Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning

Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning (Education Week)

“When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior, according to a new study.

Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they’re going to do with their time. Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver studied the schedules of 70 six-year olds, and they found that the kids who spent more time in less-structured activities had more highly-developed self-directed executive function.

Self-directed executive function develops mostly during childhood, the researchers write, and it includes any mental processes that help us work toward achieving goals—like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between tasks, and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and feelings. It is an early indicator of school readiness and academic performance, according to previous research cited in the study, and it even predicts success into adulthood. Children with higher executive function will be healthier, wealthier, and more socially stable throughout their lives.”

Pretty fascinating study. Important caveat:

“The researchers acknowledge that their study only proves correlation, but not causation. That is, it’s possible that children with better executive functioning may prefer to participate in less-structured activities more often, they write, while children with worse executive functioning may be more likely to seek out activities already structured for them.”

Still, I suspect that more research will only serve to clarify these findings, not discredit them.

No Religion? Here Are 7 Types of Non-Believers

image courtesy of University of Birmingham

No Religion? Here Are 7 Types of Non-Believers (Alternet)

“Catholic, born-again, Reformed, Jew, Muslim, Shiite, Sunni, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist…religions give people labels. The downside can be tribalism, an assumption that insiders are better than outsiders, that they merit more compassion, integrity and generosity or even that violence toward “infidels” is acceptable. But the upside is that religious or spiritual labels offer a way of defining who we are.  They remind adherents that our moral sense and quest for meaning are core parts of what it means to be human. They make it easier to convey a subset of our deepest values to other people, and even to ourselves. 

For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label can feel important. It can be part of a healing process or, alternately, a way of declaring resistance to a dominant and oppressive paradigm. Finding the right combination of words can be a challenge though. For a label to fit it needs to resonate personally and also communicate what you want to say to the world. Words have definitions, connotations and history, and how people respond to your label will be affected by all three. What does it mean? What emotions does it evoke? Who are you identifying as your intellectual and spiritual forebears and your community? The differences may be subtle but they are important.”

Fun, useful list, with helpful breakdowns, citations, and examples! (I like lists.)

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing (Salon)

“In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors. As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train. His mother never moved to restrain him. But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers. They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian. I, too, was appalled. I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately. My professor took the opportunity to teach: ‘Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?’

And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.

Then I thought about what it means to parent a black child, any black child, in similar circumstances. I think of the swiftness with which a black mother would have ushered her child into a seat, with firm looks and not a little a scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance. So much is wrapped up in that moment: a desire to demonstrate that one’s black child is well-behaved, non-threatening, well-trained. Disciplined. I think of the centuries of imminent fear that have shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternness of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force.”

This essay reveals uncomfortable truths about our culture that we don’t like to acknowledge, making her words all the more powerful and thought-provoking.

How my armpits inspired me to make conscious choices

How my armpits inspired me to make conscious choices (Offbeat Home & Life)

“Who says that hairy pits on women are gross, and why? Because prior to that being said, hairy pits were just exactly what they were. Hairy pits. I have seen the damage that is done to a woman’s feelings of self-worth when held to a standard of beauty. And it is not pretty.

Programmed prejudice, babes. Judgments we unconsciously make by following the pack mentality without the awareness of our own personal choice in the matter. Like that time in middle school where everyone picked on that one girl and no one knew why but they kept doing it because they thought they had to because everyone else did it. Our culture is littered with these sorts of prejudices and we get to choose to support them or not.

Our beauty dogma as women in American culture is dictated by programmed prejudice. We leave choices regarding our bodies up to someone else’s ideas of what is right and wrong. We shirk our own social responsibility as women by not making choices in line with our own values, following the belief that our beauty is unattainable without paying the price of judging ourselves, our worth, and our beauty through someone else’s lens. And then on top of that, we literally pay the price by buying our own beauty and supporting these standards. Because business is business, and business must grow, regardless of hair in my armpits, you know?

Programmed prejudice is all around us. Try and notice it when you can. And when you do, just remember that you get to choose to agree or not. We live in a consumer culture that is hugely driven by the big industry. We all know this by now. Millions of dollars are made every day by striking fear of our inadequacies and insecurities about how we measure up to others’ standards.”

