“Redshirting” – Experts See Advantages to Entering Kindergarten Later

Starting kindergarten early may not be ideal for all children’s cognitive development.  The Rand Corporation produced a compelling Research Brief titled, Delaying Kindergarten: Effects on Test Scores and Childcare Costs.  The results of the research are striking because the learning aptitude playing field is leveled among socio-economic groups when entering kindergarten is delayed.

My curiosity, in what difference several months makes, was renewed when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers: The Story of Success, which describes sports success and kids who were born earlier in a given age cohort.  As a bestseller, the birth month and ‘demographic luck’ of children in classrooms became a topic much discussed by parents and educators.  The idea of holding a child back a year before entering kindergarten is called, “redshirting.”

The Rand study looks into what happens with redshirt children entering kindergarten later.  Sets compared gains from five and 6 year olds entering kindergarten.  Among the findings: “Disadvantaged children do significantly better on standardized tests and learn more…” when they enter school later.  Using standardized math and reading scores, the report’s author, Ashlesha Datar, found that later entry boosts test scores for all children, and all children benefit.  Even ‘ready’ and more economically privileged (“not poor’”) learners, if beginning later, made greater gains than they did if they entered kindergarten earlier. Using birth date and school entry data comparing younger to older kindergarteners, the author found both ‘poor‘ and ‘not poor’ children showed strong achievement increases at six. The greatest increase was shown for ‘not poor’ reading skills.

One problem for parents and communities is what to do with redshirt children starting school a year later – the economic burden preschool poses – and the report points out that disadvantaged children may languish outside any curriculum. An additional year in a preparatory program can become an unmanageable financial burden, even for middle class parents.

The promise of educational apps couldn’t be greater in conditions where not all children will have ready access to an additional year of preschool.  With an additional age level in preschools, and children more capable of independent learning, some parents may opt for community support groups that organize more mature children into play and study groups, with a few mothers supervising outings to parks and libraries.  Or, what about if kindergarten became a two-year program, tiered for those ready to move forward?  Early-fives is roughly modeled along these lines.

The Rand Report recommends that future policy planning and any overhaul, be tied to childcare costs, as parents come to terms with later entry being appropriate for some children, and what the delay means in culturally diverse homes, communities, and schools.  Some children are ‘ready’ at five.  On the other hand, remedial support programs in schools are becoming increasingly costly, as specialists attend to children who are less ready.  Learning with educational apps is one way schools are beginning to offset specialist’ costs (and scarcity), working with teachers who are trained to utilize learning apps using smart technologies.  The technology follows a child’s progress, stores those data, which are then utilized in order to assess skill levels and improvements in given specialized curricula. The apps help kids advance individually, which saves them from peer embarrassment, as they learn.
Related Online Topics:
New York Times Book Review: Outliers
CBS News – 60 Minutes: Kindergarten “redshirting.” What would you do?

With So Many Choices, Which Curriculum Is Best for My Child?

You’re looking for a great preschool with a learning program consistent with your worldview – and – there are too many choices!  Faced with a plethora of preschool possibilities and curriculum strategies, philosophies, and, of course, research findings, we worry about the best approach for ensuring that our child will be ready to socialize and learn effectively.  Will it be the Waldorf approach, Montessori, HighScope, Piaget – based principles, or an eclectic mix cooperative?

At the core of curriculum decision-making, is early childhood development pedagogical theory, with approaches that vary in their emphases.  Pedagogy is the art and science of formal teaching; within this, curriculum is a study set designed to accomplish particular learning objectives.  Based on your ideas of what is meaningful formal learning, and the kind of studies that you believe will best help achieve meaningful learning, you should sort out three primary ideas that will help you make concrete decisions about preschool.  First, do you believe play-based or academic-based learning is more productive?  Second, do you believe one-on-one or group play and learning will bring your child the greatest benefit?  Finally, is your view that spontaneous learning or thematic learning will help your child to best learn and adapt to structured learning environments?  Don’t forget to reflect on the importance of creativity, curiosity, and innovation in childhood development.

