Kids today have serious concerns and worries that those of us who grew up 10, 20, or 30 years ago never thought about. That's the conclusion of a report by the Atlanta/Fulton Commission on Children and Youth. Major concerns listed in this report were drugs, violence, and sex, including fear of AIDS. My teaching experience in the inner city of Atlanta confirms the data in this report. In fact, when I asked over 600 students in DeKalb County Schools to write about their worries, the above fears were mentioned in almost every paper. Other fears that have shown up in the writings of children in different parts of the country include: worries about pollution, the environment, and problems in the Middle East, according to my teacher friends who have asked their students to write about the same topic. But almost all children everywhere have some concerns about school, their peers, and the possible death of their parents. What can we as teachers and parents do about these worries of our children and students?
When you think of children's toys, what first comes to mind? The chances are that it will be the toys that are around in shops today. Bright, colourful plastic creations with lights and buttons; toys that talk, eat, wee or tell you stories. But if this isn't the picture that comes to mind, then the chances are that you'll be taken back to the older days when toys were much simpler, and the only lights were those in the eyes of eager children, their imaginations fired up with just a handful of bricks. Remember the toy cars that you could push along, and that didn't have lights, sound effects, or a controller you could use to drive it? No more sitting on a chair watching the car whizz about - you were down there on the floor, on your hands and knees, tearing up and down the room making the sound effects yourself. It's easy for the older generation to hark back to 'the good old days' when toys were simpler, and you had to use your imagination. It is also easy to assume that today's children don't have to use their imaginations as much, because it's all done for them, and that this is somehow having a detrimental effect on their well being, their understanding of the world, and their own health and fitness.
A couple of keywords or phrases which are banded about a good deal in our consumer society today are 'organic' and 'eco-friendly', and you may just have noticed that these are now no longer confined to the fruits and vegetables at your local supermarket, but are now being used to promote ranges of children's toys. But what do these terms mean, and what possible relevance do they have in the world of toys and games? The term organic refers to the growth of natural products used in the making of toys for children. Organically grown plants and products will not have had chemical treatment during growth, as this can introduce toxic compounds in the plant fibres itself, and can also leak into the ground and harm the wildlife in the area, before seeping in to the water table and damaging the wildlife in the local streams and rivers, not to mention the people who may wash in and drink the water further downstream. Because chemicals such as insecticides and some fertilizers are not used, growth can take longer, and overall survival for the crops is lower, meaning that costs are usually increased.
If you go in to any toy store today, the chances are very high that every toy that is stocked complies with all current legal requirements for safety. There are, however, places where toys that do not meet this criteria are sold, and especially if you are purchasing toys from abroad, you need to be careful because laws in different countries will vary, as will standards. If buying over the internet you have to be especially careful in this regard. However, what is just as important as checking that toys meet current safety standards is to think about the age requirements and suitability, as it is quite possible to purchase a toy which meets with all current legal safety standards, but which is aimed at children older than yours. Since children develop so very quickly during their early years, a matter of months can make a good deal of difference when looking at toys and how suitable they are. In some cases, toys are clearly not suited to younger children, but no age tag has been placed on it.
Should boys play with toy guns and girls play with dolls? Or, putting it another way, should boys play with dolls and girls play with toy guns? There is a great deal of debate on the subject of toys and gender stereotyping, with people very much divided into one camp or another. There is certainly no escaping the fact that, no matter where you look, items associated with boys will generally have images of football, the army or superheroes, with copious amounts of blue to emphasise the fact that this is all for boys, whilst the girls' sections will be adorned with glamorous icons, fairies and flowers, with pink daubed wherever possible. But is this right? Do children tend to become drawn towards these colours and images because they are told to by society from the day they are born, or do they have naturally different tendencies that are so deep seated and established that our social and cultural stereotypes are in fact nothing more than an outward reflection of that understanding?
When I was a little boy I used to play with a whole range of toy guns. Some had caps, which made a satisfying 'crack' as they exploded, whilst others were no more than a couple of twigs tied together with a bit of string. I had long rifles, short pistols and gunslinger style revolvers. I used to shoot at the tree, my sister and various imaginary evil villains. Despite what the media would have us believe, I seem to have turned out all right, and during the whole course of my adult life I have never owned a gun, never shot anyone, and I can't honestly say I have ever felt any special desire to be violent towards anyone. Except the occasional politician, but I believe they don't count. There has been so much talk over the years about boys and guns, and whether it is right, or wrong. Seeing a couple of small boys playing together, making rattling noises and keeling over before arguing about who shot whom first does tend to raise a few eyebrows, and almost everyone has a view on whether it should be allowed or not.
Should all toys, or at least the majority of toys, educational? Very often as we browse the endless aisles of toys looking for something suitable we are presented with a myriad of educational benefits which, if the text is to be believed, will allow our child to excel, reach their potential and become a genius in a matter of moments. This almost seems to pose the question - how did children manage to learn anything at all before the invention of batteries? Come to that, how did we manage to learn anything ourselves? The educational benefits of a toy which announces the name of a colour when you press the corresponding panel is at first obvious - the child will learn the names of colours. But the question needs to be asked - is this teaching the child effectively, or as effectively, as more traditional methods, and what is the difference between teaching and consolidating existing knowledge? Parents clearly have a very responsible role to play, and this is not to be denied of course.
It's very easy for parents to become wistful about the simple old toys of yesteryear, when toys demanded real imagination, and everything wasn't done for you. It's certainly possible to be quick to jump at toys today that do some much, labeled as interactive, and as far as your concerned, that means that they're taking away the opportunities for imaginative play, and that this is likely to be detrimental to the child's development and happiness. Of course, the fact that it is very easy to jump to such conclusions doesn't always necessarily mean that they're right, and it is worth looking at not only what it is that these toys are contributing to a child's play experience, but also how much of a factor they really are in determining the form of play that the child experiences. The term interactive can mean a wide range of things as far as manufacturers are concerned. More because of the fact that the term is still considered an advantage when it comes to marketing a product, toys can be considered as interactive just because they have a button on them which, when pressed, illuminates a character's nose, or produces a sound.
Intelligence is a very important thing. A certain degree of it is always necessary in order to get ahead in the world. The more intelligent a child is, the more chances he has of having a better future. And so, it is very important for parents to ensure that their child is gifted with a certain degree of intelligence. Or, at the very least, the opportunity to maximize the potential he or she has. More often than not, the task of developing the child's intelligence is mainly heaped upon a parent's shoulders. Schools are there to supplement what a parent has given the child. But ultimately, whether or not the child will be intelligent will depend on the child himself. Genes and Intelligence Most children are under the impression that studying is something boring and tedious. But there are some children who have a natural love for learning, and it is these children that are usually categorized as 'achievers'. Intelligent children are usually those who have a positive attitude towards learning, especially learning grammar for kids.
Building self-esteem is an essential aspect in raising a healthy child. One way to do this is to present 'defeatable challenges' to your children as often as possible. So what is a defeatable challenge? Simply put, a defeatable challenge is any task that is not easy, but can be completed with a reasonable amount of time and effort. The most difficult aspect of choosing defeatable challenges for your children is the fact that they are different for each child at any given point in time. Effective defeatable challenges are as unique as each child, and vary with that unique child's age. So how do we choose these tasks and begin to improve and maintain our children's self-esteem? Initially we must observe our children closely: watch what they do on their own, how hard they effort to complete a task, how willing they are to take on a new challenge, how they react to completed as well as failed challenges, pay attention to their unique abilities, note where they stumble in their efforts, discern how they learn best (visual, audible, tactile, etc.