Across the Pond

May 30, 2012

Research Around the World

During the previous course, I established contact with two innovative people from the United Kingdom (UK).  I found that many in the UK shared my philosophies regarding play, nature, risk, and caution towards introducing technology into the ECE curriculum.  Early in this semester, the Men In Child Care Facebook group that I help to administer had a flurry of activity from men teachers in New Zealand that requested (and were confirmed) joining our group.  The group also has teachers from Australia.  Excited by this, I elected to research the web site of Early Childhood Australia.

The web site is professional in appearance and easy to navigate.  Its “menu” has tabs on the left side that identify areas of the web site for navigation purposes.   Initially I looked to the “Research in Practice Series” tab.  But after a closer look, I identified the link that would be the most useful for seeking research – the “Australasian Journal of Early Childhood” tab.  Clicking on the link gives you a pop-up menu that includes “AJEC Index/Abstracts”.  Clicking on the AJEC Index/Abstracts tab takes you to a menu of the journal’s volumes with the most recent at the top.

I found a particular reference that merits follow up.  The Index/Abstracts identifies an article, Fathers perceptions of rough-and-tumble play: Implications for early childhood services, written by Richard Fletcher, Philip J. Morgan, Chris May, David R. Lubans, and Jennifer St. George (Australian Journal of Early Education. 2011. (36) 4).

May 2, 2012, Sue Palmer, UK, shares thoughts on technology and children…

Sue,  I peeped your March 23rd blog entry… Loved it… Can I share it? or would you prefer i just try and set up a link to your blog?  Has the Early education professional community/association taken any position on technology “abuse” and children?  You’ve been quiet… hope all is well…  I figure April is a month in which you are in high demand to speak… Greg

Hi Greg,   You’re right — hopelessly busy at the moment. Have been on two longish tours, now have deadline to meet for my book on girls (beginning of June) and am also due to become a grandmother at the same time. So not a good correspondent at the moment.  As for using anything I’ve written anywhere, please feel free. I just want to get the ideas circulating.  Having real problems here with early years advisory staff (the people who tell the teachers what to do) who have all been hijacked by Steve Jobs’ crowd and are putting iPads into nurseries and early primary as if there were no tomorrow. Eheu!!!  All the best

Sue’s Blog  –  23 March 2012

What price is literacy in a world of iPads and smartphones? Nobody seems to be worrying much about this question, but the more I think about it the more I’m convinced it’s the most pressing question in education today. Last month I was thinking about it for a chapter in a book I’m writing (see extract below), and concluded that – unless people in the upper echelons of education start taking note of what’s happening in the early stages of schooling (and pre-schooling: see also they’re in for a nasty shock in a few years time.

The foundations of literacy

Early childhood isn’t merely a preparation for school, but an important stage of development in itself. That’s not to say that pre-school teachers don’t have an important role in laying sound foundations for the 3Rs of reading, writing and reckoning. As well as encouraging free play, they can – like parents – also engage children in playful activities that are culturally useful. And since human brains formed human culture, it’s not surprising that the sort of cultural activities children enjoy at different stages follow a similar trajectory to the evolution of human culture.

In pre-literate civilisations, knowledge was passed down the generations through songs, dances, poems and stories. These activities came naturally because – over countless millennia – musical ability and language proved so important to our species’ survival that they were integrated into our DNA. Even though they’re no longer in the daily repertoire of the average adult, singing, dancing, moving to music, recitation and story-telling are still highly effective (and enjoyable) ways of socialising young children, while simultaneously developing their language skills.

In countries that take a truly developmental approach to education, they’re key components of the kindergarten curriculum, alongside opportunities for drawing, painting, and other arts-and-craft activities that develop the physical skills children need for writing. In these countries, it’s accepted by parents, politicians and the general public that these are essential foundations upon which subsequent cultural achievements are built. Like the foundations of a building, they may later be out of sight, and therefore out of mind, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

It makes great sense to me, as a language and literacy specialist, to devote time and energy to developing small children’s sense of rhythm and their ear for sound through plenty of music, dance, songs, rhymes, poems and stories. Indeed, it seems particularly sensible for 21st century children. In an increasingly visual world, their auditory memory is much poorer than in the past (see page 00), so today’s girls and boys are likely to benefit from pursuing an oral curriculum for several years.