Play is child-centered, though there are various degrees of it. Academic training, suggests the introduction of structure and rigor in early childhood development.  Is the preschool you are considering, supportive of individual development or does it lean more toward group learning, as an early learning method?  Spontaneous learning encourages child-centered creative endeavors; thematic learning, might be a study plan on colors, or textures and can also produce engaged and innovative learning. How attention and focus are considered differs from program to program.  Some approaches are prominent and merit consideration in your decision.  I’ll touch on a few of them.

In 1919 Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf School movement.  Three languages, including German are usually taught at Waldorf Schools.  Emphasis is on developing strong social interactive skills rather than early reading.  Curriculum at Waldorf includes learning poems, eurythmic movement, dress up and pretending to be parents, learning to bake from scratch, and biodynamic farming and the role of healthy foods in life.

Another development pioneer – beginning in 1897 as a student of pedagogy – Maria Montessori undertook experiments and opened her first classroom in 1907. Montessori curriculum is based on a set of stations where children engage in spontaneous activities and learn by doing.  Curriculum is based on learning life skills, exercises using the senses, speaking and basic reading, math, and social and natural science studies.  While children may play in groups, there is a focus on each child.

The HighScope Model came about as an offshoot of at-risk, urban Head Start Programs and research that examined the adulthood, the life outcomes, of former Head Start alumni.  HighScope makes early use of technology in learning.   Programs tend to emphasize role playing, movement includes rhythmic dance; activities include classifying shapes, learning to count, sequence, and seriate things. Group development is valued, with less focus on individual wants and needs.

There are many more programs, and there are synthesis programs, some with curricula based on work by education pioneer, Jean Piaget.  Some parents may prefer cooperative schools, involving parents in day-to-day classroom activities.  Others may take an interest in established community outreach programs, such as those offered by the YMCA.  For profit schools may be a good fit for some parents needs, such as those providing late night childcare. Have a look at programs such as Creative Curriculum and Core Knowledge.

Ultimately, your decision is likely to be based on your worldview, and what feels most comfortable for your child.  Once you look into a school’s curriculum and learning philosophy, you can combine this information with practical concerns for parents, such as the school’s position in your community, days and hours of availability, and the cost of attending.  By all means, visit the school and take the time to observe your child there.
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America:
Montessori Foundation: http://www.montessori.org
HighScope Educational Research Foundation: http://www.highscope.org
Cooperative Schools: http://www.coopschools.com

Summer Learning Loss and How Educational Apps Are a Game Changer

If your family is like ours, your children will not have been in school too long, before you begin to hear about ‘summer learning loss,’ the fact that when children have been away from preschool or elementary school for several weeks during the summer, they forget some basic elements of what they learned months earlier.

Educators begin a new school year with reviews and assessments to understand how much learning loss has occurred, and into which grouping level your child will be most appropriately placed.  If your child has been in school all summer, your child will be placed in a different level than a child whose first weeks of the new school year, will be conditioned with catching up.  In fact, some catch up, requires one-on-one support.

Throughout summer, the fun and discovery of learning can include making time for children to enhance their school-year learning, by using curriculum-based, educational apps available on digital devices. As I’ve mentioned here before, at Agnitus, we’re focused on producing the best quality learning experience possible for young children. We regularly evaluate and reevaluate our products.  We also keep an eye on the quality of other apps in the marketplace, and research whether they truly provide the learning curriculum they promise to deliver us as, the parents of young learners.

Remember that one really useful thing about a good educational app, besides it keeping your child interested in learning, is that a child can learn at her or his own pace in a good app.  Children can train themselves, without losing ‘face’ as they take on new learning challenges and learn to master skills through the process of trial and error on a ‘smart’ app that gently encourages learning principles.

Valuing intrinsic learning starts early in life, and our toddlers and preschoolers realize very soon, what it is to be encouraged and praised in activities. You can augment preschool and school day learning with an easy going, moderate, and consistent approach to educational apps.  When summer comes around again, you’ll have had time to come up with an action plan for summer learning, including proactively educating yourself about the best app choices for your child or children.  Digital curriculum and learning time, in addition to healthy family and community activities, will assure summer progress in academic comprehension, and new school year readiness.  Say goodbye to summer learning loss!  Fifteen minutes of educational play on the weekends will provide an ongoing learning boost to regular school days.  Does your child like to play on apps longer than 15 minutes?

