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The Family; From the Uterine Environment to Moment of Birth

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Let’s talk about the uterine environment and the moment of birth.

What happens in the uterine environment at birth? Maybe if we had a clear perception of this moment in life we might have a better understanding of our child creation and the enormous responsibility that comes with parenting during conception, fetal growth, and infant health; all of which are essential before a child even begins their first step towards life.

Let’s look at the Latin word ‘infans’. It means ‘not speaking’ and hence the word infancy has come to mean the first year of childhood. Humans are born naked, helpless, and vulnerable. Humans have a long gestation period without obtaining great size or maturity at the time of birth. Another human peculiarity is the size of the brain, which weighs about 350 grams, or .772 pounds, at birth or is 10% of the average total body weight. The fetus adaptation from complete dependence upon the maternal uterine environment and placenta to the extra-uterine environment requires major changes in the infant body organs. Within a minute of the cessation of placental blood supply and the delivery from a watery to a gaseous environment, the infant lungs, heart, skin, and the alimentary, renal, and nervous systems undergo a series of dramatic functional changes.

During pregnancy the fetus depends on the mother for obtaining oxygen and nutrients, and for the excretion of carbon dioxide, heat, and other metabolic waste products through their combined bloodstreams. Upon birth the infant must fend for itself. More blood flow must be directed through the lungs for gas exchange, to the gut for nutrient absorption, to the kidneys for urine formation. But first and foremost, breathing must begin.

BREATHING:
Fetal breathing movements are necessary for normal lung development in the womb. The patterns of these movements are related to the ‘sleep’ and ‘awake’ states of the fetus but may also be affected by external factors such as maternal smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and unhealthy diets. Normal vaginally-delivered infants make their first breathing movements within 20 to 30 seconds from the emergence of the nose. Within 90 seconds of complete delivery most infants have started to breathe rhythmically.

CIRCULATION:
The circulation of the blood is drastically re-routed at birth. In the fetus there was relatively little blood flow through the lungs. Oxygenated blood reached the fetus from the placenta in the umbilical vein and joined the blood entering the right side of the heart. Most of this blood bypassed the lungs. After birth, the right ventricle must pump all the blood it receives through the lungs. This change is assisted by the onset of breathing itself. The expansion of the lungs with air reduces the resistance to flow in their blood vessels.

NUTRITION AND METABOLISM:
There is a continuum of nutrient supply by the mother from conception until after complete weaning. Even after weaning in most human societies, the mother is primarily responsible for helping the immature offspring to obtain adequate nutrition. The importance of optimal nutrition in human fetal and neonatal life is crucial in early life. Studies strongly indicate an increased incidence of hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and coronary artery disease in later life when the mother neglects her responsibilities for supplying healthy nutrition to her fetus and infant.

ENERGY:
The human infant has relatively large stores of lipid, carbohydrate, and important nutrient elements such as iron. After birth, fat and lactose supplied in the mother’s milk are the major sources of energy, whereas before birth glucose supplied by the placenta provided the energy for fetal growth. This abrupt transition in nutrient supply causes major challenges to the digestive, absorptive, and metabolic processes of the infant. Until lactation is established, stores of glycogen in the liver and muscles, and triglyceride fat, help to maintain the infant body temperature, metabolic activity, and tissue growth.

TEMPERATURE:
If the infant’s temperature falls, neural thermostats stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to release heat and  fatty acids from brown fat. Brown fat looks brown because its cells are full of mitochondria, which are cellular power-houses for the release of energy from fat; it is located mainly between the shoulder blades in the newborn infant and there is relatively little in later life. Maternal body heat, and covering the head and body of the infant with clothing to reduce heat and fluid loss, greatly reduce the energy and fluid needs of the newborn.

COLOSTRUM AND MILK:
Once the immediate needs for an adequate supply of oxygen have been met the infant normally within minutes begins to seek a supply of water and nutrients at the mother’s breast. During the first few days the mother supplies colostrum, which is specifically designed for her own infant in that it contains antibodies, cells, and other protective substances which will safeguard her infant from virtually all of the infections to which she has been previously exposed.

