Food Battles – One View on What to Do

Why, hello world.

I had to take a break from professional writing for a few months due to conflicts of interest, and although you’d think that meant I’d be more free to write for my poor unloved blog, I guess..not. Huh.

Wait But Why, my new favorite beloved, has a great post explaining, well, why, I can’t sometimes just get off my butt and write. Especially without a deadline, or (and this is important), the promise of money.

Hatas gonna hate.  Procrastinators gonna procrastinate.


Where was I?

I do have one pro-free range parenting article from earlier this year up on that other site:

Your Helicopter Parenting is Hurting My Kids

It’s not much of a controversial issue by this point.  It’s totally in vogue now to be all like, “Hey, those crazy overprotective parents, I mean, right?”  And, like I’ve said before, this blog is not for advocacy or controversies or opinions — just information. So instead I want to highlight some of the feeding and nutrition stuff mentioned in the article.

Ellyn Satter, a nutrition expert, has become famous for counseling parents on feeding their children and minimizing mealtime battles, beginning with newborns. We talk more and more about on-demand breastfeeding for infants, and thank goodness. Study after study has indicated that infants know when they are hungry and when they are full.

We young parents are starting to get that. But we still don’t get that the concept extends beyond infancy. We’re treating the infants with respect and then infantilizing our toddlers, instead of learning the mealtime division of responsibility:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

This means that if your kid doesn’t want to eat the healthy well-balanced meal you provided, even when considering their taste preferences, well, okay. They will live.

Even as a Satter devotee I don’t perfectly follow her rules. No food in between snacks and mealtimes? Nope. I’m theworst. My kids regularly ruin their dinner, even if they are eating healthy snacks. You know why I break that rule on a regular basis? Because after two babies who had weight issues, I’m still afraid I’m starving my kids. Yeah, those kids. The healthy ones over there currently trying to dismantle my bookshelf.

Our kids are so much more capable than we give them credit for.

I highly recommend reading Satter’s books, even if you don’t end up agreeing with everything in them. I found it very freeing to just chill out regarding toddler eating habits.

For more information regarding implementing the Satter method, check out the incomparable Amalah, who writes an advice column on AlphaMom.

..and so much more. Amy (Amalah) really really loves Satter.  And I love Amy. So it’s just a hippie circle of love over here.


“Wait but Why” does my dream post on names

Names. Oh names. I’m not a name nerd. My children’s names are not overly unique.  I don’t think they are too popular, but they are popular nevertheless.

I also don’t get too worked up about overly uneeek names (although kreative spellings sometimes make me raise my eyebrows).  Those who use Gywneth Paltrow’s baby Apple as an example of a crazy baby name has no idea how crazy celebrity names can get! It doesn’t take too much to finally desensitize me to unusual names.

That being said, what does drive me insane is layperson pronouncements on baby name trends, or what’s popular, or what’s passe.  It comes from being an analyst; I don’t like to pretend that I know what I’m talking about without at least doing a modicum of research.

That’s where the Baby Name Wizard comes in. Laura Wattenberg is not your typical baby name analyst. A data nerd, she pulls from the Social Security Administration website to delve into every nook and cranny of the world of baby naming. Her most well-known tool is the Name Voyager, but I also have love for the Name Mapper, looking at the popularity of baby names by states.

Finally, one of my favorite websites, Wait but Why, has taken Wattenberg’s years and years of analysis and blog posts and distilled it down for new readers with his trademark humor.   I was pleased when the post came out because it’s everything I’ve wanted to write.  Let it be your gateway drug to the awesome world of baby name data visualization.

A few recent preschool related articles

First is the Brookings Institution’s write up on new research into Tennessee ‘ program. The author also tackles misleading statements regarding previous research,  including Tulsa’s program.

Second,  good discussion on universal pre-k on the Freakonomics blog. They seem to have come to the same conclusions I have.

Third is the YWCA Tulsa’s recently released report on “Child Care in Crisis”.  I am looking for an online link. The center just ended its forty year program due to rising costs.

Technology and Literacy: Are Screen Time Restrictions Necessary?

What happens when you give a toddler an iPad?

