Archives for category: Childhood

Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, wrote recently in the Washington Post that children need a break, not academic pressure, this summer. But the federal government seems to have swallowed whole the claims that children are suffering from “learning loss.” He disagrees. Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle have repeatedly urged policymakers to acknowledge the importance of play in child development; they wrote a wonderful, research-based book about it called Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. What Tampio and others argue is that the children have had a horrible year and need time to be children. We don’t need to press their little noses to the academic grindstone.


The global pandemic has taken its toll on families and children. Children have not been able to engage in their normal routines, sit in a classroom with friends and teachers, visit extended family or participate in social activities without a mask. Most parents are more concerned about their children’s emotional well-being than they were before the pandemic, a Pew Research Center survey in the fall found. And that situation may have grown more dire, as children have spent much of the school year online and maintaining social distance from other people.

Facing this year of loss, Democrats in Congress have framed the problem as primarily one of lower projected test scores; their solution is to make kids in high-poverty schools spend the summer inside preparing for standardized tests. This is exactly the wrong approach to the sadness and loss of the covid era: This summer, children need to do self-initiated activities that are rewarding for their own sake. This will create happier children now and, as research has shown, lead to improved physical, cognitive, social, emotional and creative outcomes later in life.

At the end of 2020, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, explained how he wanted to address the learning loss caused by the pandemic: “You can’t just tell cash-strapped states and localities that they’ve got to cancel summer vacation. For the federal government, if we’re going to suggest that, we’ve got to help pay for it.”

So early this year, Scott introduced the Learning Recovery Act of 2021 to establish a grant program; the bill could become law by mid-March. It would authorize $75 billion over the next two years to address learning loss in Title I schools with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students by funding school extension programs — including longer school days, an extended school year and summer school. It’s a lot of money: Congress allocated about $16 billion for Title I schools in 2019.

The money has strings attached. The bill stipulates that state educational agencies shall support school districts “to effectively use data and evidence-based strategies to address learning recovery needs for students.” To collect this data, a school district may administer “high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable to accurately assess students’ academic progress.” The bill also authorizes funding for the Institute of Education Sciences to study what interventions and strategies best address learning recovery, that is, raise test scores. The supporters of the bill are not interested in paying for kids to play this summer.

That’s a shame — because pediatricians have been making a powerful case for the immediate and long-term benefits of play.

2018 article in the journal Pediatrics called “The Power of Play” defines play as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.”

Childhood play develops foundational motor skills, leads to an active lifestyle and prevents obesity. Climbing rocks gives children a chance to build confidence that will serve them well later in life. Rough-and-tumble play teaches children verbal skills, as they have to negotiate when things threaten to get out of hand. Taking risks on the playground hones executive functioning skills such as concentrating, problem solving and regulating one’s emotions. Recess gives children of different backgrounds an opportunity to become friends.

“Play is part of our evolutionary heritage,” the authors explain, “and gives us opportunities to practice and hone the skills needed to live in a complex world.”

And what happens when children do not have a chance to play? They don’t have a safe way to release toxic stress and may lash out with antisocial behavior. By focusing on academic achievement rather than play, young people often develop anxiety, depression and a lack of creativity. “Play may be an effective antidote to the changes in amygdala size, impulsivity, aggression, and uncontrolled emotion that result from significant childhood adversity and toxic stress,” the article argues.

Even more than usual, it would seem, children in the pandemic era need a chance to play before they resume their formal education in the fall. In England, experts in childhood development have called for a “summer filled with play” to recover from the pandemic. According to Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, “children need time to reconnect and play with their friends, they need to be reminded how good it feels to be outdoors after so long inside and they need to get physically active again…”

Think of all the rewarding things that children could do this summer. Day camps with arts and crafts, sports, theater, and activities like podcasting and three-dimensional printing. Visiting family in other parts of the country. Swimming at the pool. Riding bikes with friends. Performing in a band. As scholars such as Yong Zhao and Christopher Tienken have been arguing for years, these kinds of unstructured activities give young people a chance to invent new things, create works of art, start businesses and develop their own talents.

Kids would be better off if Congress votes down legislation that would keep children in high-poverty schools inside this summer. Those kids — including ones living in shelters, with food insecurity or in dangerous neighborhoods — deserve to play just as surely as do those children whose parents send them to sleep-away camp. And governments, civil society and families should look for ways to give children a chance to do activities that are voluntary, joyful and imaginative: that is, to play.

Jan Resseger reminds us of the traditional Masai greeting, “How are the children?” The assumption is that if the children are well, the village or society is well. Many of our children are not well. Too many live in poverty and lack adequate nutrition, decent medical care, and a safe place to live.