DIGESTION:
Over 90% of the fat present in human milk can be digested and absorbed by the infant intestine. Fat digestion is possible because lipases are present in the milk, and are also released from glands in the infant tongue. These enzymes remain active in the environment of the stomach. There are no digestive enzymes for protein in human milk in the infant’s stomach and duodenum. This is significant because there are important proteins in the milk, immunoglobulin and growth factors, which might otherwise be damaged before they can be absorbed from the intestine.

WEANING:
Weaning is the process of expanding the diet to include foods and drinks other than breast milk or infant formula. A Department of Health working group in 1994 recommended that most infants should not be given solid foods before the age of 4 months and that a mixed diet should be offered by the age of 6 months. Cow’s milk is not recommended as a main drink during infancy but during the second year it can make an important contribution to the intakes of several different nutrients and energy.

GROWTH:
Factors which influence growth are genetic, nutritional, endocrine, and psychosocial. Malnutrition, specific nutritional deficiencies, and disease can prevent children from achieving their genetic growth potential. They are completely dependent upon their parents for their nutritional needs and brain development through nutrition. At birth much of the underlying brain and neuroendocrine system development is equipped to integrate newborn infant body functions, but it is becoming evident that if there is failure during the first year of life to use and develop good patterns of response to a given stimulus from the environment, then there may be significant impairment in the ability to respond in later life to stresses both physical and emotional.

SUMMARY:
I propose we begin educating parents and children now, in the family and through courses in our public school system, in an understanding of the fetal uterine environment and the moment of birth. If we could sensitize this generation with an appreciation of the responsibilities they undertake when giving birth, perhaps they will begin to improve the next generation and we could begin to end this cycle of poverty and sloth in our society.


I owe my understanding of this subject to Forrester Cockburn, Emeritus Professor of Child Health at the University of Edinburgh and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The Family; A Serious Decision

October 6, 2010 1 comment

I used to tell my sons, “The most serious decision you will ever make in your entire life is the woman you choose to be the mother of your children. Your children and your family will prosper if you make this decision carefully, thoughtfully, and with love.” It’s a simple concept and yet so many children are born haphazardly into relationships where their parents are children, and whose parents were children, and so it goes.

I don’t know how to change humanity. I don’t even know how to influence the children who are having children. Since they come from families where they were conceived with little thought, and raised with little guidance, how can we expect a generation of the thoughtlessly conceived to care about the uterine environment, birth, and childhood of their children? How can we expect them to care about raising their children with love, care, and discipline when they were not offered this opportunity in their own lives? It is a leap! I am asking for a leap into the unknown. How do parents become something that was not demonstrated to them as children? This is the dilemma.

In order to change a generation, the generation who produces it must change. Change is difficult but it is possible. I did it. If I did it, anyone can do it. I was raised by parents who were teenagers when I was born. Childhood for me was difficult at best. However, when I became an adult and had children I was determined they would not be raised as I was. I knew I had to accept the responsibility of changing myself so these small, innocent wonders would have a different life than mine.

It is the responsibility of each generation to improve the next. If this enlightenment does not occur then generation after generation languishes in an unending cycle of ignorance, poverty, and repetition. How undignified! How humiliating! What a curse to place upon an infant before they even have time to open their eyes and smile up at whoever it is that birthed them.

Now you might ask, “What does this have to do with education?” Everything!

If we are unable to reach and influence today’s parents about how they birth and raise their children in stable environments, and who are surrounded with care and love, then we will never have an opportunity to produce a generation that will be free of the repetitious past of the generations preceding them. We need to begin at the beginning. We need to find a way to reach into our culture and have parents realize that when they have children they are their guardians and teachers. They are their example.

This begins in the uterine environment where the child gets its nutrients through the mother’s placenta. She is the Beginner. How do we do this? How do we change those who are soaked in poverty and humiliation? How do we unhinge peer pressure that manipulates so many children into staying where they are, wearing their sloth like a badge of honor? Somewhere, someone has an answer and I am anxious to hear it. We are running out of time. We are falling behind and soon our nation’s children will become the slaves of those nations whose children are motivated by parents who are raising and improving the next generation.

We need to send our children to school with an attitude of self confidence, intellectual curiosity, and undaunted creativity. We need to unburden our educational system from the job of disciplining children and set them free to teach, educate, and enlighten. We need to return to discipline, structure, and compassion in the classroom. This can only be done when there is discipline, structure, and compassion in the home.