A quick Google search reveals the following:

So, not very helpful.

Screen time restrictions

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently set out new guidelines on screen time for kids, based on a comprehensive “family media use plan” and intended to counter “nearly round-the-clock media usage” (an affliction their parents probably share as well).  Parents, specifically, are asked to discourage the use of media during bedtime and meal times. The guidelines also reiterate earlier recommendations to limit screen time to only 2 hours a day for children older than 2, and to ban screen time for children younger than 2.

What do we do? Personally, I’m on the very liberal end of the screen time spectrum, although in general we do fit within AAP guidelines regarding television usage (and no screens during mealtime, especially — but that’s more of a ‘social skills’ lesson than worrying about their brains). But there are many, many days my daughter goes over that 2 hour TV limit, a fact I don’t usually admit as it distresses me.

As for the iPad, it is often in easy reach.  What has occurred in our family is the iPad is just another toy (with only educational games loaded on), which has greatly demystified it and has led to decreased use.

Do I monitor the number of hours she’s on an iPad? No more than I monitor how long she’s been doing any indoor activity — because in general my ideal is that my children spend their days outside.  Other than that preference, I treat, say, an electronic puzzle on the iPad no differently than her physical puzzles. And this is the disconnect I have with many of my fellow parents, who like the AAP treat all screen time the same. I fret about TV usage. I don’t fret over other electronics.

Am I in the wrong? Is it harming my daughter to be doing puzzles and educational quizzes on the iPad?

The Atlantic explored that issue last April.  The author pointed out the 2011 AAP report on media use by children indicated the issue was with ‘passive’ screen use, not necessarily those interactive apps. But parents and experts remain wary.

I wish I could just quote the entire article here, because I found myself nodding at all her points. She illustrates the tension between wanting our children to benefit from the digital age — they are, after all, “digital natives” — and wanting our children to explore and grow and learn in the way most play-based education experts recommend, by real experiences in real places. Not virtual places.

On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.

Norman Rockwell never painted Boy Swiping Finger on Screen, and our own vision of a perfect childhood has never adjusted to accommodate that now-common tableau. Add to that our modern fear that every parenting decision may have lasting consequences—that every minute of enrichment lost or mindless entertainment indulged will add up to some permanent handicap in the future—and you have deep guilt and confusion.

Yeah, that’s basically where I am.

So is every minute of screen time a ‘minute of enrichment lost’ or ‘mindless entertainment’? And how does brain chemistry change while staring at a screen?

The TV analogy

As  many articles point out, there is a dearth of research regarding children and tablet/smartphone use. So the best information we have is what happens when children watch television.

One theory is that for all people, not just for children, staring at the TV amounts to watching a blank wall — the so-called zombie effect.  The support for that theory comes from a 1969 experiment by Herbert Krugman, which indicates television watching “numbs our left brain and leaves the right brain to perform all cognitive duties.” In addition, psychophysiologist Thomas Mulholland found that just 30 seconds of watching TV activates alpha waves in your brain, which leads to more receptivity to suggestions.

Can I note something here? I haven’t read either study, so the same quotes are really being repeated over and over again on various websites.  And, incidentally, most of those websites are a bit alarmist and focused on conspiracy theories.   Calling on all scientists — help here please.

There are indeed indications the alpha waves are not caused by television per se but by the screen itself — the screen flickering, specifically. Which brings me to two questions: 1.) Is reading on the Kindle also bad? Or is it not because there is no screen flicker? 2.) If reading on the Kindle is not bad, does it follow that playing an app on a tablet is also not subject to this ‘alpha wave’ problem?

I’m going with the theory that the zombie/alpha wave effect isn’t applicable to the iPad. The AAP has been criticized for not distinguishing between passive and interactive screen use – even when considering children under 2, for whom the data show passive screen use is very unhelpful and perhaps even harmful. We simply don’t have any peer-reviewed studies on whether interactive screen use for even under 2-year-olds is harmful or helpful.

But for kicks, let’s explore the TV-watching/passive media thing a bit further. Does TV turn you into a zombie?

Not so, say many experts.

Consider the concept of ‘stickiness’, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Shows such as Sesame Street may actually improve literacy and shows such as Blue’s Clue’s may improve cognitive thinking. Why?

