The Good, The Bad and the Utterly Ridiculous

The Good

I'm diggin' on the harvest. Our raspberries that Joaquin can't seem to stop eating all of. He sees, he wants. There is no keeping these to ourselves. The plums are ripe and just perfect. Our grapes turned out wonderfully-- well, okay, one vine did, but they were delicious. Honeycrisp apples are in at the store, so juicy and tart, and the fresh red bell peppers dipped in hummus are the best. I can't believe how wonderful everything is tasting.

Another good thing here in Portland is KMHD, our local jazz station. Sure, there are a few programs I can take or leave-- for instance, the trad jazz show on weekends over breakfast? NO BANJOS IN THE MORNING!!! One standout is "Divaville with Christa Wessel" on Wednesday nights from 6-9: all vocal jazz standards from the 20's to the 60's and always a stellar show. If you are like me and love the "American Songbook" type stuff (think Mercer, Gershin, Porter and so many more) this is a must-listen. On Sunday nights, "Something Different with DJ Santo" is smokin' hot. I never know what I'm listening to, but it's amazing. Very up-to-date, groovy funky stuff that makes you wiggle your butt. Good to do dishes to. He's on from 7pm-9pm on Sunday nights, right after that great show from Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, featuring their house jazz band. Last week Marsalis paid tribute to Art Blakey; like a good conductor, his shows edify and entertain. If you haven't checked out KMHD, give it a whirl, over on 98.1. There's something for everyone. Even Joaquin bounces along, which is why "Be-Bop" is one of his nicknames.

The Bad

I'm not going to mention anything really truly bad. Heck, there's a lot of bad out there, and I'm sure I don't need to point it out. But it does make a nice title.

The Utterly Ridiculous

So there we were last night, watching atrocious-stupid tv-- yes, Joaquin was sleeping-- and an atrocious-stupid commercial came on. Fisher-Price has a new offering : The Bounce and Spin Pony. Not only do I take issue with the idea that children will need a computer to teach them, I'm upset my the insidious nature of products like these, which imply that parents aren't doing a good enough job of teaching their children.

Over the past several years, parents have been the targets of unbelievable pressure by the toy companies to make sure their children are constantly learning. If you don't think so, consider the names of some of these products: Baby Einstein? Leapfrog? (Isn't the game of leapfrog played by jumping over someone else? Hmmm.. interesting social aspect there...) There's even a book out there for expectant parents called Superbabies. All of these send as silently implied message: "Your baby is potentially the smartest thing going and you musn't do anything to ruin that potential. You are a clueless parent, but these products will teach your child in ways you cannont." The Leapfrog products promise to help teach your child to read. Are we incapable of doing this ourselves? And if we need to do other things, say, go make dinner or tend to other things besides our children right at that very moment, do we need to decide what they should be learning? Can't we put a book on disc, or let them have a little down-time with some independent play? Blocks or playdough or some markers and paper? Children really need time to be alone, to form their own thoughts and play their own way, to figure out things all on their own. They actually learn pretty well that way.

What's more, why on earth would we want our toddler children to play something dubbed a 'video game'? More video than game, this toy does teach how to manipulate an object on the screen or make a choice with two sets of thumb-operated arrows. However, we have to ask ourselves, is this a "skill" that is worth the price video games exact on our children? With either/or choices and the rote drilling of basic information, children are not given space to use their imagination or experiment. A video game for one also deprives children of the opportunity to practice taking turns, a very important part of old-school game playing. Games are traditionally good moments in which social develop and executive function take place, we can't (and shouldn't) expect a toddler to be a good sport, much less understand the concepts of cooperative work, winning or losing. But taking turns stacking blocks or passing a ball back around a circle of children or playing hide and seek with a lighthearted adult who looks everywhere except on the chair in the middle of the room where the toddler is "hiding", then surprisedly "discovers" the child-- these are the moments that children relish. Their time with others, their time with us. Time with a television? They might like it, but I'm not sure that those reasons balance out the problems that are associated with the early exposure to media.

Do we want our kids to learn things from a game on the television, or from us? We can incorporate teaching into everything we do. Plunking our children down in front of the tv in the hopes that something educational will sink in robs them of the opportunity to learn what they themselves are curious about and interested in. By being "taught" by a nonhuman, 2-dimensional entity, there is none of the interaction that is so valuable in teaching: the ability to ask a question for clarification or to explore an object, color or shape with all of our senses. How will our children find a sense of personal satisfaction in having information presented to them that someone, who doesn't even know them, chose? Do we want our children to be emotionally responsive when they do the one correct thing and an excited kid voice doles out a rote "Good Job!"? The absence of the human element may save us time, but our children's learning is so much richer when we are involoved right there with them.

In upcoming posts, I'll focus on some fun ways to explore color, shapes and math concepts. You don't need a certificate or a bunch of college courses to do this. Just patience, a smile for their enthusiasm, and the willingness to play. Remember, we are our children's first, and often, best, teachers.

Gotta go teach my kid how to get ready for bed.


Unknown said…
Remember the zebra I told you my mother bought for E last Christmas? Yes, that was the Bounce and Spin Zebra. To bad all that one does is bounce and spin - no tv component. Guess I know what to put on his wish list so the zebra can have some company where it lives in the dark, cold garage. Scary stuff!!!!

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