Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teletubbies is as bad for your child as a violent video game, says leading psychologist

By Dr Aric Sigman on 11th September 2010
We must prevent children under three from watching television or risk irreversibly damaging their health.
It may sound shocking but, rest assured, far from being a Luddite, I am enjoying my brand-new iMac and we own a television set. However, I stopped my three youngest children watching TV before the age of three. Let me explain why...

Over the past ten years I have been collating data and my discoveries have troubled me greatly – both as a biologist and as a parent.
Last month, I presented my findings to MEPs in Brussels. My message was unequivocal.

There needs to be a recommended daily allowance for screen time as we have with salt and fat, or we risk harming our children when at their most vulnerable. Indeed, in 2008 the French government outlawed programming aimed at children under three.
Research suggests it is not what you watch, it is what age you start and how long you watch for that has a detrimental effect. In many ways Teletubbies, or any other educational programme for children, could be as physiologically damaging as a violent video game.
So, how does watching something on a screen – whether TV, a DVD, computer games or surfing the internet – have a negative impact, more so than other sedentary activities such as reading or knitting?
It is because we are instinctively transfixed by television. It elicits the orienting response – our sensitivity to movement and sudden changes in vision or sound. Studies have shown that infants, when lying on their backs on the floor, will crane their necks around 180 degrees to watch. Our attraction to looking at anything bright and fastmoving is an evolutionary mechanism, a survival instinct.
These images on screen trigger what psychologists call attentional inertia – we are dazzled and cannot take our eyes off the screen. The same behaviour is seen in some animals.
But it seems we pay the price for tapping into these primitive urges. Scientists have observed effects ranging from the immediate release of hormones into the blood, which can contribute to long-term health problems, to actual physical changes in the brain and learning disorders.

A study from the University of Florence in 2006 of children aged six to 13 who spent an average amount of time watching TV found that their levels of melatonin – a hormone that causes us to sleep, but is also important for a healthy immune system and regulating the onset of puberty – shot up by 30 per cent after one week with no screen time.
If TV does suppress melatonin release, could this explain why puberty now begins in girls, on average, aged nine years 10 months – a year earlier than two decades ago?
Hormones related to metabolism are also affected. A study at the University of Sydney published this summer found that of a group of 290 boys aged 15, those who watched TV or DVDs or played computer games for more than two hours a day had elevated levels of chemical markers related to the development of coronary heart disease in later life.
And this year the University of Copenhagen found that individuals given 45 minutes of computer screen time subsequently consumed 230 calories more from a buffet than those who were given no stimulus.
These findings were backed up by a study from Birmingham University that found women who watched TV during a meal were likely to snack more in the hours after. One theory is that screen time interrupts the release of chemicals in the blood linked to hunger and satiation. Or perhaps memory is affected, so we forget we have eaten.
Perhaps the most compelling study, from the Dunedin School of Medicine, New Zealand, was published in 2004. Researchers followed 1,000 individuals from early childhood, for 26 years. They found that those who watched more than two hours a day between the ages of five and 15 were 15 per cent more likely to have raised blood cholesterol.
This link remained, irrespective of other factors such as social background, body mass index (BMI) at age five, parents' BMI, parental smoking and how physically active the children were by the age of 15. Those that did not watch TV did not have any raised health risks.
Screen time also triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that is involved in learning and concentration. When we see or experience something new, dopamine is released in the brain. Its effect is to focus our attention.
The surges caused by regular screen time may mean the brain becomes desensitised, so when the child later has to concentrate on something that does not have the same hyper-stimulating effect – a book or a teacher – they find they cannot do so. It's a bit like the way that those who add salt to their food find unsalted food tastes dull.
About 80 per cent of brain development happens before we are three, and screen time at this age seems to be particularly damaging.
At the other end of the spectrum, a study this year from the Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, found that each daily hour of TV viewing in adulthood was associated with an 18 per cent increase in death from heart disease. Those who watched four or more hours were 80 per cent more likely to suffer a fatal heart condition.
By the age of 75 the average Briton will have spent more than 12 years watching television. Those aged 11 to 15 now spend 50 per cent of their waking lives – 42 hours a week, six hours a day – in front of a screen.
The good news? If you turn the TV off these ill-effects can be prevented or reversed. After all, there are no health risks to reading a good book.

Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1311139/Teletubbiesbad-child-violent-video-games.html#ixzz16jtWofId