Research in the 1980s began the work of nullifying the ‘zombie effect’ by focusing on how kids learn and how to help them retain what they see on the screen (hence, the ‘sticky’ effect).  Fewer screen cuts and linear stories assist in that endeavor — something Sesame Street tried to emulate. And then, in the 1990s, Blue’s Clues introduced ‘the pause’:

Steve asks a question and then pauses for about five seconds to let the viewer shout out an answer. Small children feel much more engaged and invested when they think they have a role to play, when they believe they are actually helping Steve and Blue piece together the clues. A longitudinal study of children older than 2 and a half showed that the ones who watched Blue’s Clues made measurably larger gains in flexible thinking and problem solving over two years of watching the show.

So TV, at least for those over 2.5 years old (under that age, they may not be able to cognitively comprehend what they are seeing on screen), may actually produce positive effects. One can probably assume physical activities and exploration is better, but TV is not necessarily ‘the boob tube.’

A 2007 study …suggests there’s even less reason to be paranoid about TV. This time, researchers looked at what kinds of shows kids watched. They found that toddlers who watched entertainment shows saw an increased risk of developing attention-related problems five years later (and an even greater risk if those shows were violent). Kids who watched “educational” TV shows exhibited no greater risk.

So how do we ensure our kids are watching the ‘right’ kind of television? Focus on what type of show they are watching (‘educational’ TV isn’t always beneficial, just because there is some sort of lesson at the end.) Shows that promote interaction (Blue’s Clues and SuperWhy are my favorites for this), are more likely to at least have some sort of educational benefit. In fact, SuperWhy taught my daughter her lower case letters. She was about 18 months old — I don’t say that to brag, but to point out that with some children, TV isn’t even horrible for the under-2 set. Know your child.

(Note that despite the early plaudits for Sesame Street, later research does indicate very young children actually do not learn much from the program because of its ‘magazine’ format with multiple vignettes.)

Engaging your children with the television they are watching is also key — especially if they are watching more traditional cartoons (like the ones my daughter loves on Disney Jr).  Repeat what they are seeing on screen and reinforce the lessons on the show.

We can extrapolate, therefore, that the same rules apply to iPad use. Angry Birds may not be the best choice for a toddler (an older child may benefit from the problem-solving aspect of the game). An app that has puzzles, or encourages a child to trace her letters, or has Elmo talking about numbers and asking questions, probably is ‘less bad’.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) reiterates this is a well-researched 2012 policy statement jointly issued with the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College. “Throughout the process of researching and writing this position statement,” they begin,
“we have been guided by the legacy of Fred Rogers. By appropriately and intentionally using the
technology of his day—broadcast television—to connect with each individual child and with parents and families, Fred Rogers demonstrated the positive potential of using technology and media in ways that are grounded in principles of child development.”

But reading a book is better, right?

Yes. Even for a toddler, who can’t read, having a live person reading to them is much better than  some book being read on an iPad app — a phenomenon known as the “video deficit”.

So what happens when you read? Words may stimulate parts of your brain not directly related to language processing. Think olfactory associations and texture. The brain does not necessarily distinguish between the ‘experiences’ gained reading and the experiences of real life — in contrast to what the conventional wisdom is with television.  This effect is reproduced even when a child is not physically reading.  A 2010 research study done on preschoolers indicates stories read to them elicited similar results.

Does that mean watching television is automatically the opposite of reading? Perhaps not. The same 2010 study found the same effects occurring when preschoolers watched movies, but not television — perhaps, the researchers surmise, because parents are more likely to watch movies with their children and talk to them about the story lines.  Mark down another vote for engaging with your children while they are watching TV.

What about imagination? Again, we have the conventional wisdom that reading engages one’s imagination, while television does not, because one does not have to imagine the pictures already playing in front of you on the screen. However, it is possible that with moderate levels of TV viewing, children will engage in imaginative play related to what they saw on screen.

The keys to literacy

Television, therefore, does not automatically inhibit literacy, and therefore perhaps neither does the iPad.