I came to this conclusion after watching three- to six-year-olds in Finland (the country that always comes top of international charts for literacy, does almost as well in numeracy, and came second in UNICEF’s league for childhood being). Musical activities, song, story-telling and recitation were threaded throughout their day, groups of children collaborated enthusiastically in turning their favourite stories into plays (making their own costumes, scenery and props), other groups went off on ‘field trips’ or spent hours engrossed in artistic projects of various kinds. They also had constant access to a wooded outdoor area, where children of both sexes rushed out whenever they felt the need to let off steam.

This play-based, child-centred curriculum, with its heavy emphasis on all-round development, oral language and memory skills, is a long way from the sort of thing I regularly see in UK pre-schools and early primary classes. Although many of our early years practitioners yearn to copy the Scandinavian approach, the bureaucratic constraints of EYFS and a national obsession with literacy and numeracy targets make it very difficult. But if parents support teachers in resisting the schoolification of early childhood, it’s perfectly possible.

The 3Rs – slowing down to learn

Of course, the time comes when children do have to comply with adult educational criteria in order to gain access to the higher levels of S-type thought. By the age of six, the vast majority of girls should be capable of disciplined, systemised thought. What’s more, if their earlier experiences have nurtured the intrinsic pleasure and excitement of learning, they should be ready to embrace this mental discipline, not just because the grown-up world expects it of them (and rewards them with praise, grades and test results), but because they actually enjoy the challenge.

Mental discipline traditionally starts with the 3Rs. But literacy isn’t just a question of learning how to read and write, nor numeracy of learning simple arithmetical procedures. Both involve orchestration of a wide range of skills, and constant practice until they become second nature, so it usually takes several years for learners to reach the point at which the basic skills are automatic. To children reared in a world where endless entertainment and information is instantly available at the flick of a switch, all this painstaking effort can seem extremely tedious.

Why bother reading books when you can watch a film or check out facts on Google or Wikipedia? Why waste time writing something down, when you can speak it into a smartphone? What’s the point of struggling over a sum when electronic calculators can provide the answer in seconds? In previous generations, primary teachers could rally the troops by explaining that the 3Rs were keys that opened the vast treasure house of human knowledge. In the 21st century, many of their pupils have a gadget in their pocket offering effortless short-cuts to that treasure house … and to much else besides.

However, in terms of children’s intellectual development, the long-drawn out process of learning to read, write and reckon is still important, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. All those years of practising literacy and numeracy skills literally changes children’s minds, rearranging internal architecture of their brains in ways that improve the capacity for rational, logical thought.

There are no short cuts here. It takes time and effort to lay down and consolidate the neural networks that characterise the educated brain. All those years of practice – gradually turning comprehension, composition and calculation into second nature – develop skills of reflection, analysis and organisation. As the essayist Neil Postman put it thirty years ago: ‘Print means a slowed down mind… The written, then the printed word brought a new kind of social organisation to civilisation. It brought logic, science, education, civilité.’ All modern education systems have been designed to take children through the same process, based on the mental discipline of the 3Rs.

The trouble is that as Moore’s Law rolls on, and children have access to increasingly wonderful gadgetry at ever younger ages, it’s getting harder to keep their noses to the grindstone. ‘Electronics speeds up the mind’, said Postman, and – as the primary teachers I met in the late 1990s were beginning to recognise (see page 00) – it’s much more difficult to help children focus their attention on academic study when they’re growing up in a world of instant gratification and digital quick fixes. Indeed, even adults who’ve already learned to read, write and reckon find it increasingly difficult to focus their attention for long these days. In the words of neuroscientist Robert Rekstak, ‘attention deficit is the paradigmatic disorder of our time’.

