Americans are fracturing at the seams from stress, when schools are failing, children are parenting themselves, and society itself seems to be tearing apart, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere for advice. Considering the Danes were terrorized by two World Wars and are still the happiest people on Earth, maybe we should listen.

Also try:

        

 

Helping Your Young Child Become a Successful Reader

Today’s post comes to us from Ali, Head of Children’s Services.

 

Many people assume that there isn’t much they can do to help their child learn to read until they are of a certain age. Believe it or not, you should start at birth.  The five core practices to help prepare children for reading are Reading, Writing, Talking, Singing, and Playing.  These practices are taken from the Every Child Ready to Read Initiative. You may already be nurturing these pre-reading skills at home, but it is important to use these techniques everywhere you go with your child. To learn more about these practices, you can ask any children’s librarian for suggestions or attend an early literacy program or storytime at the Cheshire Public Library.

Early literacy programs at public libraries have changed significantly over the years. Early literacy is everything a child knows about reading and writing before he or she can read or write, typically between the ages of 0-5. Traditionally, children’s library programs focused on the education of children.  Today, these programs focus on the education of the parent or caregiver.  If you attend storytimes at the public library, you may hear the children’s librarian state an early literacy tip or model a specific behavior during their programs.  This is done intentionally to encourage caregivers to use these tools at a later point.

Here are some ideas on using each of the 5 best practices in your everyday life.

  • TALKING is the most critical early literacy skill because it helps children learn oral language. You can talk to your child about things you see or ask them open-ended questions to encourage a response from them.
  • SINGING develops language skills by slowing down syllables and sounds that make up a word. You can sing in the car whenever you’re traveling and you never have to worry about other people hearing your singing voice.
  • READING together not only develops vocabulary and comprehension, but it fosters a love of reading.  Try to pick a time to read when you are both in a good mood and never force it. It is a good idea to establish a reading routine at bedtime when your child is most relaxed.
  • You can start to practice WRITING as soon as your child can grip anything. Even if they are only making scribbles, they are getting those small hand muscles ready to hold a pencil.
  • Children also learn language and literacy skills through PLAY by helping them put thoughts into words as they talk about what they are doing.

Caregivers have the most important role in developing a child’s reading skills, so it is important that you practice these techniques as often as possible. I encourage you to visit the library and check out some of the early literacy programs and resources that we have.  To see our full events calendar, you can go to https://cheshirelibrary.libcal.com/.

Check out  our Parenting section for more on early literacy and school readiness:

 

And don’t forget to sign up for our summer reading program for kids and adults : Summer Adventure! The program runs from June 21 through August 17. Raffles, prizes, and giveaways will be available to those who complete the activities. Who will take home the crown for the most minutes read? Will it be the kids, or will it be the adults?

 

Board in the Library – Exploring the rise of tabletop gaming in 2018

When a friend asked me if I wanted to go to a board game cafe (The Board Room in Middletown CT) , I pictured three mind numbing hours of pictionary, or even worse, monopoly. I have a short attention span as it is, and pretending to be a tiny banker buying properties acrossboardgamesforadults-2x1-7452 the board and keeping track of piles of colorful money never really engaged me. In reality, I spent the next three hours curing diseases in Pandemic, creating train tracks that spread the globe in Ticket to Ride, and trading spices in Century: Spice Roads. I was floored that board games had evolved so much since I had played as a kid, the art was more engaging, the stories richer, and the play more involved. In the months following this revelation I’ve added over thirty board games to my list, and I’ve expanded my idea of what a board game can be.

Now how does this tie in to the library you ask? Well, board games have actually gained a large following in the library world, and both librarians and patrons are starting to take notice. Board games are one of the many tips-on-how-to-make-a-board-gameresources in a library that encourage community and collaboration. At a time when parents and educators are concerned about the rise in digital media and isolation, board games get people of different backgrounds engaging with each other across a table, solving problems, improving a number of practical skills, and having a good time. When you look at it that way, it’s no surprise that board games are a critical part of a libraries community, and a lifelong pursuit of learning.

If you’re new to board games, or like me, rediscovering your love of gaming, fear not. Here is a quick list of board games perfect for beginners.

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Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn.

 

  • Ticket To Ride suggests 2-5 players ages 8 and up with 45 minutes of play time.

