Review and Summary of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

I was scheduled to deliver the Parent Education component tonight at our Inglewood Parent Participation Preschool and decided to review the recent book out NutureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. My good friend Barb Smith brought this book to my attention, and it has been great recommendation in terms of how interesting and directly relevant the information is towards the goal of raising happy and successful children.

The term “nurtureshock” is described as the panic common to new parents that “the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in.” It’s that gut-pummeling doubt that hits the moment you bring your first child home from the hospital— “They let us keep this thing” — and snowballs from there. Such feelings of inadequacy, the authors suggest, are justified. But, as they write, “small corrections in our thinking today could alter the character of society long term, one future-citizen at a time.”

This book is essentially a collection of scientific studies that challenge many long held assumptions about children, child development and successful parenting. The authors relate recent scientific findings to argue that some of the conventional wisdom about parenting and child development is a combination of “wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history and old (disproven) psychology. . .”

The authors state that they selected their various topics because the research was surprising and contradicted common parenting assumptions and practices.

About the Authors

Po Bronson is a well known author, primarily from writing novels about Bay Area bond trading and Silicon Valley technology start up companies.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s New York Magazine articles on the science of parenting won the magazine journalism award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Clarion Award. Their articles for Time Magazine have won the award for outstanding journalism from the Council on Contemporary Families. The book is an expansion of their articles on science and parenting.

Summary of the Book

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise

Summary: Constantly praising your children backfires and actually undermines their confidence. Solution: Praise the effort and not the outcome. For example, “Billy, good job at working so hard to put the puzzle together correctly, ” not “Billy, you’re so smart for putting the puzzle together correctly.”

Children who score in the top 10% of standard intelligence tests often qualify for gifted educational programs. Obviously, these children have many skills and abilities. Surprisingly, these same children often significantly underestimated their own competence. They discount the importance of effort and overestimate the amount of help they need from others.

Praise has been traditionally considered the solution to this problem. Tell children they are smart, that they have what it takes and they will feel confident. Bronson and Merryman suggest that proclaiming a child is smart might actually be the cause of underperforming. Frequent and often undeserved rewards in the form of praise, the authors caution, deprive a child of motivation and discourage persistence.

The Dweck study found that when praise emphasized the effort a child put into work, the child was more successful than when praise emphasized innate intelligence. The reason appears to be what the child can and cannot control. The child controls the amount of effort that goes into the work. Innate intelligence is outside the child’s control.

Further, Stanford University and Reed College researchers completed a meta-analysis of 150 studies on praise. The finding was that too much praise changed the child’s motivation from the challenge of the task to doing something simply to hear praise. The study concluded that persistence in working on challenging tasks and the effort that is put into the work both decline as a result of too much unfocused praise.

Chapter 2: The Lost Hour

Summary: Want to boost your child’s grades? Ensure your child goes to bed at a reasonable time and convince the school board to start school an hour later.

Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD, and obesity.

Bronson and Merryman’s research review show that thirty years ago, children got more sleep, averaging about one more hour per night. Studies conclude that sleep deprivation results in decreased intellectual functioning, emotional issues, hyperactivity and obesity. Bronson and Merryman’s research review suggests that behaviors that have been classified as typical teenage angst(depression, withdrawal, even overeating) may actually be symptoms of chronic sleep loss. Two research studies of high school students’ sleep patterns and grades showed that A students averaged 15 more minutes sleep than B students and so on. Researchers concluded that every 15 minutes of sleep a night is important.

Sleep loss negatively affects many parts of the brain. One part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, suffers most from sleep deprivation. This part of the brain is responsible for executive functions which are high-level operations that control other brain operations. Executive functions allow people to fight off instant gratification desires and predict consequences of actions. Thus, sleep deprivation compromises impulse control. Sleep allows the brain to move what it has learned and stored in short-term memory to better long-term storage areas. To hold vocabulary words, multiplication facts and history timelines in the brain, sleep is essential.

Also, the authors note that despite constant media reports, that there was no statistical correlation between obesity and media use at all. In fact, the correlation is related to sleep. Children that less than eight hours sleep have about a 300% higher rate of obesity than those who get a full ten hours of sleep. For middle schoolers and high school students, studies how the odds of obesity go up 80% for each hour of lost sleep. The reasons include how sleep impacts hormones and that tired children are less active.