Computers in schools

This isn’t to say that, in the modern world, digital literacy is less important than the 3Rs – just that too much early exposure to screen-based technology makes it more difficult for children to learn to read and write. Both parents and teachers need to be aware that, in the words of psychologist Aric Sigman ‘there is a conflict between multi-tasking and sustained attention. These things cannot and should not be developed at the same time. Sustained attention must be the building block. The big problems we are seeing now with children who do not read, or who find it difficult to pay attention to teachers or to communicate, are down to attention damage that we are finding in all age groups.’ He recommends that computers shouldn’t be used for educational purposes until children are at least nine, by which time they’re hopefully well on the way to fluency in ‘old-fashioned’ literacy.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Finland, with its remarkable record of achievement in literacy and numeracy – uses no high-tech equipment at all in kindergartens, and hardly any in primary schools. Nor does it surprise me that many high-flying parents in California’s Silicon Valley – mums and dads who know a thing or two about the digital world – now opt to send their primary-aged children to a Waldorf School that doesn’t let computers over the threshold.

Unfortunately, the politicians who run UK education embarked on a love affair with information technology way back in the 1980s, and since then schools at all levels have been expected to integrate IT into all their work across the curriculum. Vast amounts of money have been invested in electronic resources, with teachers no sooner learning the basics of one generation of hardware before it’s overtaken by another. Not surprisingly, with constant retraining, and generally shallow understanding of the resources, the level of expertise is poor. In primary schools it often results in pupils being required to use computers for tasks that could be done much more productively in real life, and recorded with pencil and paper.

The biggest investment of the last decade has been in electronic whiteboards, which have been installed in almost every classroom in the country (including nursery classes). It’s depressing, when I visit schools, to see how much of their day young children spend zoned out in front of screens. But teachers feel obliged to use this equipment, because school inspectors mark them down if they don’t. So they upload the latest educational software on to their whiteboards for the class to stare at, or set simple tasks in the computer suite. In the last couple of years, there’s also been a craze for providing individual pupils with iPads, frequently starting in the nursery class – I’ve met many early years teachers who are appalled by this, but don’t dare object, as their headteachers ‘think it’s very modern and progressive’.

From what I hear out in the schools, a great many teachers of the under eights now agree with Aric Sigman – not from technophobia (many are highly digitally literate) but because they don’t see any advantage in using high-tech equipment with young children. They’d like to concentrate on consolidating the 3Rs within a stimulating, three-dimensional curriculum and leave the teaching of IT to specialist staff in upper primary and secondary classes. Such specialist teachers have the time and personal commitment to keep up to date with technological innovation, so they can teach pupils genuinely useful IT skills, such as writing programs, designing websites, making films and animations, inventing new apps and so on – the sort of skills young people enjoy learning and their future employers really want. And specialist IT teachers can do this much more effectively if pupils have a solid grounding in old-fashioned basic skills.

In the next couple of years, the IT curriculum is to be overhauled, and schools given more freedom about the way they teach computer skills but, after so much financial investment in expensive hardware throughout the system, it’s unlikely that nurseries and early primary classes will be allowed to drop it altogether in the near future. Commitment to the use of IT in every age group is now an established part of the UK’s ‘too much too soon’ orthodoxy.

Nevertheless, evidence about the effects of too much computer-use is growing every year, and I’m sure the government will eventually have to listen to the growing body of expert opinion, summed up by US professor Paul Thomas: ‘Teaching is a human experience… Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.’

Week of April 15, 2012

Over the past 8 weeks of “looking across the pond” I have seen that Europe has in many ways surpassed the United States in the regard given to the natural needs and interests of children.  The growth of the play movement in Europe is impressive.  A new category of ECE professional, called a “playworker” has been created.  Advocates for play work hard to bring the natural needs and interests of children to the public eye.  There has been a positive response.  Some playgrounds have incoporated a greater “perception” of risk.  Wonderful videos portraying children in nature are posted shared.  This sort of advocacy is only now building strength in the US despite the efforts of such play advocates as Docia Zavitovsky and Betsy Hiteshew and such nature advocates as Richard Louv.