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TsuroCreate your own journey with Tsuro: The Game of the Path! Place a tile and slide your stone along the path created, but take care. Other players’ paths can lead you in the wrong direction—or off the board entirely! Paths will cross and connect, and the choices you make affect all the journeys across the board. Find your way wisely and be the last player left on the board to win!

  • Tsuro suggests ages: 8+ , with 2-8 players, and up to 20 minutes of play time.

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Sushi Go! – Pass the sushi! In this fast-playing card game, the goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes as they whiz by. Score points for making the most maki rolls or for collecting a full set of sashimi. Dip your favorite nigiri in wasabi to triple its value. But be sure to leave room for dessert or else you’ll eat into your score! Gather the most points and consider yourself the sushi master!

  • Sushi Go! suggests ages 8+, with 2-5 players, and up to 15 minutes of play time.

Just like the rest of the library, board games are designed to challenge your current pattern of thinking and keep your brain young. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that playing board games was associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Board games are also great for those with anxiety as a way to step out and make new friends within a structured setting, allowing friendships to build over a collaborative goal. But, just like any other program in the library, it needs participants to thrive and grow.

Lucky for you, there’s a new board game club opening at the Cheshire Public Library this February! This club will be hosted on the first Thursday of the month, and each month will feature a new board game. Come and enjoy our freshly re-modeled third floor, have a hot chocolate and re connect with old friends, or make some new ones!

 

 

 

Smart from the Start

Let’s face it. Toddlers are adorable, but they’re a pain in the kneecaps when you have to keep getting up to chase them. Like an overcaffeinated octopus in a waterpark, they get into EVERYTHING. Once a baby starts to creep, your time to sit and relax evaporates. So what do you do to keep them busy long enough to check your email without having to hold them, yet manage to keep them from banging on the keyboard?

The worst thing you can do is plug them in. No child under the age of two should be parked in front of a TV or – and I see this every day in one store or another – a cell phone. Babies and toddlers need to DO. They need to use their bodies – crawling and climbing and running for gross motor, and touching, poking, pulling, pushing to develop not only fine-motor skills, but tactile, sensory integration, mental mapping, visual-motor integration, social expectations, and spatial memory – things they cannot develop from passive observation of a flat screen.

And that is not an easy task. Walk through Toys я Us or Walmart and almost every toy is merely a piece of plastic that beeps or flashes when you push a button. Maybe it sings a song or says the ABCs. Cute, but useless, really. Learning without context is gibberish – it has no meaning. If I suddenly switch to кириллица alphabet, and give you no explanation, ქართულად წერა, most of you will never clue in to my meaning*. These are no better than a cell phone or endless Dora. But the toys that ARE geared for actual learning are not usually found in stores but educational catalogs, and those are  often overpriced because they expect a school system to pay for them – like these awesome 32-pc clear plastic magnet builders, for $53. My favorite toddler toy is the Bilibo chair, an artfully designed piece of plastic that has endless imaginary uses: a chair, a stepstool, a rocker, a doll bed, a helmet, a bucket, a turtle shell, and it creates a vortex really well – but at $30, these two toys alone are close to $100 without shipping, making Christmas a stretch.

One of the memes making the rounds of the internet is one Dad’s solution, which is genius. Give the kid all those things he wants to explore, but in one safe location: a real-life busy board. Phones, switches, calculators, all those forbidden things, right in reach, and no one yelling. Finding myself the unexpected guardian and caretaker of an infant and starting all over again, I wanted one of those. As she started to crawl, I built one, too. Wheels for spinning, latches, jingly keys (and old dog license tags), a push-on closet light, a light switch that turns on an actual LED, a small baking sheet for magnets (we use photos of relevant family and friends), interchangeable carabiners with a pacifier, a fun keychain, a small measuring tape that retracts, a mailbox flag that goes up and down, a brush for sensory input, Velcro dots for sticking pictures to (and they feel fun), a light-up keychain, numbers for counting and matching clothespins, an old TV remote, and most importantly – the springy door stoppers that go BOING when you whap them. Fastened to the wood, they make a very satisfying sound. Another important item was a small grab bar fourteen inches off the ground. This allows the beginning stander and walker to hold on and pull, and feel secure while standing and playing. All this, on a 2  by 3 foot piece of plywood attached to the dining room wall. The only other thing we did was add three mirrored tiles at baby height on a different wall.