There are studies that show that when it gets dark outside, children and adult’s brains produce melatonin which makes them sleepy. As a result of a change in the circadian system at puberty, adolescent brains don’t release melatonin for another 90 minutes, delaying sleep. When alarm clocks go off at dawn, the adolescent brains are still releasing melatonin which results in reduced school performance and more dangerous driving. Half of the 100,000 car accidents caused each year by drivers falling asleep are caused by young adults.

When a highschool in Minnesota changed its start time from 7:30 to 8:30 am, the additional hour of sleep increased SAT scores for the top 10% of students 56 points in math and 156 points in reading. The students also self reported higher levels of motivation and lower levels of depression.

Chapter 3: Why Parents Don’t Talk about Race

Summary: Children are born with a tendency to segregate by race. Failing to directly discuss race with them from an early age leaves young children to form their own, often racist, opinions.

Developmentally, young children use a single attribute to put people and things into groups. Because differences in race are visible, children observe these differences and form race-based categories. People in the same category or group as the child are reported to be the child’s favorite. Studies show that multicultural schools and diversity programs do very little to nothing to combat self-segregation among students or racism.

Bronson and Merryman’s research review shows parents often use ambiguous phrases such as “Everyone is equal” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same” when discussing race with children. Bronson and Merryman conclude that parents talk in code about race and that children don’t understand the code.

What does combat racism? Researchers suggest that discussions about race should begin early. A study showed that specific cross racial training made a difference in opinions in first grade, but no difference at third. Parents should talk to their children starting at age 3 about different skin colors, racial history, and the problem of past injustices. Talking about race early and directly is what measurably decreases racism in children.

Chapter 4: Why Children Lie

Summary: Science unfortunately demonstrates that children are natural liars. Children lie to try to please adults. When a child denies she did something wrong, she hopes to not disappoint the adults. Young children need to know that the truth itself is what a parent needs to hear to be happy.

The data on lying is startling. On page 80, the authors share statistics about lying from research studies. 96% of all children lie. Only one-third of 3 year-olds lie, but over 80% of 4 year-olds lie. 4 year-olds lie about once every 2 hours. Lying once every hour is the average for 6 year olds. Parents have been taught that it is best to let lies go. However, studies find that children don’t grow out of lying, they get better at it.

A primary reason children lie is that they learn it from adults. For example, parents expect children to mask their honest reaction to a gift they don’t like. Telling a lie about the gift is polite and children are rewarded for their ability to lie easily. Many parents do not recognize white lies as dishonesty.

Lying requires a set of advanced skills. The child must recognize the truth, figure out that telling the truth is likely to result in some punishment, develop a plausible story and sell that story to someone else. Dr. Victoria Talwar, of McGill University, says that, “lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require.”

Most children create lies to cover-up doing something wrong. When asked about the issue, the child’s first response is often a denial, which is a lie. To underscore how parents respond to the denial, Bronson and Merryman share research on page 81 which shows parents address the denial less than 1% of the time and focus on the misdeed. Children learn that lying has no cost. On the other hand, several studies show that the more children are threatened with punishment for lying, the more they lie and the better they get at it.

The authors state that young children need to know that the truth is what a parent needs to hear to be happy. Bronson and Merryman say that “parents need to teach children the worth of honesty just as much as they need to say the lying is wrong.”

Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten

Summary: Early childhood testing for gifted programs and private schools is wrong 73% of the time. Children should be tested later in childhood or else re-tested at several year intervals for admission to enrichment programs.

Testing for private school admissions or public school Gifted and Talented Programs occurs annually. The scores from these tests determine if a student is admitted to the school or placed in the program for gifted learners. There are serious long term implications for the students. A California state study found that students in “Gifted and Talented programs make 36.7% more progress every year than the norm (page 99).”

Bronson and Merryman share research (page 97) which verifies that only 27% of the time, a student testing as gifted in kindergarten will still test as gifted by the time the student is in third grade. While the tests accurately report current performance, the tests are not accurate predictors of future performance when administered to very young children.

In the past, IQ or intelligence was thought to be static and unchanging. In fact, an IQ score derived when a child is young, is likely not accurate. “From age 3 to age 10, two-thirds of children’s IQ scores will improve, or drop, more than 15 points. This is especially true among bright children – their intelligence is more variable than among slower children (page 111).”

Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect

Summary: Having a sibling doesn’t teach better social skills. Rather, friendships teach children how to interact positively with their siblings. Teaching children pro-active skills of how to play cooperatively with their sibling has the most impact on improving the quality of sibling interactions.

“Siblings between the ages of three and seven clash 3.5 times per hour, on average.” (page 120) The length of the conflicts varies, but the average is about 10 minutes per hour or about 15% of the time. (page 120).

Dr. Hildy Ross, University of Waterloo, found that “only about one out of every eight conflicts ends in compromise or reconciliation – the other seven times, the siblings merely withdraw, usually after the older child has bullied or intimidated the younger.” (page 120)

Dr. Ganie DeHart found that “children made seven times as many negative and controlling statements to their siblings as they did to friends.” (page 121).

Sibling relationships are different from relationships with friends. Siblings will be around the next day and the day after that. Dr. Samantha Punch concludes from her research that “Sibship is a relationship in which the boundaries of social interaction can be pushed to the limit. Rage and irritation need not be suppressed, whilst politeness and toleration can be neglected.” (page 121)

A high rate of conflict between siblings does not necessarily mean that the siblings are destined to a lifetime of arguments. If the good times outweigh the bad times overall; siblings will likely have a positive adult relationship. Dr. Laurie Kramer, Associate Dean at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reports that “In contrast, siblings who simply ignored each other had less fighting, but their relationship stayed cold and distant long term.” (page 122).

Dr. Kramer operates a program that teaches siblings how to enjoy playing together. Children learn how to invite a sibling to play, how to find activities that bridge the age gap so both can enjoy playing together and how to gently decline the invitation. Children use the tools to work out differences without parent intervention.

Commonly used books and videos with sibling story lines, generally include details about “ways that children can fight, insult, and devalue their siblings. From these books, the children were learning novel ways to be mean to their younger siblings they’d never considered.” (page 126). Dr. Kramer analyzed 261 books with sibling themes. While all had a happy ending, the content included “as many negative behaviors as positive ones.” (page 127)

Rather than fighting over parental affection, most common reason siblings fight is sharing physical possessions. “Almost 80% of the older children, and 75% of the younger children, all said sharing physical possessions – or claiming them as their own caused the most fights.” (page 127)

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Summary: Moderate conflict with parents during adolescence is associated with better adjustment than either no conflict or frequent conflict. What works best is having a few clear rules. If there is an issue with a rule, make sure the child feels heard, and if the child has made a good argument for why a rule needs to be changed, then show some flexibility and let that argument influence you in your decision.

Dr. Nancy Darling of Penn State University found that almost all teens report lying to their parents. About 25% of the time, children make-up a lie. About 50% of the time, teens don’t tell the full story. (pg. 138-139) The rest of the time, teens simply avoid the topic. Most teens lie to protect the relationship with parents. Teens want to avoid disappointing parents.

Darling’s research uncovered that many parents are afraid of “pushing their teens into outright rebellion.” (pg. 139) Some parents try to be permissive and not have established rules. Darling found that “children take the lack of rules as a sign their parents don’t actually care – that their parent doesn’t really want this job of being the parent.” (pg. 139)
On the other end of the continuum, Darling’s research confirmed that parents who establish many rules don’t enforce them all because it is simply too much work. Teens quickly learn which rules can be broken without consequences or confrontation.

In a recent Harris poll, 78% of parents believed their teens would talk with them about anything. (pg. 140) Teens have a very different perspective. Carving out an identity that is independent from parents is an important part of the maturing process. From a teen point-of-view, going to a parent for help is an admission of weakness.

When teens responded to Darling’s research questions about when and why they told the truth, the answers were surprising. “. . . teens told their parents the truth in hopes their parents might give in, and say it was okay.” (pg. 148) More arguments and more complaints, indicates the teen is being more honest. However, parents found the arguing and complaining stressful. (pg. 148)

Professor Robert Laird from the University of New Orleans found, “Parents with unbending, strict guidelines make it a tactical issue for children to find a way around them.” (pg. 150) This finding is in conflict with the accusation that parents have created a generation of whiners by being pushovers. The answer is in the negotiation process.
Parents who let teens make their argument for why the rule should be modified or eliminated are lied to the least. If the parent then uses the legitimate arguments to make the final decision, teens feel heard and that their independence is respected. “This collaboration retains the parent’s legitimacy.” (pg. 151)

Parenting teens requires a delicate balance of support and release.