I have seen that the barrier to men in child care seems to be universal.  None of my international contacts or research indicated anywhere that the gender diversity of the ECE profession appraoched “equity”.  Many people are working worldwide to change this.  The World Forum has a Men In Child Care Working Forum.  There is a MenTeach web site in the US.  Men In Child Care Facebook groups are popping up, including in Iceland, New England and California with members coming from beyond those geographic boundaries.  It appears that in countries where ECE programs incoprporate more risk and nature – that there are slightly higher numbers of men in the profession.  In California, a program at UCLA has a 7.3% of men on their ECE staff – nearly twice the US national figure.

Finally, I have been revitalized by learning of woderful advocates for childhood such as my new “friends” Sue Palmer and Tim Gill in the UK.  Reading their posts, watching their videos and listening to their lectures, I have renewed hope that the message will get out there that early care and education is much MUCH more than ABCs, 123s, colors, shapes, phonemic awareness…  They have inspired me to share information more “zealously” on my blog and Men In Child Care Facebook Group.  I have joined MenTeach and renewed my membership with AEYC and with the National Indian Child Care Association (NICCA).

My goal for the American ECE professional is to begin to embrace and implement the playworker role within the US ECE profession.  Playworkers in Europe are connected and active.  It appears to be an actual job title that is recognized by those in the field.  Childhood in the US is at great risk of being forever altered by technology, by push down curriculum, by well-meaning but misguided policies and by budget realities.  We, as ECE professionals, have contributed mightily to the decline of childhood, the decline of creativity, the decline of happiness among children by our failure to push back.  We have fought so hard for respect as professionals, that we have at times sacrificed the needs of children to gain this respect.  We have abided the implementation of simply bad policy in hopes that it would lead to better pay or more respect.  I for one will be glad to become a playworker… most likely for less pay but with greater honesty to my value system.  Can we, as colleagues at Walden begin a playworker movement in the US?

Week of April 1, 2012

A wonderful video came to my attention.  Prominently featured in it are perspectives from the UK and Canada on play.  The video, Lost Adventures of Childhood, is fantastic… a must see for any play advocate.

From Sue Palmer, UK, regaring the above video:

Thanks ever so much for this, Gregory.  I’ve finally found time to watch it through and have forwarded it on to a few people.
Hope you’re having a good Easter break.
All the best,

Week of March 25, 2012

Henry Manani, Kenya, responds to Greg’s equity question on Men and pay in Kenya.
Greg:  A while ago you mentioned how the pay was an issue that seemed to prevent men from entering the profession in your country.  In the US, it is not only the low pay rate, but also the low social status that comes with working with young children.  Given that the economic status of early education is a hindrance for men in your community… I was wondering, what is the social status that comes to men that work with young children in your country?

Henry:  Well, childcare  in many communities in Kenya has culturally and traditionally been and still remains a women’s domain. Therefore the men who find themselves there despite the little or no pay are the daredevils in that sphere. I think with time and signs of government’s commitment to employment in this area will definitely change the whole attitude of the society and men involvement in the country.

Sue Palmer, UK, answers Greg’s questions about culture, diversity and play:

Greg:  In the US, besides a generational difference in play (us older folk PLAYED when we were children), I’ve noticed a bit of a trend that I wanted to run by you:

  • immigrant families tend to play more
  • the “troublemaker youth” tend to play more (the skaters, etc that grownups here in the US tend to have issues with…)

So I guess my question for you this week is: “Do you see any cultural differences in the value of play for children?”

Sue:  Yes, it’s the same here, although difficult for immigrant children to play out.  As for children from disadvantaged homes, they get the benefits of play without (in many cases) the benefits of attachment. So we end up with a resilient un-empathetic underclass (and a “wimpish” middleclass whose empathy has been perverted by consumerism into self-conscious cynicism).

Greg:  The news just yesterday was talking about a longitudinal study of happiness and adult economic success.  I’ve still got to dig into it, but I wonder if that’s on your radar as well?