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

November 18, 2010 by Sherrelle Walker, M.A

This past September in a blog posting about the importance of physical exercise, I opened with a comment about the powerful pull that the video screen exerts on young brains. To be sure, this useful evolutionary adaptation has served us very well. Our instinctive ability to focus and concentrate on fast-moving, bright stimuli is a survival mechanism that allowed our ancestors to escape from many a tight spot. Even so, with the advent of modern technologies such as computers and television, we are now experiencing the down side of an endless flood of engaging electronic input. Research has shown that extensive screen time has the power to negatively affect our very chemistry and biology.
As we know from brain plasticity research, the stimuli we receive over time directly affect the development and wiring of the brain. Still, these effects are only the beginning of a long list of problems that screen time engenders. This past September, British psychologist and biologist Aric Sigman published an article in the British MailOnline that pulls together the conclusions of recent research from around the globe, painting a clear picture of the deleterious effects of screen time, and that picture is far from pretty. In fact, it is one that we, as parents, as teachers and as members of a national community, must not ignore.
While screen time has been shown to have negative psychological effects, I found Sigman's run-down of the chemical and biological effects to be of particular concern:
  1. Suppression of melatonin release: Healthy levels of melatonin help regulate sleep, the immune system, and the onset of puberty. When children who watched an average amount of TV had all screen time removed, their melatonin levels went up by 30 percent after one week.
  2. Increased chance of coronary heart disease: A study of 290 boys aged 15 showed that those who averaged over two hours of screen time a day had "elevated levels of chemical markers related to the development of coronary heart disease in later life." A different study out of Melbourne showed that for each hour an adult watches TV a day, there is an 18 percent increase in the likelihood that this adult will die from heart disease. Says Sigman, "Those who watched four or more hours were 80 percent more likely to suffer a fatal heart condition."
  3. Changes in chemicals related to hunger and feeling satisfied: After 45 minutes of screen time, subjects consumed 230 calories more than those who had no screen time. Also, women who watched TV during a meal were more likely to snack later on.
  4. Elevated blood cholesterol: Individuals between five and 15 who watched more than two hours a day were more likely to have raised blood cholesterol later in life.
  5. Release of dopamine: Screen time causes the release of dopamine, a chemical that contributes to learning and concentration. As a result, our brains may become desensitized to the effects of normal levels of dopamine, making it hard to concentrate and focus on non-screen-based stimuli.
Taken in sum, these studies are sending us a clear message that we as parents and educators must take to heart: the more these screen-based technologies occupy time in our days, the more vigilant we must be about maintaining our own healthy habits, as well as educating our students to the risks so they can make their own smart decisions and lead long, healthy lives.
Retrieved from: http://www.scilearn.com/blog/5-reasons-you-should-limit-screen-time.php

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sharing the Practices of Phonics Practice: 5 Instructional Approaches

November 23, 2010 by Terri Zezula

Let’s talk about phonics teaching. Actually, let’s talk about phonics practice.Together, let’s figure out and share what works. But before we start our quest forward, let’s take a quick look back.
The “Great Debate” between proponents of the whole language and phonics approaches to reading instruction and practice has gone on for decades. Essentially, the discussion comes down to the question of whether early readers should focus on developing an understanding of written language at the letter/sound level (a phonics approach) or at the word level (a whole language approach). Today, the most widely accepted strategy indicates that phonics instruction and practice represent the most effective methods of reading instruction for K-6 learners; phonics also has proven very effective in helping those who are struggling with learning to read and spell. (Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read, 2006)
So, what opportunities—systematically speaking—are open to educators to offer phonics practice and instruction to students? The National Reading Panel outlines five different instructional approaches that we can draw upon. Specifically, the report lists them as follows:
  1. Analogy Phonics—teaching students unfamiliar words by analogy to known words (e.g., recognizing that the rime segment of an unfamiliar word—the part of a syllable used in poetic rhyme—is identical to that of a familiar word, and then blending the known rime with the new word onset, such as reading brick by recognizing that -ick is contained in the known word kick, or reading stump by analogy to jump).
  2. Analytic Phonics—teaching students to analyze letter-sound relations in previously learned words to avoid pronouncing sounds in isolation.
  3. Embedded Phonics—teaching students phonics skills by embedding phonics instruction in text reading, a more implicit approach that relies to some extent on incidental learning.
  4. Phonics through Spelling—teaching students to segment words into phonemes and to select letters for those phonemes (i.e., teaching students to spell words phonemically).
  5. Synthetic Phonics—teaching students explicitly to convert letters into sounds (phonemes) and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words. (Ibid.)
Print publishers as well as online curriculum providers have created countless tools to help educators teach phonics as well as offer practice to solidify these lessons. But any practice of these lessons that reinforces and offers further exercise in these five understandings--inside or outside the classroom--has the potential to help solidify and further students’ reading skills. Guidelines for teaching phonics systematically can be found on many blogs and websites, including www.TeachingLD.org, where you can find their Current Practice Alerts publication on Phonics Instruction: Go For It!(http://www.teachingld.org/pdf/alert14.pdf)
In such a discussion of phonics practice, we must make the point that any selection of technology to assist in the process should be thoroughly researched and proven in tests as well as in the field. Speaking specifically about the Fast ForWord® products, multiple studies have shown their effectiveness in building the cognitive skills necessary for reading and writing. They do this through development of memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities, and by exercising early reading skills including phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
That said, finding what works isn’t easy; it takes practice, but it also takes research, adaptation, experimentation and creativity. According to columnist Ruth Bettelheim as quoted recently in USA Today, one of the key elements for effective learning is giving students what she calls “the pleasure of mastery.” Phonics is one of those areas where we can—with the right instructional tools—give students the practice they need to not only achieve success, but deliver that pleasure of mastery to help stoke each student’s fire for learning.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Research Suggests Link Between 'Handedness' and Dyslexia