Related Online Topics:
The Washington Post:  Preventing Summer Learning Loss, by Ron Fairchild
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Summer Reading and Physical Activity Initiative

Dog Days of Summer – A Brief History of Toys and the Role of Apps

As summer wanes, do you consider the importance of physical activity and how imagination can be fostered in your children?  It’s important to have ideas for what kids can do to keep from becoming bored during the dog days of summer.  Heat lends itself to lackadaisical fun. Indoor activities are useful during the hottest hours of the day.

I got to thinking about toys, and how much or little they interest children. Their newest manifestation – apps – made me wonder how humanity (parents) and especially, children, got by before the invention of manufactured toys? While there are rare instances of toys that have been discovered or written about, dated back a thousand years, most toys did not come to exist, and certainly not on a mass scale, until about one hundred years ago, and the great majority, not even then.  We know about antique music boxes, porcelain dolls and figurines, for instance, but the majority of humanity had and still does not have such objects for play or amusement.  For hundreds of years, lucky little girls had mothers who made rag dolls for them.

Metalwork brought us the world mechanical toys – of tremendous fascination – 150 years ago.  Mechanical toys turned up, largely as a by-product of know-how in traditional crafts, such as clock works and cobblery.  Lucky little boys were permitted to play with leftover materials of metal and wood, and they fashioned them into something productive by fiddling. Children learned important skills when the materials they had, in order to represent anything, required that they fiddle, tinker, and fudge things into imaginative creations.

Jumping ahead a century or so, education is moving into a new paradigm.  Some educational apps show tremendous promise, and though there are many challenges, as a parent and educator, I’m confident some app-makers will become masters of their craft.  Just like a few publishing houses became great in recent centuries (and a few remain so).

The great philosopher and social scientist, Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) wrote compellingly about manufactured toys, and contrasted them with the world of, what we might today think of as ‘one-off’ toys.  Bourdieu, influenced by the discipline of formal Criticism, and his research among Berbers and peoples of Algeria, focused on the child’s experience with broken toys, the inability to repair them, and the effect of hopelessly broken, manufactured toys on a child’s cognitive functions.

Fast forward to children’s apps again.  There are a lot of junky apps out there, but parents are quickly starting to look online for reliable information about, say, educational apps and their utility.  It’s pretty easy to recognize the ‘broken toys’ variety, because they’re inexplicable, and there is no positive outcome for young users.  Bourdieu might consider this damaging.

We have a long way to go with educational apps, but important studies are beginning to reflect on the effects, especially of blended learning, in classrooms and less structured environments.  On the downside, some apps are not well-designed, some will fail, kids may play on them and quickly bore, or play too long, and some kids will fall victim to ‘zoning out’ on mobile devices.  On the upside, we are at the frontier, not yet cognizant, but somehow beginning to see how powerful new adaptive digital apps can be.  Seduced by their many applications to life as we know it, we might gently reflect back on the times when play involved rocks, sticks, mud, all manner of biota, star-gazing, cloud-watching, and… What would a good educational app for these phenomena be like?

Toddler-Centered Learning With Digital-Tech Skill Reports?

As a parent, I ask myself if educational assessments in apps are constructive for my preschooler?  You may ask yourself – as I do – if you’re ready to deal with barely-post-toddler learning reports?

As children, we learned to read and write using repeated effort.  Report cards gave parents a comparative understanding of our strengths and areas to improve. The purpose of early childhood development curriculum in apps, is to help children learn by repetition too. A parent can make the most of educational apps by understanding analytical measures they provide.

Why should a parent care?  High quality educational apps make a dramatic difference in how your child feels about learning.  Apps focused on learner-centered interactivity that adapts to a child’s learning style may make digital learning uniquely consistent in reinforcing learning. For one thing, games are one-on-one.  ‘Smart’ apps build encouragement into playtime; learning is flexible, and can vary in time and place thanks to technology becoming more mobile and versatile.

Making the Most of Skill Reports – Why should we care about digital learning?

A learning report provides parents, just as an educator might, with the results of practice. Here are three important reasons for looking at a child’s curriculum progress:

  • At-a-glance format lets you see your child’s progress with real time assessment results.  A more detailed report is available with information about what your child is working on.
  • Why does it matter?  Children take in various learning and play experiences with adaptive software.  Learning from digital technology, our children become attuned to evidence-based experiences during playtime.
  • Concrete milestones are measures of mastery.  When we take our children to the physician, developmental skills are assessed.  As your child learns to play with educational games, you can be informed, and can be proactively supportive, anticipating learning challenges.