I know this sounds so old century to a generation that is hyped on technology. But you know, the truth is some things never change. Some things are absolutes. Parenting is one of those unchangeable, absolute laws of nature.

The Family; It Begins at the Beginning

October 4, 2010 2 comments

We blame our Public Educational System because we say they aren’t producing educated children. We pile on teachers because we say they are lazy, self serving, and cannot teach. We blame teacher unions for protecting incompetent teachers, who cannot be fired. We say these teachers and their unions are destroying the future of our children, the future of our country. Our politicians throw billions into this seemingly corrupt and incompetent system and we blame them for pandering to unions and teachers. When you think about it we have conjured up an amazing array of scapegoats for our failures as parents to birth and raise our children so they are able to be educated.

I am not excusing the system, its teachers, or their unions. I was a teacher once. I was compelled to join the union, whose dues were deducted from my check. I know the public educational system is crumbling, figuratively and literally and I don’t much care for politicians. All of this awareness and finger pointing does not solve the problem of educating our children. It only keeps the blame game going on endlessly with no hope in sight for resolution. However, it does make for empty cocktail conversation that resolves nothing.

Somehow we must lift unaware parents into an awareness of their parental responsibilities so they may send intellectually curious, alert, physically healthy, and disciplined children into our school systems. If we take away the excuses the educational system has for not doing their job, we then allow our many good teachers to actually educate. With properly parented children we take back the power to demand the best results for our children. As the Japanese say, “Forget about blame; solve the problem.”

Instead of beginning at the end; let’s begin at the beginning.

I read an article this morning, At Risk From the Womb, by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He is a man who champions the rights of women from all over the world and has written a book with his wife called, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”. I admire his honest writing. His article points out that the uterine environment is a critical factor in determining the mental and physical success of the child. He says, “Researchers are finding indications that obesity, diabetes and mental illness among adults are all related in part to what happened in the womb decades earlier.” What struck me most about this article, which I highly recommend you reading, is that a stressful uterine environment may be the mechanism that allows poverty to replicate itself generation after generation. Women who come from poverty will absorb the stress of their environment into their uterine child and instead of one generation improving the next these offspring remain dormant, stuck in a cycle of deprivation based upon ignorance.

We will solve our educational problems by beginning with parenting, and we must begin during the uterine cycle. Mr. Kristof goes on to lament, “The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty.”

We must begin at the beginning, the uterine environment. Then we must develop an awareness of infant needs and responses after birth. How can we really expect our teachers and schools to deliver a high standard of education and literacy to our children when we resist learning how to parent them with diligence? An article in my June 25th post by Dennis D. Muhumuza of Uganda, quoted Mr. Fagil Mandy:

What is the true measure of a parent?

First, one must be knowledgeable enough – one is not going to be a parent worth their soul when they are ignorant; a parent must know a bit of everything because they are the encyclopedia for their child. Secondly, parents must know how to do several things because a child must follow their example; you must be a good reader, be able to clean your own compound, fix a bulb and have a multi-skilled capacity for your child to emulate. Also, you must be healthy; no child likes to grow up with a dying parent; remember, a parent must help the child lead a healthy life and how can you do that if you are not healthy yourself? Then of course, a parent must be able to generate enough income to look after the family and be available to provide the time required for the child. If you are unavailable, don’t produce the child. (My emphasis)

Simple, straight forward, uncomplicated – Mr. Fagil Mandy is on to something in Uganda!

This is the beginning.

UTERINE CHILD

The Family; The Smallest School

September 7, 2010 1 comment

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

I have talked about many things regarding children. I have discussed infant brain development, parents, teachers, curriculum, education, teacher unions, public schools, obesity, and nature, to name a few topics. All of this discourse has brought me back to “The Family; America’s Smallest School”. Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley wrote a report for the Educational Testing Service in 2007 on this topic. It is an interesting and informative read. They assert, as I have in my book, “Peek-a-Boo, I See You!”, that the family is the determining factor in a child’s success in school and beyond. Family means Two (2) Parents + Children.