Sadly, as Jan explains, the Republican moderates who asked Biden to cut his COVID relief package focused their cuts on aid to children.

She begins:

This week a group of so-called moderate U.S. Senate Republicans proposed to negotiate with President Joe Biden about his proposed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus bill.  But even the ten senators, who profess themselves to be moderates and who came forward with a $618 billion alternative proposal, proved themselves willing to neglect the needs of America’s children. The United States, the world’s richest nation, posts an alarming child poverty rate, but, apart from the voices of a handful of social justice advocates, any level of concern about child poverty is inaudible. Hardly anybody seems to have noticed that one of the great strengths of Biden’s American Rescue Plan is the President’s inclusion of funding for programs that would significantly ameliorate suffering among America’s poorest children.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chuck Marr did recently recognize the significanceof the pro-child provisions in Biden’s new American Rescue Plan: “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency relief plan includes a Child Tax Credit expansion that would lift 9.9 million children above or closer to the poverty line, including 2.3 million Black children, 4.1 million Latino children, and 441,000 Asian American children. It also would lift 1.1 million children out of ‘deep poverty,’ raising their family incomes above 50 percent of the poverty line. To do that, the Biden plan would make the credit fully available to 27 million children—including roughly half of all Black and Latino children—whose families now don’t get the full credit because their parents don’t earn enough….”

Do Republicans not care about our children? Why is military spending more desirable than spending to save the lives of the neediest and most helpless?

Everyone should read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, which demonstrates that societies are happier when there is more equality.

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg have a proposal for what children should do after the pandemic: Play.

They write at CNN.com:

When the novel coronavirus is no longer as great a threat and schools finally reopen, we should give children the one thing they will need most after enduring months of isolation, stress, physical restraint and woefully inadequate, screen-based remote learning. We should give them playtime — and lots of it.William Doyle William Doyle Pasi SahlbergPasi SahlbergAs in-person classes begin, education administrators will presumably follow the safety guidelines of health authorities for smaller classes, staggered schedules, closing or regularly cleaning communal spaces with shared equipment, regular health checks and other precautions. But despite the limitations this may place on the students’ physical environment, schools should look for safe ways to supercharge children’s learning and well-being.We propose that schools adopt a 90-day “golden age of play,” our term for a transitional period when traditional academic education.

Play gives children a wide range of critical cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, stated in a 2012 clinical report that “play, in all its forms, needs to be considered as the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children,” including for children in poverty, and noted that “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also reported “substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement,” and “can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior,” including concentration and attention. Regular physical activity like recess and physical education, the CDC researchers noted, also “improves self-esteem, and reduces stress and anxiety.”

This is especially relevant for a student population that may face a tidal wave of mental health challenges in the wake of the pandemic. Data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report detailed that, as of 2016, 1 in 6 children ages 2 to 8 years of age had a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. And a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology revealed that from 2009 to 2017, depression surged 69% among 16- to 17-year-olds.

A 90-day “golden age of play” school re-entry period would help ease children back into the school setting, while providing physical and creative outlets to allow them to calm their stress and thrive with their peers and teachers. But what exactly would this program look like?It should look like a child’s dreams. A time of joy, movement, discovery and experimentation without fear of failure; a time when every student should enjoy comfort, safety, and socialization with peers and warm, caring adults.

Open the link and read the rest.

The first snow storm of the season raged up the Eastern seaboard! Students thought they might have a snow day, but in some districts, the leadership said “No!”

This will upset those “reformers” who think it is time to get tough on the kids, time to get ready for the next test, time to squelch any sign of happiness, but:

In West Virginia, a school superintendent said a loud “Yes!”

In a letter to the school community on Tuesday, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson said she was canceling classes so that students and faculty could take a much-needed break during a very hard year.

“For generations, families have greeted the first snow day of the year with joy,” Gibson’s letter states. “It is a time of renewed wonder at all the beautiful things that each season holds. A reminder of how fleeting a childhood can be. An opportunity to make some memories with your family that you hold on to for life.”

“For all of these reasons and many more, Jefferson County Schools will be completely closed for tomorrow, Dec. 16, in honor of the 1st snow day of the year,” the letter continues. “Closed for students … closed for virtual … closed for staff.”

Gibson said she hoped the snow day would provide the kind of joy, rest, and celebration that has been so rare during the pandemic.

“It has been a year of seemingly endless loss and the stress of trying to make up for that loss,” she said. “For just a moment, we can all let go of the worry of making up for the many things we missed by making sure this is one thing our kids won’t lose this year.”