Sue:   Yes, and I reckon the roots of well-being are attachment and play. Fortunately, our criminal justice people in Scotland are coming round to this opinion too.

Greg:  PS… (my attitude is just getting worse and worse… perhaps you heard of the teenager that was killed by a neighborhood watch person in Florida here in the States… I think that teens here just get no love from grownups… and in fact i think our society exploits them quite terribly…

Sue:  As for the Florida murder, we got saturation coverage for about half a day, then it disappeared.  PS. ‘Happiness’ is a tricky word. I prefer ‘well-being’, and there’s a raft of research showing that well-being is only slightly affected by material wealth. But if children are raised to equate happiness with ownership of stuff, they’ll carry on pursuing stuff – the rich will get ‘happier’ and the poor will get sadder.

Lots of us stirring the pot over here (though not as organised as your US Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC)– if you don’t know them already, please google them), but I agree with CCFC that the way things will shift isn’t through high-profile pot-stirrers but by grassroots action. Was at a meeting of amazing women in the west of Scotland this morning, and they showed the CCFC movie trailer (‘Consuming Kids’ on YouTube) to yet another group of Scottish women. You could tell from their faces it would make them act.

Week of March 18, 2012

Greg to Sue Palmer, UK:

Hello Sue,

I was at an early care and education conference this past weekend.  One of the Keynote Speakers was Nancy Carlsson-Paige.  She voiced many of our concerns.  Maybe there is hope yet.  Here are my notes from her address:

Keynote Address: Nancy Carlsson-Paige, CAEYC Conference

Key quotes from her Keynote Address:

  • “We live in the wealthiest nation in the world (US) but have the highest child poverty rate” (both before and after government transfers) among industrialized nations.  One in four children in America lives in poverty.
  • “Every teacher in Finland has a Masters Degree paid for by the government.”
  • “Teachers without a knowledge base in ECE are much more dependent upon the script.”
  • “Showing (young) children the numeral ‘4’ and asking them to name it is just stupid.”
  • “Education is fundamentally human and non-competitive… schools are cooperative, collaborative places.”

Carlsson-Paige discussed important trends in early education.  These trends include policies that emphasize standards, assessments and accountability.  We are “seeing more testing in Pre-K… more direct instruction… and less play.” 


  • Florida gives a Pre-K Test three times a year.  This test has 61 items!
  • NCLB has resulted in the loss of arts, play, recess from schools.
  • The Alliance for Childhood has a publication, “Crisis in our Kindergartens

This increasing emphasis on competition means that school is no longer a safe place for those children that are the statistical “losers”.

To support her statements, Carlsson-Paige cited the Cornell Torrance Study which found for the first time a decline in creativity (beginning around 1990, Rogers, K, 2010).

Carlsson-Paige went on to say that as educators, we must teach children to understand that the learning is not “out there” but in them.

Sources of concern include “the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities” and “the lack of creativity development in our schools” (Bronson and Merryman, 2010).

Read the entire Newsweek article, the Creativity Crisis, at:

another web site to visit: ECE Policy Survey

Curriculum Idea from Carlsson-Paige:

Carlsson-Paige described a wonderful idea that she observed in a classroom that had a history of challenging behavior.  The teachers posted a “Peace Watch” on their Board.  On the “Peace Watch” they would write down when children were peaceable and helpful.  For example:

Peace Watch

Alex helped Brenna fold her mat and tie her shoes after Nap

Nikki shared her markers with Alicia

Kelvin comforted Adam when he cried after his father dropped him off.

Kerri was the welcoming friend for the new child, Jason, and made sure that Jason knew the schedule and where to find the things he needed.


  • Children were able to tell what they did that merited being placed on the Peace watch.  Some children even attempted to write in their own peaceable entries onto the Peace Watch.