Chapter 8: Can Self-Control be Taught

Summary: The ability to exercise attentional control and self-discipline (self regulation) has been shown to be a stronger predictor of academic performance than IQ. These skills can be taught, particularly through the use of extended dramatic play. A very successful example is the Tools for the Mind curriculum for preschools and kindergartens.

For this section which I am particularly interested in, given that my children are one and three respectively, I have based the enclosed information on scientific papers found online discussing this topic in detail.

An innovative curriculum for preschoolers called the “Tools of the Mind” has been shown to enhance the development of the cognitive functions that depend on the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, called executive functions (EFs). These functions include resisting distraction, giving a more considered response instead of your first impulse, working with information you are holding in mind, and the mental flexibility to think “outside the box.”

Tools of the Mind instruction encourages out-loud self-instruction and dramatic play. Studies have shown that at the end of a school year, students assigned to Tools of the Mind classrooms performed significantly better than students assigned to control classrooms on measures of verbal skills and behavior regulation.

The Tools of the Mind (Tools) curriculum was developed by Bodrova and Leong (1996),
based on the theories and practical insights on cognitive development of Luria (1966) and
Effectiveness of the Tools Curriculum Vygotsky (1978), including the promotion of self-regulation through a comprehensive system of activities.

Basic principles of the curriculum include:
1) children construct their own knowledge;
2) development cannot be separated from its social context;
3) learning can lead development; and
4) language plays a central role in mental development (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).

Guided by these principles, Tools has two primary emphases. First, the curriculum focuses on broad foundational skills, including children’s abilities to regulate their own social and cognitive behaviors, to attend and to remember on purpose, the use of symbolic representation, and early math skills (Leong & Hensen, 2003). Second, there is at the same time an emphasis on specific literacy prerequisites for reading and writing (e.g., oral language, phonemic awareness, knowledge of letters, and familiarity with the conventions of print) and on specific mathematics pre-requisites (e.g., counting meaningfully, one-to-one correspondence, patterns, numeral recognition, etc) (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). The activities promoting these literacy and math pre-requisites have a self-regulatory component built into them.

As the name suggests, Tools guides teachers’ daily practices to support children’s acquisition and development of various psychological “tools.” Psychological tools are culturally based, symbolic artifacts, such as symbols, texts, or graphic organizers, that, when internalized, help individuals to master their own psychological functions, including perception, memory, and attention (Kozulin, 2003).

The Tools curriculum incorporates 40 Vygotsky-inspired activities designed to: promote mature dramatic play, encourage the use of self-regulatory private speech, and teach the use of external aids to facilitate attention and memory (Luria, 1965, 1979; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978, 1997). As self-regulation is considered learned behavior, each specific learning activity is designed to teach self-regulation. Play is viewed as the primary source of self-regulation as well as leading children to higher levels of cognitive development. Thus, Tools teachers do not simply “let” children play, but use a play planning process as well as specific interactions to actively support children’s development of “mature” play in which pretend scenarios are complex, planned, sustained, and involve multiple roles.

Other defining characteristics of Tools are Scaffolded Writing (Bodrova & Leong, 1995), directions for oral language use between teachers and children, and movement activities that incorporate self-regulation and symbol use. Scaffolding is, the gradual withdrawal of adult (eg teacher) support, as through instruction, modelling, questioning, feedback etc., for a child’s performance across successive engagements, thus transferring more autonomy to the child. In Tools, the teacher helps children to write play plans, teaches children to plan their dramatic play together, and helps children to think about next steps during their play with the intention of fostering the development of self regulation.

Dramatic play contributes to the development of children’s self-regulation because it is an imaginary situation governed by social rules. While pretending to be a store clerk, the child must seek to behave in ways that meet the social rules for that role, curbing immediate impulses in order to think about how to represent how a clerk would act. Dramatic play leads to the internalization of rules and expectations and places demands and constraints on the child’s behavior. In thinking about the role while talking and acting the child is relying on private speech, while play plans provide an external support and children remind each other of the rules and roles thereby helping each other regulate their behavior. In addition, the extensive use of symbols (e.g., pretending a jar lid is the cat’s ball) develops abstract thought more generally.

