I was out for dinner with friends awhile back and while enjoying delicious chicken chow mien, happened to notice a family of four – two adults and two children under the age of six – sitting at the table beside us. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except both adults were sitting across from each other using their cellphones and not really engaging each other – or their children. One of the kids, a young girl maybe two-years old, watched, as her mother snapped a blog-worthy photograph of her sushi. The little girl yelled to get her mother’s attention, which was met with a stern rebuke. Over the next hour as I glanced at this family, the parents animatedly engaged with their mobile phones. Meanwhile I couldn’t help but wonder what message their children were getting. It seems to me the message was cellphones are more important than spending time with their kids.
As an Early Childhood Educator, I often hear parents lamenting the challenge of getting their children to put down their media devices. Eventually, they say, it deteriorates into a screaming match as parents try to get their children to the dinner table. Parents everywhere are struggling with the balance between online and offline engagement. As I watched this family, it occurred to me the parent’s obsession with their own electronic devices might be part of the problem.
Children watch us, and as they watch, they learn. This is how they discover the world. In the late 1970’s Psychologist Albert Bandura developed The Social Learning Theory noting that children learn social cues and behaviours by observing the behaviours and interactions of those around them. What they are learning, in this case, is that it’s okay to use cellphones, tablets and computers during family meals, ignoring those around you. Overly harsh? Maybe, but I’ve seen this often enough to say it’s not a one of a kind event.
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Remember when we used to say to kids – “use your imagination”…
Children’s toys today give me the impression that imagination is no longer required. This past Christmas, I witnessed what I think is a dramatic change in children’s toys. My younger cousin, Neve, aged 5, received many new toys that had me thinking back to the very toys I once played with and how much it’s all changed. One toy in particular really struck me.
For young girls the choices are different than the usual Barbie and kitchen set. The newest dolls on the market are “Ever After High” dolls. These dolls are teenagers, and parents happen to be well-known fairy tale characters like Snow White and Cinderella. These dolls also have a TV show as well as other multimedia/multiplatform exposure with Mattel.
I started becoming serious about art when I was around 9 or 10. My parents put me into an art class at the plaza near my home, and I never looked back.
Something I didn’t realize until I attended the Fine Arts program at Centennial is that I found my niche very early on. It astounded me that some of my friends still hadn’t found their “thing” when it came to art. I think my resolve and direction was due partly to the things I was exposed to as a child. Like that early art class, for instance.
In that class, I was introduced to Robert Bateman. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is a very well-known Canadian Wildlife Artist. I was amazed the first time I saw his work, and I quickly knew that was what I wanted to draw and that was who I wanted to be. In class, I would use his books as references and inspiration for my own work. He became my idol. I thought of Bateman as the “be-all-and-end-all” of art. He personified my end goal, both in terms of technique and international recognition. His style was aspirational and I wanted to reach that level of realism. So I strived to get there.
After 24 years of proudly displaying every book I read on my bookshelf, I finally decided to give in and switch to an e-reader. I was reluctant at first, but now I can’t put my Kindle down. While reading in bed one night, I couldn’t help but wonder if I will be reading bedtime stories to my children on an electronic device in the future. Will kids be learning to read with eBooks – if they aren’t already? And more importantly, can kids really learn to read electronically?
As eBooks grow in popularity, there are more e-reading products for children on the market. Children’s books can now be downloaded on e-readers, as apps on phones and tablets, or viewed online on ebook sites known as “virtual libraries.” And these eBooks aren’t just text on a screen – they are enhanced and interactive, including full-colour display, sound effects, complex graphics, animations, music, games, videos, electronic dictionaries, word pronunciation and read-aloud options. With technology evolving and publishers adding all these bells and whistles, eBooks are definitely engaging, but do they really help children build language and literacy skills or are they just entertainment?
We can easily say that there is no better platform than the Internet to spread a message and create change in the 21st century. Once a story is shared by a few news websites, along with a few people on social media, the story will spread like wildfire.
A great example of this is the recent victory of B.C. mother Raina Delisle who took matters into her own digital hands when she noticed a disturbing and inappropriate trend in Halloween costumes while shopping for her daughter.
Lucky for Delisle, she is not only a writer but also a blogger; with an outlet as popular as The Huffington Post she is able to immediately communicate her ideas with the world.
Most companies and organizations are successfully incorporating blogs into their websites, as blogging seems to be the secret behind much of their success. As Forbes mentioned earlier this year: “Blogs are fantastic for highlighting issues and content that you care about…your blog – even a simple one – creates a digital media hub for your message and outreach.”
As a concerned mother, Delisle turned to her blog to express her thoughts about the sexualization of Halloween costumes that are marketed to girls as young as four years old. She pointed out career costumes, such as police officer or firefighter, which consist of mini skirts and are anything but realistic representations of how real police officers or firefighters dress.
If was 12 years ago. There I was, lying on the carpet in our living room with a large pad of paper and a pencil, fixated on the screen. One of my favourite shows was on and I couldn’t draw fast enough.