“So please, enjoy a day of sledding and hot chocolate and cozy fires,” she said. “Take pictures of your kids in snow hats they will outgrow by next year and read books that you have wanted to lose yourself in, but haven’t had the time.”

“We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday, but for tomorrow,” the letter concludes, “go build a snowman.”


Teresa Thayer Snyder was superintendent of the Voorheesville district in upstate New York. She wrote this wise and insightful essay on her Facebook page. A friend sent it to me.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. 

When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.

I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.

Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.

Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!

During the last Trump-Biden debate, the moderator asked about the children separated from their parents. Trump said they were brought across the border by “coyotes,” and that they had never experienced such clean and pleasant surroundings. Biden expressed great remorse for the children who were wrenched from the arms of their parents (not “coyotes”) and left alone.

In my view, this cruel policy of separating parents from their children at the border should be prosecuted as a crime against humanity. International courts should press charges against Trump, Pence, Sessions, and anyone else who was responsible. The parents were deported, and the children were locked up, some of them in cages. Some of them were infants. Contrary to Trump’s claim in the debate, the Obama administration deported families; it did not separate the children from their parents and keep the children while the parents were deported.

The purpose of Trump’s inhumane policy was to discourage immigration by frightening them. The children were separated 2-3 years ago; private groups have been searching for their parents. The Trump administration has stood in their way and claims the parents don’t want the children they lost by force.

Now we know that 545 children are stranded here, and no one knows who or where their parents are. Some of these children are babies who do not know their names. Biden said it: this was “criminal.” Biden was right. The criminals should be prosecuted.


A reader who is a scientist wrote to ask why I posted the views of an economist about children and COVID instead of those of a medical researcher. She sent me this interview of Angela Rasmussen that appeared in Science Friday. Rasmussen is a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In the interview, she says:

ANGELA RASMUSSEN: Well, teachers and parents should definitely not think that children are immune or more resistant to the virus. Just because they don’t develop a severe of disease [sic], that doesn’t mean that they can’t be infected and it doesn’t mean that they can’t bring the virus home with them to transmit to other people in their household. It also doesn’t mean that they would be incapable of transmitting it to faculty and staff in schools.

And in general, we– I think a lot of the discussion about schools has assumed that schools are an isolated bubble that is separate from the rest of the community, and they’re really not. If children are getting infected, whether outside of school or in school, those children are still part of the same community and they’re capable of spreading the virus within that community.

So we need to stop thinking of schools as a separate space or children as a special population of people who are less susceptible. We need to take the same precautions with preventing transmission in schools as we do within the rest of the community.

The full interview is worth reading.

UNICEF released a ranking of nations in terms of child wellness. The United States is one of the lowest ranking among the advanced nations of the world. The rankings do not include test scores. It’s important to understand that the test scores are the result of child wellness, not a cause. If we expect to improve children’s academic performance, we should focus on their well-being, which is a summary of causal factors. I have often said that when we are comparing students from different nations, we should look at child poverty, access to healthcare, food security, access to high-quality pre-K, and other indicators of child wellness, not test scores. This important report does that.

See the report here.

Catherine Pearson writes at Huffington Post that children are depressed and miserable because of distance learning. The fun of remote learning is gone.

They miss their friends and activities.

In the past month, my 5-year-old has gone from being excited about video calls for school and virtual “play dates” to basically hating it all. Sometimes he’s into it — like yesterday, when he was totally engrossed in a 30-minute math class with his teacher and six friends. More often, he whines and mopes beforehand, then immediately after slips into a funk. That goes for official school meetings and for more casual digital hangouts with family and friends.

Zoom fatigue (or whatever your preferred video call platform) is a real issue for both adults and kids, which is, of course, a problem. Millions of children across America are doing the bulk of their schooling online right now, a scenario that could well continue into the next academic year. But lots of them are feeling, just, meh about the whole thing.

Are your kids completely over Zoom? Here’s what that is all about — and what you can do to help them through it.

Pearson has advice for parents about talking to their children and helping them get through this trying experience.

I recently had a discussion with Dr. Michael Hynes, the district superintendent in Port Washington, New York.

Our ZOOM discussion was sponsored by the Network for Public Education.

Mike Hynes is unusual because he believes in whole-child education. He is a revolutionary. He doesn’t think that test scores are important. He thinks schools should be places of joy. He believes in collaboration with staff. He shadows children to learn how their days are spent.

He is a different kind of superintendent.

Is he the wave of the future?