Related Online Topics:

Globalpost:  Kid-friendly Facebook in the works, Wall Street Journal reports

Forbes:  Why Is There A Lack Of Innovation In Educational Technology For Children?

Why Follow Successful Game Design In Kids Apps?

It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that many apps available are not entirely suitable or understandable to their target audience.  Have you had this experience?  This problem is one reason it’s important to understand something about apps being marketed to our children, and to be able to determine how useful and constructive they will be for a child.

I often have a look at free educational apps, and read about their features.  I’ve also read their reviews, but I take that information with a grain of salt – especially if it is all positive without useful commenting on particular features.  When I look over what is available at the App Store, not much is (well) designed for little girls.  Most educational apps are either neutral (seems good) or are more appealing to little boys.  Because app developers are highly likely to be male, they may understand boys play interests more than they understand little girls, and gender formation and identity.

This may seem like a detail of little import, but there are functions in children’s apps that help us understand whether female teachers and mothers’ wisdom are represented in games.

Games and activities receiving considerable attention tend to be learn-by-playing apps on digital devices, that improve and hold all children’s attention.  Educators are taking note, establishing criteria and plans for integrating touch pad learning with traditional learning (“blended learning”).

Astonishingly enough, some developers seem to believe very young children can read questions generated by a game.  Who thought that through?  Or is it that, if you put two buttons there, interrupting the child’s activity, you have a 50/50 chance the child will tap one or the other?  This is all the more reason to have a good look at the apps your child is spending time with outside of structured learning environments.  You don’t want your child to be confused by poorly designed games, those not appropriately ranked for age.

As a parent, It’s natural to seek a product we can trust.  Such an app ranks age-range realistically.  An app likely to develop a loyal following will deliver what it promises, and not try every trick in the book to take advantage of curious kids, forcing innocents to become work-around artists.

Related Online Topics:

The Washington Post: Children at Play in Arlington – The Importance of Play in Childhood

For Educators:
The Emotional Development of Young Children: Building an Emotion-Centered Curriculum by Marilou Hyson, Ph.D.

Curriculum-Based Playtime Essentials In An Educational App

Have you ever asked yourself what makes kids’ apps tick?  What do app-makers think about?

An extraordinary thing about curriculum-based apps for preschoolers, is that progression-based courses of study are built into the apps.  Curriculum-based apps differ from “just-for-fun” apps, because a study program is at their core, so games adapt to your child’s learning needs.  The app’s ‘smart’ technology measures your child’s activity, and is designed to teach your child to learn by trying and repeating.

This may not appear on the surface, as many apps challenge kids, but a learning app is very different from an app where little else of value is instilled in a child, or retained. An educational app is not designed to distract your child, but rather to hold your child’s interest and build learning comprehension.  This is a classic definition of curriculum!

Ordinary app games have parameters that lead to an outcome, earning points in a game, you can choose a game level, winning or losing.  The repertoire for what you might expect to happen is limited and in no way responsive to a child’s learning curiosity.  In contrast, curriculum and ‘smart’ technology map your child’s progress, reliably supporting a learning path based on your child’s needs, and leading to gradual mastery of a small, comprehensive unit.  For example, in an Agnitus game, it is noted when your child systematically identifies blue and/or green correctly.

Teachers, as students, study to learn how to create dynamic content study plans for their students.  A strategy that engages each learner, helps them anticipate and persevere, and rewards successful engagement, is a winning approach to education.

For the purposes of learning with apps, blended learning is recommended.  Blended learning is based on the principle that a natural learning environment – such as your home or nature – is enhanced with smart technology.  The technology and real experiences are coupled to form blended interchanging sets of ideas and experiences, that go from real world to app and back again.  Developing learning apps that complement real life is the basis for not just ‘smart’ technology, but also intelligent planning.  By developing learning apps, we are trying to complement real life, generating the best of all possible outcomes.

Related Online Topics:

Education News:  Technology Added to Preschool Curriculum in Boston
CNN:  Why we need to let kids be creative