However, although a television program or interactive app can do well in teaching phonics, those programs and apps likely will never replace the adult interaction needed to really promote literacy.   What else do you need? Phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Consider a 2010 literature review looking at the most effective ways to put preschoolers on the path to reading. The study argues (as I have in the past) that even the most ‘high-quality’ programs will not teach the essential components to literacy unless the teacher has had specialized instruction on how to promote vocabulary in disadvantaged children:

Reese and Cox (1999) tested the effects of a researcher implemented storybook reading intervention tailored to children’s initial levels of language skill, finding
that children who heard and discussed storybooks with vocabulary matched to their own knowledge levels outperformed their peers on the Peabody
Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R, 1981). Most recently, in a randomized control study, Wasik, Bond, and Hindman (2006) provided Head Start
teachers with intensive training in book reading and other literacy instructional practices to extend book reading vocabulary, resulting in children making significant
gains on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-3rd edition (PPVT-3, 1997) over the preschool year as compared with peers whose teachers did not participate in the training intervention. Thus, teachers’ conceptual and procedural knowledge appears
to be a key factor that determines whether or not instruction will promote children’s vocabulary skills.

As conventional wisdom indicates, the best and well-designed app cannot exclusively replace an adult’s ability to teach.

Want smart kids? The best thing you can do, according to The Chronicle, is to have books in the home.

The study was conducted over 20 years, in 27 countries, and surveyed more than 70,000 people. Researchers found that children who grew up in a home with more than 500 books spent 3 years longer in school than children whose parents had only a few books. Also, a child whose parents have lots of books is nearly 20-percent more likely to finish college.

For comparison purposes, the children of educated parents (defined as people with at least 15 years of schooling) were 16-percent more likely than the children of less-educated parents to get their college degrees. Formal education matters, but not as much as books.

But what does that mean? And are we screwed now that everyone is using a Kindle?

Well, first, it does indicate even parents with lower levels of education or lower poverty levels can create educated children by having books in the home. Of course, hopefully we’re not stupid enough to think the mere act of buying books is going to jump little Johnny’s IQ or guarantee him a college degree. Yes, the very act of buying books means education is important to the parents, but the key, points out a fellow evidence-based parent, is creating a  “scholarly culture” in the home. The presence of books just reflects that type of integrated wrap-around educational parenting.

Having your children notice how much you read is likely a good way to promote that scholarly atmosphere. I’m sure reading on the Kindle won’t hamper that, as one can assume the Kindle is mostly used for reading. Now, I myself read on the Kindle app on the iPad, so it may not be as obvious to my kids. But I doubt they are going to grow up not realizing that I’m a reader.

So even if my kids watch a bit more TV than recommended, education is just a holistic part of our lives. We’re always explaining and teaching and learning, and our parental conversations are geeky arguments that often end in consulting Wikipedia or doing some sort of math equation.  Some television for my children likely is not going to cause significant harm.

This belies some of the alarmist research we’ve seen in the past.  As Farhad Manjoo recounts in Slate:

The most-cited study on the cognitive effects of TV on young children was conducted by a team led by Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The paper, published in 2004, examined the relationship between the number of hours of television that a child watched at ages 1 and 3 and the child’s score on a well-known diagnostic test of attention problems at age 7. The study found a significant relationship between these variables: The more TV that you watch as a toddler, the more likely you’ll have attention-related problems as a first-grader. The researchers reported that this relationship held up even after they controlled for various complicating factors, including parental substance abuse and socioeconomic status.

But, as Manjoo continues, the study suffers from good that old correlation versus causation problem.  Not only does the Seattle study only measure what happens when a child watches too much TV, but it doesn’t measure what type of shows they were watching, and — most relevant to the whole ‘parents are important’ bit:

 The study can’t establish a causal relationship between TV viewing and attention problems. This seems important: Some parents were letting their kids watch five or more hours of television a day. It stands to reason that these weren’t great parents—so maybe it was something about their parenting skills, and not the boob tube itself, that caused these kids to develop problems.

