Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sometimes It's Okay to Give Up On Your Soil

When starting late on amending soil, a lot can go wrong. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes it's ok to give up on the soil you're working with.

With three demanding small children I really didn't get to do that much to try to improve my nutrient barren backyard. I was led into this newbie move by being impatient, which isn't the best attribute for a gardener. I hoped that the soil wasn't as bad as I thought and just mixed in some rabbit manure into the ground and planted my seeds. Well ... in short I had mixed results. In one area where I had actually did some soil amendment the Kentucky Wonder Beans are growing strong. The other three beds have stunted growth or didn't grow at all. Which could partly be because of the weeds galore

So what DO you do when you through your hands up and curse the ground you plant on? Easy, you make a lasagna garden. No, not like the Italian dish but a layered soil where you can start fresh. In a lasagna garden you cover the soil with either cardboard or blank & white newspaper. This stuffs out the weeds and grass. I suggest you wet the paper down while covering the ground or placing rocks on top so it doesn't fly away with a gust of wind. Then alternate layers of organic matter (compost, manure, etc.) and coir, or a peat alternative (Top soil from garden centers work ok). And that's it! Then once your plants start sprouting spread a nice layer of mulch.

So if you feel like you are a horrible gardener, don't. Learn from your mistakes like I'm still learning now. Patience is the key to success in the gardening world.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why I am Against "Redshirting"

This is more of a personal opinion but I do not believe in holding back preschoolers from entering kindergarten simply for the sake of them being "bigger", "smarter", "more ready", and many (in my opinion) other non-legit excuses. I will admit that there are many other situations were it IS a smart move to hold back a child a year and I totally support those situations.
 To elaborate on the issue a bit, it will not help the child by being held back and may cause problems. Were I live it is unfortunately popular for hold back kids from entering kindergarten with no real excuse other than the fact that parents are mislead into thinking that some how their kids will excel.

Pro Redshirting Parents say:
Theses are popular reasons many parents use to hold back their kids.

Having kids a year older will help them excel in sport in high school and college.
I want my kid to be an athlete and this will give him/her an edge over other kids.
My child will be bullied.
My kid is too small.
By being older my child will be bigger than the rest of the kids.
By being older my child will be smarter than the rest of the kids.
My kid doesn't like sitting still.
My child doesn't like to listen.
My child is too immature for school.
I think my child will fail.
He/She just isn't ready.
Boys don't learn as fast as girls.
I don't want my kid to be the smallest/youngest in the class.

My personal experience: In my daughter's class she is the youngest child being born in September with most of her class actually being a year or two older from being purposely held back a year by their parents. So far from what I have seen in her class is that none seemed to have 'gained' anything from being red-shirted. My daughter started the year with a speech and some mild developmental delays and considered immature. Yet with in the first 3 months of school she was already the top of her class and still is. To make things worse the 6 to 7 years old the held back children are often hero-worshiped for their age and often take advantage of the younger more naive 5 year old. In my kid's class the oldest being seven - eight causes the most problems knowing that they can out smart their younger classmates into doing bad or embarrassing things. There have been situations wear the older children convinces a younger boy to eat their boogers.

Also, this may serve as a humiliation for the older kids and they may take it out on their younger peers. For example, one of the oldest girls in my daughter's class cornered and hit a younger student for getting a star in class for getting questions correct. That girl then later took the younger one's jacket and stuffed it into a kid's backpack and threatened her. This same girl has also been known to take money and food from other kids.

Not all held back kids are mean and fall behind. On the other hand some older kids in the class are so smart and ahead that they get easily bored and long to play with the other 'big kids' in 1st grade. These kids are not being challenged enough and should be in 1st grade were they can be properly challenged.

In my experience you should be careful what you say and the excuses anyone uses for a child. There are also possible negative consequences involving the youngest children in a class that should also be considered. I've seen the negative effects of 'labeled excuses' for children born late in the year. When they do poorly in school they are often excused for being 'young'. While this is a legitimate excuse in kindergarten some people and children carry this excuse well beyond kindergarten. I believe that in some case it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy were poor marks in school is excusable because of being younger giving the child an excuse for not trying hard enough. I do think that this is rare but I have personally seen this excuse used well into Jr. High for one person that I knew when in reality the kid never actually tried to excel. She was nearly held back every year and her mother used the "she's younger than the rest of the kids" excuse.

What the Experts Say: According to Darren Lubotsky, of University of Illinois, older children do rate high test scores in kindergarten but the advantage quickly vanishes and almost nonexistent by the 8th grade (average 4% higher scores). After school starts the older children will learn at the same pace as everyone else in their class. Being held back will eventually catch up with the children as they will graduate, enter college, and start working a year later compared to others their own age. On average they will lose an entire years wages by being held back a year. It also affects the parents by having to pay an extra year worth of childcare costs.

With increasing numbers of older children in the class room it also causes teachers to compare younger students to the older ones. This causes younger students to be more likely to held back or diagnosed with a learning disability.

UW-Madison Education Professor Elizabeth Graue and Lehigh University’s James DiPerna in a study say that "some children who are “held out” miss receiving needed attention in areas of learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and emotional disabilities." They also found that children held back do not benefit socially and shows that some do less well in measurement of behavioral problems. While they don't believe redshirting causes the problems, it is suggested that being held back doesn't help preexisting behavioral issues.

In a 2010, a published study in the journal Economics of Education Review, found no difference between age at kindergarten entry and the effect on salaries, employment, homeownership, or marital status later in life as an adult. In fact, it found that children who entered kindergarten at a younger age were on average about 1% more likely to graduate high school than their older peers. It is theorized that it could be because older kids reach the age at which they can legally drop out of school earlier that younger students.

Final Word: If you are considering holding back your preschooler, don't. I went through the same decision and came up the conclusion that even if she was immature and had a speech delay; going to kindergarten will not hurt her and she will get the social classroom experience she needs. Even if she got held back by the teacher then she will have a head start for the next year. I had faith in my child and I am asking you to do the same with yours. The bottom line is the earlier a child starts school, the better.

As for legitimate reasons for holding back a child? Ask your child's doctor. Diagnosed developmental delays may or may not benefit from a late start in school. Further discussing this with your child’s doctor will give you the answers you need or send you to a specialist you can give you the proper guidance to help you and your child. Depending on where you live testing for learning disabilities may be available to you for free or provided by your pediatrician.

Science Daily: Starting Kindergarten Later Only Gives Students A Fleeting Edge, Study Finds
WCER: The Pros and Cons of "Holding Out"
UCLA Today: Redshirting: Is This The Path To Success In Kindergarten?