Now, raiding your garage or your family’s may land you half these items, but to buy them all from scratch is not cheap – easily in the $100 range, as the plywood section alone was $20, and all those $5 items add up. Of course, you can start off with just a few and add on. A toddler’s toy that can’t be thrown, lost, and actually occupies them over and over while letting them explore and learn? Priceless.

Today it’s building the busy wall; tomorrow the treehouse, then the race car, the playhouse, and the sandbox. Are you game? Then check out these books on simple building projects, and things to keep your toddler busy.

        

 

* by the way, the above is the word Cyrillic in Russian, and the words writing in Kartuli, which is Georgian Russian.

Cloning Around

Cloning seems new, but it’s technically been around longer than man – identical twins can be considered clones, splitting a single fertilized egg into two or even four genetically identical individuals from that one egg. Modern cloning, wherein cells are taken from a living donor and a primitive cell is induced to become an organism traces back to just 1996, when Dolly the Sheep was cloned from a mammary cell of another sheep, the first time a body cell was used instead of a sex cell – an egg or sperm.

The success of Dolly induced a rush to clone everything. Companies still offer to clone your pet, so that when it dies you can have an exact replica. Zoos and conservationists tried vainly to clone endangered species. And, due to the discovery of some well preserved remains of extinct creatures such as the mammoth and Otzi, the ancient hunter, biologists, paleoarchaeologists, and dreamers leaped at the chance to resurrect ancient animals, or possibly even a Neanderthal (if you believe they are truly extinct. It’s been found that modern people of European descent may have as much as 5% Neanderthal DNA .

Is this even possible? Jurassic Park resurrected the dinosaurs, and outside of making a tidy sum for their producers (four films have brought in more than 3.6 billion dollars. Billion with a B, not counting book sales), we understand the havoc that created, substituting frog DNA for missing strands of dinosaur.

Two recent books discuss this possibility in thoughtful detail.

Resurrection Science, by M.R. O’Connor, is philosophical and easy to read. She discusses reasonable ethics regarding several endangered species, but leaves the questions open for the reader to decide. Should millions of people be denied electricity because a mere handful of frogs live only in six square feet of mist of one waterfall deep in the jungle? Should we be captive-breeding the Florida panther, only to release them into a concrete jungle so they can be hit by cars and shot by people freaking out when they see them? Species have been going extinct for millions of years; should we be trying to save them if we’ve destroyed the very environment that made them what they are? And by the time you artificially recreate animals, hand-rear them (because the parents are extinct), and then set four of them free – are they really the animal you were trying to save? Because they were artificially created, they don’t know what to do, how to attract mates, what or how to forage and eat, and can starve to death.

How to Clone a Mammoth, by biologist Beth Shapiro, is still easy to read, but contains a chapter on the hard-core dynamics involved in splicing and replicating DNA material. While Shapiro is among those who would love to see mammoths cloned, she’s deep in the know and admits it’s not feasible. Not only has not a single complete strand of viable DNA been recovered, no study takes into account the near impossibility of actually making the goal: in trying to resurrect the recently extinct Bucardo (a type of Spanish Ibex), using frozen cells taken from a then-living animal (not a 20,000 year old dried out one), 780 cells were transplanted to eggs, but only 407 developed into embryos. Two hundred eight were implanted into hosts, of which only seven became pregnancies (an efficacy rate of 3%). Of these, just ONE made it to term (0.4%). That one animal had a lung defect so severe it lived less than ten minutes. Cloning, depending on specie, has a terrible rate of success, with animals frequently dying of defects or cancers. Shapiro discusses the ethical concerns of what to do with a mammoth if you do create one – no one knows its behaviors. The MAMMOTH won’t even know how to act like a mammoth. Are they solitary or social? Will it pine in loneliness? What does it eat? Does that diet still exist? Where will you keep it? We’re bringing alive an animal we have no data on whatsoever. Is this fair to the animal? If not a mammoth, should we try to resurrect something else recently extinct whose absence IS having a deleterious effect on the environment? Shapiro paints a harsher ethical – and realistic – picture.

Technology is closer than ever to reaching de-extinction goals, and with increasing earth temperatures melting permafrost and releasing better-preserved specimens every year, the chance of finding usable DNA grows ever closer. Both of these books present a balanced side to the argument. Of course we WANT to bring back mammoths. The question remains: should we?