Christakis and other researchers have conducted several follow-up studies that seek to address some of these problems, and much of this research presents a less alarming story. In a paper published in 2009, Marie Evans Schmidt, a researcher at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, looked at a group of children who watched slightly less TV than those in Christakis’ study. Schmidt also took into account many environmental factors that could shed some light on the effects that parents played in a child’s life, including whether and for how long a child had been breast-fed and the amount he slept each night. Instead of focusing on attention problems, Schmidt’s team analyzed the effects of TV on the child’s visual and motor skills. They found something remarkable: There was no effect. After controlling for environmental factors, each additional hour of television that a child watches at or before age 2 is not associated with any change in test scores at age 3.

Wow. Guess what? Parents matter.

This cuts both ways. Just as some TV and electronic use is likely to not have significant effect on my children due to the culture of the home, for others who do not emphasize the love of learning, no amount of ‘books in the home’ or the alternate ‘super educational iPad apps’ are going to change the course of your child’s life.

The siren call of ‘educational’

Case in point: Baby Einstein

We’ve already talked about the components of a truly educational television program as opposed to those that claim to be educational.  But still, programs such as Baby Einstein fool parents into thinking their very young children (read: under 2 years old) can benefit from television content, especially something as esoteric as Baby Einstein, which has really psychedelic pictures and images and classical music. But, according to Zimmerman, Chirstakis, and Meltzoff, exposure to “baby” DVDs among infants may lead to lower scores on a standard language development test, the Communicative Development Inventory.

There must have been quite some schadenfraude among the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (which issued a complaint to the FTC) when the Walt Disney Company, in response to the bad press, ended up offering a refund for all Baby Einstein DVDs/videos purchased between 2004 and 2012.

The most insidious of the claims belong to the Your Baby Can Read company (which has gone out of business due to the another CCFC complaint to the FTC).  The company, which sold complete packages of books, videos and flashcards for babies as young as three months old, claimed it helped parents seize the ‘small window of opportunity’ (again, we’re talking about babies and toddlers) during which a child has the best chance of learning how to read.

Yes, the baby and toddler years are very important to future reading success, but the answer, as we all know, is not memorizing flashcards — which is essentially what the program was about — but is instead vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. And pretend play. And exploration. All that stuff.

Baby First TV is the latest in a long line of programs marketed to the under-2 set. However, at the very least, it does follow the rules of slow and linear storylines as well as ‘the pause.’ Can 6 month olds benefit from their programs? Perhaps not, and it is disingenuous to include them as targets for the shows. But toddlers very well could.

But even as parents become more savvy to misleading TV program marketing, we can still be led astray by the claims made by iPad app developers. (It’s interactive! It talks about shapes and letters! It has to be educational, right?)

As Lisa Guersey writes in Slate, only 2 percent of purportedly educational iPad/iPhone apps “allow for open-ended discovery and exploration,” according to a 2012 Australian study She further points out:

Some e-book studies at labs at Temple University and the University of California at Riverside—as well as a forthcoming report from the Cooney Center—show that the wow factor of the device and the presence of interactive “hotspots” on e-book pages may interfere with children’s ability to recall the story line of the book. This isn’t just a problem of electronics. Even traditional print-and-cardboard pop-up books can lead children at 2½ and 3 years old to learn less from the story than they would have otherwise, according to research at the University of Virginia conducted by Cynthia Chiong. Is all this interactivity more about attracting a child’s attention than teaching her?

Family media use

Certainly, with great power comes great responsibility. And so we return to the AAP’s most recent statement, which say parents need to abide by family media-use rules in order to model healthy behavior.  Much of the concern over tablets and smartphone use is the sense that children will immerse themselves in something virtual without noticing the physical world around them. This concept is advocated by Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect:

Parents are pulling away from family life, lost in their own smartphones and screens, leaving many children feeling neglected and lonely. The “digitalized life,” she argues, is taking its toll on us — altering the way children think and relate and pulling families apart.

“Stop bothering me, Baby J.  Mommy’s blogging about how to be a good parent.”

Want to have some ratings on the educational value of iPad apps? Check out Common Sense Media.

What I Really Wanted to Say Today

I had the pleasure today of being on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, Baltimore’s local NPR station. I’ll post the podcast as soon as it’s up. (Edit: Here it is. I start at the 36 minute mark)

But don’t judge me for the speed talking. I had about five minutes to make my case.

