The Tummy Track

The "tummy time" story in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal is a real hoot. Moms are putting their babies through rug-rat training sessions so they'll build the upper-body strength needed for head lifting and crawling.

In the '90s, pediatricians told new mothers to put babies to sleep on their backs; it prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But babies who sleep on their backs are slower to learn to crawl than stomach-down babies, who typically crawl at nine months. So now there are tummy time classes and products to whip bundles of joy into shape.

"We want to own tummy time," a Playskool exec tells the Journal.

Many babies cry when they're put on their stomachs, but anxious mothers don't want their child to be the last in the play group to master head raising and crawling. The kid might flunk Gymboree and be unable to get into a good pre-school. (If tummy time won't get your kid into pre-school, try hyping stock.)

I can laugh now. My daughter was half a year behind her play group in "major motor skills." She didn't learn to roll over till she was 9 months old. Despite sleeping on her stomach -- it was then the pediatrician-approved position -- she didn't crawl till she was 14 months old; she walked at 18 months. I wasted a lot of angst on major motor skills. She knew the alphabet at 21 months, and was reading stories before she turned three. The kid turned out normal in the end: I don't know how well she crawls, but she walks just fine.

Spotting the Pre-School Losers

Some teachers in England are looking for clues that children as young as three years old are destined to fail due to a poor self-image. Does the child neglect to keep up with the latest trends? Bad sign.

Once the oddballs are spotted, teachers are supposed to administer an esteem-boosting antidote. BBC reports:

At the pre-school age -- three to five years -- a series of games is encouraged. This may see a child repeating a positive phrase about him or herself: "I am Polly and I am pretty." Other children in the group may then be asked to chant the phrase back to the child: "You are Polly and you are pretty."

Polly is a gawky loner, right? How long will it take for the other children to be chanting: "You are Polly and you are poopy." Or something of that ilk.


In the English countryside, a little girl came home from school chanting "Baa, baa, white sheep." Was this nursery rhyme apartheid? Political correctness? Headmaster Terry Snitch (what a name!) claims children are taught a rich diversity of sheep to improve their language skills and foster creativity.

I wonder if the hot-cross buns are now crescent rolls?

Bully, Bully

"If you can't stand Janey, don't play with her." Bad advice in East Providence, R.I., where the school district's definition of bullying includes "shunning and exclusion." Number 2 Pencil's Kimberly Swygert defends children's freedom of association:

So, if a group of kids decide to shun a loud, obnoxious bully, is everyone guilty of abuse? After all, if we're supposed to have "zero tolerance" for bullies, and kids tend not to like bullies, why can't kids be free to shun other kids who they don't like?

If these rules are intended to teach children how to behave when they grow up, then we should allow them to shun to their heart's content, because shunning is an old, valued and perfectly polite way of conveying, "I don't wish to be associated with you." Just ask Miss Manners.

In Ithaca, N.Y., home of Cornell University, first- and second-graders are now being graded on "cultural tolerance," reports Front Page, also on N2P. (Try to ignore Front Page's silly use of "reporterette.")

Indoctrination starts earlier in Berkeley, where pre-school protesters analyze the options for dealing with Saddam Hussein, even though they're not sure if it's a girl or a boy.

All Show, No tell

When students use PowerPoint, they can make a presentation look good -- without learning to write. So I wrote in Dumb But Pretty on TechCentralStation. Now the Wall Street Journal has a story on PowerPoint in grammar school.

But the software tool also has its doubters, who worry that it is reducing writing to phrases and talking points and covering up weak content with dazzling graphics.

Learning to use graphics software is trivial for today's kids. Learning to write coherently is a challenge.

A student at Torrance High, in southern California, complains in an editorial that students' history notebooks are judged by color rather than content.

Students receive notebook guidelines at the beginning of the year that state that an "A" notebook requires "adding color to assignments." The notebook consists of notes, black-and-white handouts and newspaper articles. All three of the components function just fine without any added colors. The sole purpose of the notes, handouts and articles is to hold information. The notes will not have any more detail about the industrial revolution if they are written in three different colors of pen.

Multi-colored writing isn't necessarily a sign of good thinking. In my salad days (when I was green in judgment), I edited letters to the editor. Invariably, letters written in three or more colors of ink came from schizophrenics. After awhile, we could diagnose just from the envelope.

Pretty Sic's humor page links to Scary Teacher Postings, which features messages on education bulletin boards.

A math teacher seeks advice on using numerology to create "fun type" lessons.

A social studies teacher asks: "Who is to blam [sic] when students don't do homeworks? who is to blam when pareants [sic] don't care to come to the teacher pareant [sic] conference?"

Another teacher writes: "Cheap shot i know, but doe's [sic] prove a point in so much that Merit Pay doe's [sic] not stand the close inspection of cold hard logic."

From a message board for math teachers:

Does anyone know where I can get interdisciplinary lesson plans for Veterans' Day?

The following reply was posted:

How about something about how we saved France twice in world wars, after which they went on to teach their children math while we do interdisciplinary lesson plans?

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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