At last, we are looking at and demanding change in the way we educate our nation’s children. Alarms have sounded and we now admit that our children do not read at grade level, cannot balance a checkbook, write a paragraph, or speak the English language articulately. The richest, most powerful country in the world is producing an illiterate generation compared to its European counterparts. We are depriving our American children of the freedom that comes only through education and literacy. Without these tools they will always be someone else’s slave, never free to create, invent, or fulfill their destiny and promise. It is the Family that ensures a child’s destiny and success, not anyone else, or any entity.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

•    Forty-four percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.
•    Sixty-eight percent of U.S. children live with two parents, a decline from 77% in 1980. Only 35% of Black children live with two parents. In selected international comparisons, the United States ranks the highest in the percentage of single parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest.
•    Nationally, 19% of children live in poverty. The percentages increase to nearly a third or more of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic children.
•    Nationally, 11% of all households are “food insecure”. The rate for female-headed households is triple the rate for married-couple families, and the rate for Black households is triple the rate for White households.
•    Nationally, one-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. This is the case for half of Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.
•    There are substantial differences in children’s measured abilities as they start kindergarten. For example, average mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic children are 21% and 19% lower than the mathematics scores of White children.
•    By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families.
•    About half of the nation’s 2-year-olds are in some kind of regular, nonparental day care, split among center-based care; home-based, nonrelative care; and home-based relative care. Black children are the most likely to be in day care.
•    Overall, 24 % of U.S. children were in center-based care that was rated as high quality, 66 % were in medium-quality center-based care, and 9 % were in low-quality center-based care. Of those in home-based care, 7 % were in high quality settings, 57 % were in medium-quality settings, and 36 % were in low-quality care. More than half of Black, Hispanic, and poor 2-year olds were in low-quality home-based care.
•    As of 2003, 76% of U.S. children had access to a home computer, and 42% used the Internet. Black and Hispanic children lag behind.
•    Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders reported having a desk or table where they could study, just above the international average but well below the averages of many countries.
•    Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday. 24% of White eighth-graders spend at least four hours in front of
a television on a given day, while 59% of their Black peers do so.
•    One in five students misses three or more days of school a month. Asian-American students have the fewest absences. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
•    Since 1996, parents have become increasingly involved in their child’s school. However, parent participation decreases as students progress through school, and parents of students earning “A” averages are more likely to be involved in school functions than the parents of students earning C’s and D’s.

A new report card by UNICEF on the state of childhood in the world’s economically advanced Nations paints a bleak picture for the future of education in the United States. In the report, UNICEF compared the United States with 20 other rich countries on their performance in six dimensions of child well-being. The United States ranks in the bottom third of these 21 countries for five of these six dimensions. It ranked 12th in educational well-being, 17th in material well-being, 20th in family and peer relationships, 20th in behaviors and risks, and 21st in health and safety.

We can make all the changes we want in our educational structure by implementing and funding Charter Schools, The Seed Schools, Teacher Operated Schools, Parent Operated Schools, Magnet Schools, Waldorf Schools, and Alternative Schools. These progressive and innovative ideas may work for a few, for a time. However, unless the Family, two parents, changes the nurturing of their children, the unattended masses will remain the slaves of those who were nurtured and loved from birth.

The freedom and success we wish for our children is birthed in the Family. Literacy development begins long before children enter formal education. It is critical to their success in school and in life!

Family is A Mother and A Father + Children

I will explore many of these issues in my next series of posts.

New York Gifted Kindergarten vs. New York Academic Progress

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Don’t take away my chance to succeed.

Now this takes the cake in light of the previous post on “Gifted Kindergarten” testing in New York.

Here are these New York parents vying for placement for their 4 year old children in the “Gifted Kindergarten” program and a report comes out in the July 29 edition of the Wall Street Journal, which says, “Erasing years of academic progress, state education officials (New York) on Wednesday acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of children had been misled into believing they were proficient in English and math, when in fact they were not.”

Now where does this leave these gifted 4 year olds who have worked hard in weekend “boot camps”, while giving up their childhood, so they could gain entrance into these New York public schools. This leaves them, with their childhood in ruin, attending a public school system that fails to educate them to acceptable standards. It is a system specializing in fantasy.