Naturally, I couldn’t make my case effectively, nor respond to the advocates of universal prekindergarten, one of whom was in the studio and on for the entire hour.

Here’s the bottom line: Preschool for everyone is not a panacea to fix all the educational ills in our states. The reason intensive programs like the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project worked is because they  didn’t focus on just educating the child.  They focused on the family and the community. It is a holistic approach to learning that we cannot just get by adding an extra grade onto formal schooling. If we are going to spend state resources, let’s please spend them on the most vulnerable of our citizens, the ones for whom just an extra grade of schooling will not have long term effects.

Look at the wonderful CAP Head Start Program and Educare. They focus on wraparound care. They understand the power of involving the parents.  And they still are struggling to have real long term results. How much could we do if we took all those valuable resources we have and boost that power, to create an intensive program that will approach the level of the Perry Preschool Project?

In terms of response to some of the comments:

Here’s what Margaret Williams of the Maryland Family Network and Professor Bill Gormley of Georgetown say (paraphrased, of course)

– Prekindergarten in Oklahoma has wonderful, across-the-board effects for children of all income levels and races. All students who go to PreK vs. students who do not have higher cognitive abilities on entering kindergarten

– The third grade ‘fade out effect’ does not immediately mean prekindergarten is a bad idea. In fact, children may come roaring back in high school and have wonderful cognitive and behavioral results.

— Maryland is already doing great with preK for disadvantaged children, so why not expand it to a universal program?

-PreK in Oklahoma exists because the voters and the business community wanted it.

Well, hello.

1. Prekindergarten in Oklahoma has wonderful, across-the-board effects for children of all income levels and races.

Short term effects fade out in the third grade (as we all acknowledged on the show). I’m not sure why we keep insisting Oklahoma’s program has fantastic results when the data do not support that. We can conjecture that the kids will close the gap in high school, but you cannot say that in the same breath in which we talk about the short term effects, because we haven’t studied that in Oklahoma.

2.All students who go to PreK vs. students who do not have higher cognitive abilities on entering kindergarten

Yep. And why don’t those higher scores persist? Because we are completely and utterly ignoring the power of the home environment. I am underlining and underscoring that point because it’s important. I want to put it in all caps and make it my title. We need wraparound, intensive care for our disadvantaged children.

  • Preschool benefits children from disadvantaged families far more than it benefits children from families that already provide the socio-emotional support, learning tools, and exposure to literacy as a natural and holistic part of child-rearing. Children in families receiving welfare had vocabularies that were half as large as those of their more affluent peers, and the disparities persisted throughout childhood.
  • A prekindergarten program, no matter how good, is not going to be able to overcome that negative educational home environment years after the fact.
  • As for those students who come from affluent families that also learn their words and letters and phonics sooner? Of course a child in a formal school environment is going to know more stuff in the beginning than a child not in the formal school environment. But any play-based education advocate will tell you that those measures of ability mean squat when you’re actually talking about instilling a life-long ability to learn. Looking at those short-term impacts falsely assumes that impact is the absolute measure of a child’s ability to learn. In fact, learning sight words and phonics are not the most important component of a preschool child’s ability to read. We have much more trouble measuring the true important parts of education — curiosity, problem-solving, and comprehension.
—–Maybe instead of educational policy experts they should have had actual experts in the field of early childhood education on.
3. The third grade ‘fade out effect’ does not immediately mean prekindergarten is a bad idea. In fact, children may come roaring back in high school and have wonderful cognitive and behavioral results.
Those critical of prekindergarten are not necessarily promoting throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In fact:

The main problem I have with universal prekindergarten is the universal component of it.
Let’s look at some of those later effects of prekindergarten:
In President Obama’s  State of the Union speech, he says:
In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.
But the studies refer to the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project, both of which were intensive programs for a small population of disadvantaged students. Those programs involved visits with the parents and tailored learning plans.