All activities within the curriculum are designed to promote the development of such underlying skills along with more academic subject matter. In Tools, the teacher’s role is not just to teach skills or facts, but to help children use tools and to learn to develop tools to facilitate learning.

To enhance dramatic play, simply play make believe stories with children — a trip to the moon, a birthday party, a visit to the local library, zoo or post office. Find opportunities in the story to practice new words, counting, social skills such as politeness and sharing, movements, and using school supplies such as drawing pictures with crayons.

One of the tools expressly taught is the use of external mediators to regulate behavior. In “Buddy Reading” children are provided with books and take turns reading to each other (telling the story, turning pages, pointing to pictures, etc.). One child is given a picture of a mouth and the other member of the pair is given a picture of an ear. The child with the mouth picks a book and reads to the other. The child with the ear listens and waits for his or her turn. Then they switch pictures and roles. The pictures help the children to remember their roles and regulate their behavior. Several months into the year, the pictures are no longer necessary as the children move beyond the need for an external reminder.

The “Freeze Game” is another activity specifically designed to develop self-regulation and other abilities. During the Freeze Game, children practice self-regulation and symbolic representation. During circle time, the teacher plays music to which she and the children dance. While dancing the teacher holds a picture of stick figure representing a specific pose that children will take when the music stops. The children must control their own behavior by taking specific actions at specific times. This requires inhibition, not getting into the pose before the music stops, as well as holding the particular pose when the music does stop. By regulating their behavior, dancing and not dancing, posing and not posing, on purpose children developing their ability to regulate emotions and cognition. They are also learning to interpret symbols as they translate an iconic representation of a body position into an actual body position.

Every morning, before embarking on the day’s make-believe play, each child takes a colored marker and a printed form called a play plan and draws or writes his declaration of intent for that day’s play: “I am going to drive the choo-choo train”; “I am going to make a sand castle”; “I am going to take the dollies to the beach.” At the beginning of prekindergarten, children are coached on dramatic play — called Make-Believe Play Practice — with the teacher leading the children, step by step, through the mechanics of pretending. (The training manual describes how a teacher might coach a child to feed a baby doll: “I’m pretending my baby is crying. Is yours? What should we say?”) In kindergarten, every student carries around a clipboard with the day’s activities on it and each Friday, every child has a 5- or 10-minute “learning conference” with his teacher, a mini-performance review in which the children discuss what they accomplished in the last week, where they fell short and what skills they want to work on in the week to come. All of these practices, along with plenty of others that fill the day, are designed to reinforce habits of self-control.

Conclusion: preschool teachers are under pressure to limit play and spend more time on instruction but studies show that social pretend play may be more critical to academic success.

I enclose a reference source Learning Games to Strengthen Children’s School Readiness Skillson how to encourage make believe play with children, with instructions for specific games and related tools.

Chapter 9: Plays Well with Others

Summary: Exposure to both violent and educational TV has a dramatic effect in increasing physical and relational aggression by children. Aggressive behavior is often a sign of a highly socially skilled child, not a maladapted child. It is OK for parents to fight in front of children, as long as it is resolved constructively and with affection.

Studies show exposure to violent media does increase the rate of physical aggression shown by children at school, however only modestly. Watching educational television also increased the rate of physical aggression, almost as much as watching violent TV. Educational TV had a dramatic effect on relational aggression. The more kids watched, the crueler they’d be to classmates. This is theorized to be caused by the fact that there is a stunning amount of relational and verbal aggression in children’s television.

Aggressive behavior has traditionally been considered an indicator of psychological maladaption. In fact, many acts of relational aggression require highly attuned social skills to pull off and even physical aggression can be the mark of a child who is in fact socially savvy, not socially deviant.

The typical married couple has about eight disputes a day. Spouses express anger to each other two or three times as often as they show affection to each other. And while parents aspire to shield children from their arguing, the truth is that they witness it 45% of the time. In addition, children are highly attuned to the quality of their parent’s relationship. In one study, Cummings found that children’s emotional well being and security are more affected by the relationship between parents than by the direct relationship between the parent and the child.

Studies have shown that being exposed to constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children – if it doesn’t escalate, insults are avoided and the dispute is resolved with affection. This improves their security over time and increases their prosocial behavior at school as rated by teachers.