As a kid, I didn’t try to analyze this need to draw what I was watching. It’s just what I did. In fact, it never occurred to me not to draw what I was seeing. To be honest I still feel this way today although I’m not really sure why. Am I hardwired to draw? I’ve found as I get older it often connects to a story or its characters. I’m 20 now, and when I fall in love with a character I get the urge to do a portrait of them. But as a kid, it was also about whether I found something visually appealing. If I liked the way something looked, or liked the style of cartoon I was watching, chances are I wanted to draw it.
Exciting and different visual stimulation is essential for someone who is visually oriented.
With Remembrance Day now over, I was thinking about the First World War (1914-1918).
Apparently it’s hard for people to remember the events of the war when they aren’t even sure when it started. A recent British survey cited in a Daily Mail article shows that “nearly two-thirds of young people were unable to say that the First World War ended in 1918” and “54 per cent of the same age range, 16-24, also did not know the war began in 1914.”
So why do youth know so little about this war? How many other famous and influential historical events do they know little about? I doubt I am able answer these questions, but I hope to give a rough idea of the role the media plays in how much young people know about history.
Many video games and movies include historical settings and characters. A man referenced in Assassins Creed, Hassan-i Sabbah, really did establish one of the first assassin groups during the first crusade (starting in the 1100s). Assassins were chosen by Sabbah to influence and sometimes kill enemy leaders. In the game, assassins always seek to kill the enemy, while historical facts show that sometimes scare tactics were used so killing didn’t have to take place. For example, a Muslim leader once awoke to find a knife and a note beside his pillow that roughly said that he would be killed if he attacked the group of assassins. Of course, these differences aren’t too terribly surprising because the game is historical fiction.
Disney has released many movies based on historical figures, including Pocahontas and Mulan. In the movie, Pocahontas chooses to say when John Smith leaves. Historically, however, she traveled to England and married John Smith but died soon after. Another interesting fact about the story of Pocahontas is that she was, in fact, the daughter of the chief of her tribe, but she was not the rebellious heroine portrayed by Disney. She didn’t rebel against her father’s wish to kill John Smith; in fact she was asked to make the decision and she chose to let him live.
I asked a child on Halloween why he dressed up as Captain America, since even in my small classroom of children, at least 40 percent were dressed up as a superhero. Oh, the answer I received, as he struck the unmistakable hero pose with fists at the ready and shield in hand…. he told me it was because: “Captain America kills all the bad guys”.
It’s this connection to violence and the concern that superheroes promote aggressive behaviour that has me as an Early Childhood Educator telling children they cannot play superheroes during outdoor play. Schools and childcare centres alike are discouraging children from hero play and in removing heroes from the classroom, they are missing what I believe to be a super sized teachable moment. Underneath a superhero’s flashy costume, state of the art weapons and fantasy powers, is an individual who is dedicating their life to helping others and standing up for what is right. I’m inclined to think that is an excellent concept for children to learn.
Preschool children are developing empathy and beginning to move away from a phase in child development called egocentrism. We see this concept at work when a child doesn’t want to share their toy or when they are what parents would describe as stubborn. These children are not simply being uncooperative; they are developing an understanding that there are perspectives other than their own.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days. Everybody knows what I’m talkin’ about. Everybody gets that way.”
—Nobody’s Perfect, performed by Miley Cyrus (as Hannah Montana)
Young children often struggle to discern between reality and fantasy. Assuming they understand their favourite television characters are made-up, played by people who are simply pretending, is asking a lot.
Mara Wilson, the adorable child from Matilda, and Mrs. Doubtfire, writes: “And then there are the fans: kids your age who think they know you because they’ve seen your face on TV, parents who pray you stay squeaky clean because their children want to be you.”
Even well-developed adults hold celebrities in a place of reverence, when in reality they are humans just like the rest of us. They go to work, spend time with their families, and even have the same needs, desires, and eccentricities.
What are the repercussions of encouraging children to aspire to be like their favourite characters? In reality, young stars like Miley Cyrus, Orlando Brown, and Lindsay Lohan, are not nearly as aspirational as their screen characters. Who is responsible for the aspirational nature of the children’s characters, and, of equal importance, the actors who play them?
Tired of the litany of mindless teen gossip rags and the unrealistic beauty standards of teen fashion magazines?
Maybe it’s time you were “Fazed”.
As young readers gain access to magazines, it seems reasonable to hope they will find magazine titles that help them develop into mature, well-rounded young adults. Enter Faze: a Toronto based magazine created in 2001 by Lorraine Zander, who had a vision to give children a magazine offering “an insightful look at real life issues.” Faze targets readers between 13 and 24 years of age, tackling a variety of issues and subjects that are important to this age group. What’s more, young adults and teens actually write the content requested by the readers of the magazine.
I received my first copy of Faze in the ninth grade. It was refreshing to read a magazine that had articles about self-confidence and careers; topics that are often overlooked by publishers targeting this age group. Faze skipped the mindless indulgence of gossip magazines, instead offering content that really mattered. One article I read suggested publishing as a career, and since then, I have worked towards that dream. I look back on this magazine and understand it taught me so much. It gave me the courage to look for work that will provide purpose in my young life.
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