This is the article I wish I had written about my own body hair. I stopped shaving my legs 3 years ago, as a personal experiment/challenge, and I haven’t shaved them since. I didn’t shave my legs for my wedding day. I don’t shave my legs when I wear shorts, or a dress, or a bathing suit. I rock my armpit hair pretty regularly, but I do trim it (with a mustache trimmer!) when I get dressed up.

I was terrified to go out in public with my body hair in the beginning. For at least the first year, every time I went to the gym in a tank top, I felt extra self-conscious. I avoided sleeveless shirts outside of the house. I avoided showing off my legs. I had to learn to get comfortable with my body, and even as a hardcore feminist with a very supportive partner (he loves my body hair almost more than I do), it was not easy.

Even after all this time, I still feel self-conscious sometimes. But honestly, even though I am much more comfortable with my body now than when I was a teenager, I still feel self-conscious about my weight, my breasts, and my clothes. My body hair is really just one more thing. As women, we have been told that we must look a certain way to be beautiful, but our beauty comes from our individuality and in our spirits, not some beauty “ritual” that we we need to follow.

(For more of my feminist ranting, check out What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name.)

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing (Public Radio International)

“Neuroscience… has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards ‘non-linear’ reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page. 

‘They call it a bi-literate brain,’ Zoromodi says. ‘The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.’

So what’s deep reading? It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to ‘immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,’ Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don’t typically do on a computer. ‘Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.’

To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.”

Fascinating. I definitely think my attention span has been affected by how much reading I do online. It’s harder for me to focus on a book for long periods of time. It’s one of the reasons why I love my basic Kindle, because it doesn’t allow me to check my e-mail, or get distracted by anything else on the internet. It’s just for reading.

 

Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic

Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic (The Hollywood Reporter)

“Whether it’s measles or pertussis, the local children statistically at the greatest risk for infection aren’t, as one might imagine, the least privileged — far from it. An examination by The Hollywood Reporter of immunization records submitted to the state by educational facilities suggests that wealthy Westside kids — particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens — are far more likely to get sick (and potentially infect their siblings and playmates) than other kids in L.A. The reason is at once painfully simple and utterly complex: More parents in this demographic are choosing not to vaccinate their children as medical experts advise. They express their noncompliance by submitting a form known as a personal belief exemption (PBE) instead of paperwork documenting a completed shot schedule.

It’s no secret that anti-vaccine sentiments run high on the Westside. But the data reveals a community where ambiguous fears about the perceived threat of immunization have in fact caused a very real threat. This is a hard topic to discuss, especially here in Hollywood. It hinges on parental choices that directly impact your own children and other parents’ kids, too — a dinner-party land mine to be avoided at all costs. Few parents would speak to THR on the record about their decisions for fear of the backlash.

Yet this silence has turned the issue into a time bomb. At a time in which America is consumed with Ebola fears, a very real and preventable health crisis could explode in our backyard. With a whooping cough outbreak growing even faster than the swelling non-vaccination rate, questions of responsibility, both personal and collective, deserve urgent answers.”

Really well-researched, thought-provoking read. This is not mean-spirited anti-vaxxer propaganda, which I the article I started reading before I got to this one. I do support vaccinating children, but I don’t support vilifying people that don’t. We have to have a rational conversation about this, because people standing on either sides of a fence yelling at each other isn’t helping anyone, and it’s only making parents dig in further.

Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples

Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples (Mother Jones, Mar/Apr 2013)

“In the mid-1800s, there were thousands of unique varieties of apples in the United States, some of the most astounding diversity ever developed in a food crop. Then industrial agriculture crushed that world. The apple industry settled on a handful of varieties to promote worldwide, and the rest were forgotten. They became commercially extinct—but not quite biologically extinct.

Even when abandoned, an apple tree can live more than 200 years, and, like the Giving Tree in Shel Silverstein’s book, it will wait patiently for the boy to return. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is approximately two centuries old and still gives a crop of midnight-purple apples each fall. In places like northern New England, the Appalachian Mountains, and Johnny Appleseed’s beloved Ohio River Valley—agricultural byways that have escaped the bulldozer—these centenarians hang on, flickering on the edge of existence, their identity often a mystery to the present homeowners. And John Bunker is determined to save as many as he can before they, and he, are gone.”

I found this wonderful read in a comment thread under the also great (and recommended) article, The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious. I think what John Bunker is doing is absolutely amazing, and now I want to learn more about apple trees.