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t

Summary: gimmicks and videos don’t improve language skills. Language acquisition works best when multiple adults say the same word, the child can see the adult saying the word, adults respond to a child’s babbling through touch or verbally and adults talk about what the child’s attention is already on, rather than what we think the child might be saying.

Humorously, a study a few years ago found that, as far as learning language goes, babies are better off watching American Idol than Baby Einstein videos.

New York University’s Dr. Catherine Tamis LeMonda found that when mothers respond more frequently to their babies, the children acquire language much more quickly. During the peak hour of the day, a high-responding mom might respond to over 80% of the baby’s vocalizations up to 200 times per hour while low-responding moms respond about half the time.

In studies, toddlers of high-responders are a whopping six months ahead of the toddlers of low-responders. They said their first word at ten months and, by fourteen months, had fifty words in their spoken vocabulary.

But the trick is not to overdo it: don’t respond to every babble. As the baby progresses through the various babble stages, the focus should be on affirming the baby’s more mature vocalizations, gradually responding less to immature sounds. In that way, the baby learns which sounds were more effective, and thus the ones he should keep making.

One of the ways parents help infants is by doing what’s called “object labeling” telling them, “That’s your stroller,” “See the flower,” and “Look at the moon.” Babies learn better from object labeling when the parent waits for a baby to naturally be gazing, pointing or vocalizing about the object. Ideally, the parent isn’t intruding or directing the child’s attention. Instead, he’s following the child’s lead. But timing is everything: the word has to be heard just as an infant is looking or grabbing after it to make sure that the child connects the word to the right object.

The danger in overzealous object labeling is that you might inadvertently crisscross the baby: that is, don’t put words in his mouth that aren’t really there.

Say a baby, holding a spoon, says “buh, buh.” But a mother doesn’t respond to the child’s focus of attention; instead, she responds to the baby’s “buh” sound with a “Bottle You want your bottle” Inadvertently, she just crisscrossed the baby: she taught him that a spoon is called “bottle.” While proper object labeling can accelerate word learning, frequently crisscrossed labeling can slow it to a near halt.

When adults talk to young children about small objects, they frequently twist the object, or shake it, or move it around usually synchronized to the sing-song of parentese. This “motionese” is very helpful in teaching the name of the object. Moving the object helps attract the infants attention, turning the moment into a multi-sensory experience. But the window to use motionese closes at fifteen months: by that age, children no longer benefit from the extra motion.

University of Iowa researchers recently discovered that fourteen-month old children failed to learn a novel word if they heard it spoken by a single person, even if the word was repeated many times. The fact that there was a word they were supposed to be learning just didn’t seem to register. Then, instead of having the children listen to the same person speaking many times, they had children listen to the one word spoken by a variety of different people. The children immediately learned the word.

Hearing multiple speakers gave the children the opportunity to hear how the phonics were the same, even if the voices varied in pitch and speed. By hearing in the speech what was different, they learned what was the same.

You might think children need to acquire a certain number of words in their vocabulary before they learn grammar but its the exact opposite. Grammar teaches vocabulary.

A typical two-year old hears roughly 7,000 utterances a day. But 45% of utterances begin with one of these seventeen words: what, that, it, you, are/aren’t, I, do/don’t, is, a, would, can/cant, where, there, who, come, look, and lets. Throw in some two and three word combinations, known as frames, and scholars can account for two-thirds of what a toddler hears in a given day.

These word frames are vital frames of reference. When a child hears, “Look at the ___,” he quickly learns that ___ is a new thing to see. Whatever comes after “Don’t” is something he should stop doing even if he doesn’t yet know the words “touch” or “light socket.”

The cousin to frames are “variation sets.” In a variation set, the context and meaning of the sentence remain constant over the course of a series of sentences, but the vocabulary and grammatical structure changes. For instance, a variation set would thus be: “Rachel, bring the book to Daddy. Bring him the book. Give it to Daddy. Thank you, Rachel you gave Daddy the book.”

In this way, Rachel learns that a “book” is also an “it,” and that another word for Daddy is “him.” That “bring” and “give” both involve moving an object. She heard the past tense of “give,” that its possible to switch nouns from being subjects to direct objects (and vice versa), and that verbs can be used as an instruction to act (Give it) or description of action taken (She gives).

Variation helps, if it’s used about 50% of the time. More than that, the sentences become too varied: the children lose the connection between the sentences.

In closing, see the episode on Nightline regarding praise.

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