Finding based on scan of genomes of 192 children with reading difficulties

FRIDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- New genetic mapping of children with reading difficulties suggests that those who carry a particular gene mutation are particularly well-skilled in the use of their right hand.
The apparent link between a specific variation of the so-called "PCSK6 gene" and hand-motor control among dyslexic children is the first hard evidence to suggest that there could be an association between "handedness" and language disorders, the researchers said.
"This study provides the first genetic link between handedness, brain asymmetry and reading ability," study author Tony Monaco, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford in England, said in a university news release.
"This is the first study implicating [PCKSK6] with handedness," he added. "The fact that this association also seems to be apparent in people with dyslexia provides an interesting clue to explore whether there is a link between handedness and language-related disorders."
Monaco and his colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 5 online edition of Human Molecular Genetics.
The authors noted that most people -- including most children with dyslexia -- are right-handed. However, the study found that among a group of 192 dyslexic children, those who had the mutation were, on average, even more skilled with the use of their right hand (relative to their left hand) than those who didn't carry the variation.
Giving the finding some context, the researchers pointed out that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body -- and vice versa. Given the general propensity for right-handedness, researchers have viewed the left side of the brain as dominant in terms of motor control. Coupled with the fact that the left hemisphere is also known to exert dominance over language skills, the theory had emerged that "hand favoritism" and language disorders could be associated with one another. But until now efforts to uncover a genetic foundation for this notion had turned up nothing.
The new finding lends this theory some support, the researchers said. And Monaco and his team think their observations could help to expand further explorations into the underlying biology of language-related disorders.
More information
-- Alan Mozes
SOURCE: University of Oxford, news release, Nov. 5, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why does my baby crawl backwards?

Q:My 7-month-old daughter is finally attempting to crawl, but she only goes backwards and in circles. Is there reason for alarm or is this natural? — Submitted by Doug in Okeechobee

Doug, your daughter's physical development is right on track. Most babies begin to crawl between 7 and 10 months of age. Once they can sit up well and see the interesting things around them, they want to move across the floor to explore their environment. But it can take weeks or months for babies to develop the arm and leg strength and coordination to crawl effectively.

Because babies develop strength and coordination in their arms before their legs, it's common to begin crawling by rocking back and forth, pushing backwards, and going in circles. In fact, babies have many different styles of crawling including the standard crawl on hands and knees, the "army crawl" pulling themselves forward on their tummy, crawling with one leg extended to the side, and seated scooting along on their bottom. Some babies even go from sitting up to walking without ever crawling. The important thing is to see that your daughter uses both arms and legs, improves her skills over time, and is able to explore her environment. If you have any questions about your daughter's development, be sure to talk about it with her doctor.

Here are some tips to help your daughter with crawling:

  • Spend "tummy time" on the floor together. Place her on her tummy and get your face down in front of her so she wants to push up on her hands to see you.
  • Place a toy in front of her, just out of her reach. Give her lots of encouragement to move forward to grab it.
  • Try putting your hand behind her feet to give her something to push off against and experience moving forward and grabbing the toy.
  • Crawl around on your hands and knees and make a game for her to chase you. You can even make an obstacle course with sofa cushions to crawl over.
  • Take this opportunity to child-proof your house so it will be safe once she's crawling and walking, which will be all-too-soon!
Retrieved from: http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=665&e=expertadvice&catparcode=ps_grwdvmstns&ccat=PS_CrawlClimb&content=52613

Does walking barefoot cause flat feet?

Question: My 10½-month-old son is cruising all around, and I don’t make him wear shoes. Well, my family says he needs to learn how to walk in shoes or he’ll become flat-footed. When he wears them he fumbles. What’s best for my son?— Submitted by Breanne in Napa
A:Darlene, letting your baby go barefoot as much as possible is the best way to develop your baby’s feet. When babies are barefoot, they can wiggle their toes, grip the floor, balance themselves and push off with their feet muscles.

Some people buy shoes for newborn babies because they look cute, but they don’t help the baby’s foot development. The only exception might be if your baby was diagnosed with an orthopedic problem and the doctor prescribed special shoes. In fact, shoes or pajamas with feet that are too tight can interfere with babies’ foot development. If your baby needs his feet covered to stay warm, socks and cloth booties are fine.

Get your baby his first pair of shoes when he begins walking outdoors. It’s still good for him to go barefoot indoors, but shoes are good for outdoors to protect his feet from cuts and infections, and cold weather. Look for shoes that are lightweight, soft and made of flexible material such as leather shoes or canvas sneakers. Get shoes with skid-proof soles to prevent slipping and falling. Make sure the shoes are wide enough for your child’s foot to lie flat, and long enough for a little extra room to wiggle and grow, maybe ½ inch beyond the toes.

It’s normal for babies to have flat feet—most children naturally develop arches by 6 years of age. You don’t have to worry about buying shoes with special arch supports unless a doctor prescribes them for an orthopedic problem. Remember, shoes are basically for protection, not for foot development.
Retrieved from: http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=665&e=expertadvice&catnamestart=w&ccat=PS_WalkTalk&content=114225

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