The Journal states, “The huge drops across the state raised questions about how much of the academic gains touted in the past several years were an illusion.” State officials were careful “…not to assign blame for the previously low standards, saying that the tests had become too predictable and tested too narrow a range of knowledge, thus becoming increasingly easier year after year.”

Isn’t this nice, State Officials, the Mayor, the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents, and all associated officials are careful not to offend or to place blame. If no one is to blame for the loss of proficiency in English or math in grades three through eight, Who Done It?  Maybe it’s the kids? Maybe they are too dumb to learn? Maybe it’s the parents? Who Done It?

The real tragedy is the social class who suffers from these deficiencies. It is always the defenseless, innocent children. They have no champions! According to these latest revelations, “The losses were also more pronounced for minority children. The number of black children proficient in English in third grade through eighth grade was cut nearly in half, to 34% from 64%. Among Hispanic children, 65% proficiency in English turned into 37%.” Who speaks for these children who are doomed to poverty without a proper education?

WHO SPEAKS FOR THEM? Is it the Mayor? Is it the Chancellor? Is it the teacher’s union? Is it the State officials? Is it the parents? How about the teachers, what do they have to say? Where are the champions for the children?Dear Lord - be good to me...Dear Lord, be good to me…

As a last statement on this pathetic situation in our educational system, I was told that most of the kids in the “Gifted Kindergarten” program attend private schools. They can afford it. They want a good education for their sons and daughters, not a public education.

Children in Crisis; 4 Year Olds Competing on Tests

What are we doing to our children? Where is our common sense? Who are these parents? What are they thinking? Why are they stealing childhood from these beautiful 4 year old innocents?

Blowing Bubbles in the Wind

Parents used to comfort their children in their arms. They used to put “bambaids” on their “boo-boos” when they fell down. Children used to play in backyard kiddy pools or run through front yard sprinklers screaming with joy. Their laughter used to fill the streets of family neighborhoods. Ice cream trucks were the gathering place in the evening with shouts of flavors and a little pushing here and there. Sandlot games and neighborhood competition were places of healthy physical ventilation for childhood frustration. Children used to ride bikes to school; roller skate to the houses of their friends, fly kites on windy days, skip rope, play hide and seek or kick the can. They were not fat, or obese.

Italian families ate a lot of pasta, no one got fat. Slavic and Irish families ate a lot of potatoes, no one got fat. Dinner was a family affair and everyone showed up, or else! The father was the head of the household and the mother ruled the roost. The children were protected, loved, sheltered, and treasured. They knew their boundaries and when they stepped out of bounds they were hardily pushed back in. I traveled once with a friend whose out of control 2 year old child became a distraction at every meal. Finally, I leaned over to my friend one evening, looked directly at the child, and told the mother, “In our household the parents controlled the children; the children did not control the parents.” I lost a friend and the child grew up to become an obnoxious adult who needed obsessive attention. Undisciplined children become undisciplined adults.

Now we have an educational system that has something called “gifted kindergarten” testing for entrance. Parents in New York are sold this ridiculous bill of goods and spend thousands of dollars on books and prep classes for their 4 year old sons and daughters so they can be admitted into these kindergarten programs. Many do not make “the cut” leaving parents devastated and children feeling inadequate.

Can you imagine, $90 workbooks, $145 an hour tutoring, and weekend “boot camps” for 4 year olds? One tutoring company, who services this industry in New York, says that parents of the 120 children her staff tutored spent an average of $1,000 on test prep for their 4 YEAR OLD CHILDREN! THAT’S $120,000!

Have parents lost their minds?

The Public School Nightmare – John T. Gatto

July 22, 2010 1 comment

John Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was the 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year.

I just read his article, The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought? Please click on the link and read what this man has to say.

If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or thinking about having a child you MUST read this article. Even though I am unfamiliar with this man, he is stating the case for what I believed when I became a parent. I taught in the public school system after graduation from my university. I know what I experienced and I know how I felt about my students. I experienced the most amazing resistance from my principal and colleagues to innovation and creativity within the classroom. The rejection was discouraging. They did achieve their goals; I quit the system.

When I became pregnant I determined that our children would have a childhood filled with what Bertrand Russell describes below:

“Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.”

Thinkers! I write about how we achieved this in my book , Peek-A-Boo, I See You.

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