They are less preschool, more large-scale intervention. A large state-run program is not going to approach that level of wraparound care. Even Head Start, which obviously serves only disadvantaged children, does not approach that level of care.
So no. Our kids are not going to come roaring back and make up the learning gap. And it’s disingenuous to imply they will.
Maryland is already doing great with preK for disadvantaged children, so why not expand it to a universal program?
You are doing great with the enrollment numbers and the short term effect. But you’re really going to spend your resources on expanding preK to kids who don’t need it as opposed to fixing what’s going wrong with the long term effect? No state is doing great with our disadvantaged children. We are all failing. Focus on them.
-PreK in Oklahoma exists because the voters and the business community wanted it.
No, it existed because a lawmaker snuck it into a bill on a loophole. The people of Oklahoma never got to debate it. Do we love it? Sure. It makes us look good and it provides free services to everyone.  Have we had a real discussion on it?  No.
Thanks so much to the show for having me on. I do like the fact they tried to balance their point of view with me and with Lindsay Burke from the Heritage Foundation. I am extremely frustrated, however, that neither Lindsay nor I had anywhere close to equal time.

Question Everything (and don’t trust anyone over 35 to have a baby?)

Well, summer vacation is over, the kids are in Mother’s Day Out, and thus the blog is back to rapid-fire mode.

Over the summer, I thought about what this blog was meant to do. There are two focuses on this blog. The first is what the tagline says: Resource-Based Parenting.  What does that mean? It means whenever I learn something that not everyone knows, I want to tell everyone. Did you know, I say in a nerdy whisper. Did you know that you can tell cervical changes in a woman by looking at a purple line on her backAlas, just like when you start promoting the (well-known) fact that Han shot first, there comes a point that you’re just looked at as a weird psycho uber-geek in your particular field of interest. This blog is my way of cataloging all the random bits of information I’ve learned without having to annoyingly dominate the small talk at cocktail parties. (And who really wants to talk about cervixes at a cocktail party anyway?)

The second focus is the one of studies and stats. Screwed up studies, screwed up stats.  From the time you get pregnant, advice gets hurled at you. You know this. The crazy theories about not lifting your hands over your head because the umbilical cord could strangle the baby, and so on and so forth. But it’s not just from crazy grandmothers. Your own OB will tell you, “I want you to gain no more than 20 pounds this pregnancy. Bigger moms make bigger babies.” She will say, “Don’t drink alcohol. Not even one drop.” Deli meat is verboten. So is chamomile tea. Hot baths. Don’t you dare lie on your back in late pregnancy! It goes on, even with breastfeeding. I’m a huge promoter of breastfeeding, but the stats there are screwed up too. “Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese” is true, but that gets warped into “Formula-fed babies are fat.” What about breastmilk from a bottle? Isn’t one of the arguments that when a baby is feeding directly from the breast, he or she can regulate intake in a way one can’t from a bottle? So it’s then breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding. Not breastmilk vs. formula.

Along this second focus, the economists have gotten into the game. If you don’t know any economists, you don’t know that they can argue as much as a lawyer. (Try being married to a lawyer who originally trained as an economist). They understand correlation vs. causation. They can read the numbers. They can ask about survey data, study methodology, and margins of error. When an economist gets pregnant, you better believe she will not take the doctor’s advice at face value.

This is what happened when Emily Oster of the famed University of Chicago School of Economics fell pregnant. The result is Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know.  She takes on the prohibitions on sushi, alcohol, and hot tubs.  Read it. Highly recommended. In a similar vein, check out the hilarious Pregnant Chicken. I love her more for her oddball sense of humor, but the original point of her blog was to do the pregnancy research for you.

If you can’t get enough of the economists, read Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids by Bryan Caplan.  Just like an economist — thinking about self-centered incentives and applying them to children. He argues the work you put into having children is worth it in the end because they take care of you (the more children you have, the higher chance you have one to care for you.) But the ‘work’ you need to put into it isn’t as much as today’s parents think, he argues. If you are middle class and educated, your kids will turn out fine. If they don’t, it’s just genetics.

Taking on conventional wisdom is becoming somewhat of a trend (I say, without any data to support it). For example,  a recent article in the Atlantic addresses advanced maternal age hysteria in terms of when it was too late to have a baby.  However, the author herself doesn’t perform due diligence, as the ‘hysteria’ is about first time mothers. The reassuring statistics she provides does not distinguish between first time mothers (primiparous, if you want the medical term) and those who have already multiparous and are hoping for more children.

The other common one I hear is that first time moms are more often likely to give birth past their due date. I obviously started looking into this while hugely pregnant with my first child, hoping she would come soon (two days before her due date, if you were wondering).  Guess what? No one really knows.  If you want to get some information on when you might go into labor, check out the work by SpaceFem. So where does the myth that first time moms go into labor 8 days late? Possibly this study, which had a sample of about 100 patients in a private practice, not all of whom were first time moms.

Like a 1960s hippie, question everything.

Best Video Baby Monitors

When L was born, I pooh poohed the idea of having a video monitor.  We had a small enough house, we could keep the door to her room open and look in if we needed to, and I had an audio monitor so I could hear her – who needed to see her?

A few months later, I was cursing my decision. The audio monitor I had picked was analog, not digital, so it picked up signals and interference from our neighbors, and I couldn’t count how many times I was running up and down the stairs to see if she *really* needed me when she cried in her sleep (and how much effort it took to have her avoid seeing me.) I realized the video monitor wasn’t just the province of overly watchful nervous parents, but also a matter of convenience.

Luckily, I was pregnant with Baby J and soon to move into a new, larger, house, so I needed a monitoring solution that would cover two babies. With that, I gave myself permission to look into video monitors.

But which one? As usual, the choices are endless, and the technology is forever changing.Whenever I buy a new product, my first attempt at paring down the choices involves going to Amazon, typing in “video monitors” or whatnot, and then sorting by user reviews.  However, for the purposes of this article, let’s check out expert(ish) rankings available on the internet.

First up is parenting favorite  They have their review separated by Best Overall, Best Value, etc. Many of their selections are from the Summer Infant line. I have to admit I don’t know from what year their ranking is, because there are some glaring omissions.

Next, there’s Baby Bargains, the guru of bargain-hunting new parents.

These are their recommendations:


Best Bet: Infant Optics DXR-5 ($99)
– FHSS technology helps avoid interference
– 2.4″ display
– simple set-up
– voice activated mode

Runner-Up: Samsung BabyVIEW SEW-3036WN ($180)
– 3.5″ display
– time display
– intercom
– zoom feature


Best Bet: Samsung SafeVIEW SEW-3037W ($230)
– voice activated option
– remote nightlight
– 3.5″ display
– very good night vision

Runner-Up #1: Summer BabyTouch Digital Monitor ($190-$260)
– touch-screen parent unit
– 3.5″ color display
– intercom feature

Runner-Up #2: Motorola MBP36 ($200)
– similar to Summer BabyTouch
– “clunky” interface to navigate when changing settings
– poor night vision


Best Bet: Summer Peek Plus Internet Baby Monitor System ($350)
– 2.5″ display with fixed camera
– internet router enables viewing online or via apps

Runner-Up #1: Dropcam ($150)
– fixed camera
– 60 second set-up
– can view via Dropcam website or app
– no parent display unit, have to re-purpose an old iPhone or iPod Touch as viewer

Runner-Up #2: Withings Smart Baby Monitor ($250-$300)
– streams to phone
– no parent unit

Lucie’s List also tackles the video monitor issue.  She asserts the Summer Infant babyTouch Color, the Samsung Wireless Pan/Tilt and the Motorola Wireless Monitor with Infrared Vision are good quality and about the same.

She also points out an IP camera or an iPhone app can do the trick.  The most well-known IP camera for these purposes is the Foscam.  However, it generally takes someone more tech-savvy to set it up.

My notes:

We have the Motorola MBP36 with two cameras and love it.  Please nite, unlike the MBP33 recommended by Lucie’s List, the 36 has pan and tilt. Believe me, this is invaluable.

Second, there have been advancements since the website recommended the Foscam as an IP camera.  There are the ones mentioned by Baby Bargains, and there’s also the Motorola Blink. If the Blink had existed when we needed a baby monitor, we would have looked into it, especially as we could have linked it to our iPads.  However, check out the Amazon reviews for more details, including whether the Foscam is still a better choice.