Sue responds:

Hi Gregory,
The Alliance for Childhood is a splendid organisation. Indeed, one of its past presidents (Jean Almond) gave me the title for ‘Toxic Childhood’. I’m sure that, eventually, the powers-that-be will have to listen…
On the other hand, I was recently asked by the Scottish government to lead a committee on ‘Culture Change’, which includes giving parents guidance on the use of screen-based media. I’ve suggested using the guidance from the American Academy of Paediatrics that the under-twos shouldn’t engage with screens at all and children of 2-10 should have a maximum of 2 hours screentime a day. All members of the committee (experts from medicine, playwork*, social work backgrounds) are happy with this but the early years education expert is quibbling. She’s been knobbled. It breaks my heart. 
     * Greg’s Note:  “Playwork” is a trend taking root, particularly in Europe.  It is
     intended to differentiate between of the role of adults as teachers and as
     facilitators of play.

Week of March 11, 2012

Sue Palmer, UK, and Greg discuss the “Digital Divide” – the “Haves and Have Nots” and Policy…

Hi Sue,

You mentioned the internet in our last conversation…

In the US, policy makers often talk about the digital divide… the difference in access to technology between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

Unfortunately (in my opinion at least) this digital divide argument is often used to support calls for bringing technology into schools at younger and younger ages.

What do you think about the issue of poverty and the digital divide and what do you think the role of education is in helping students access technology?

  1. Do low income children and families in the UK have access to technology?
  2. At what age do schools start providing technology to students?  (In the US, elemenentary aged students (aged 12 and younger) are beginning to receive tablets!)
  3. Do you think that early access to technology actually will help or hurt low income children?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts… (I’m a former public policy chair here in the US with my professional association.  I actually resigned from my chair position just last week because, despite the written protests of many of us, the national headquarters released a position statement on technology with children birth to 8 years of age and I could not be a part of that.)


Sorry for delay in replying Greg. Swamped.

Suspect my position on technology is similar to yours (and presumably to that of the high-powered high-tech parents in Silicon Valley who send their children to a Steiner School that doesn’t allow technology over the threshhold till they’re at least seven). I think there are several articles on my website that set out my position on it. Needless to say, it doesn’t make me popular with the educational authorities over here — in England the first (legally enforceable) target for IT use is at 21 months!

‘Have not’ children here in UK usually have plenty of access to TV, computer games, social networking sites etc. Seems parents think they’re more important than nourishing food.

There are also interactive whiteboards in almost every classroom in the land, including nurseries. iPads are being introduced across the nation, often at nursery level.

I just hang about on the edges of all this, raging against it!


Prior to hearing from Sue…

Having not heard back as to my questions regarding the “digital divide” argument for providing low income children with computers, I researched a bit on my own.

The Independent, on November 24, 2005, posted an article, Bridging the digital divide.  In this article it was stated that approximately 25% of schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home and that this digital divide is particularly dramatic for “children from ethnic minority backgrounds in deprived areas.”  The article states that there is now (2005) one computer for every four children in British schools.  A charitable organization, e-Learning Foundation, is seeking to make sure that “every schoolchild in the UK has access to technology in the home.”

Some education advocates in the UK believe that, “if computer access isn’t available outside their lessons, then the 15 per cent of their lives that they spend at school won’t be enough to overcome the pre-existing social disadvantages these children already suffer.”

Something that I believe is highly positive, is that some schools have begun staying open late and during school holidays to grant children access to computer technology and support staff.  While I may disagree with the increased use of technology in the lives of these children, I do very much believe that schools need to do more to become community centers and support the neighborhood during non-school hours.

Laura Gyre, writing for has this to say about the digital divide: “Some parents and educators are concerned about a concept called “the digital divide,” which is the growing inequality between kids (and adults) who know how to use technology and those who don’t. The argument is not that anyone should have limits placed on their potential, but that we should make sure that all young children have access to stimulating environments and capable guides before worrying about whether they should learn to type before kindergarten.”

Tim Gill, UK, discusses men, fathers, risk, and neighborhoods.
Hi Gregory
I haven’t done any formal work around men and fathers. On the professional side, my gut feeling is that if there were more men working with children in childcare, early learning and primary schools, then we would see a less cautious approach. I suspect that on average male educators tend to be physical (eg they are more relaxed around rough and tumble play), more oriented towards physical, manual and outdoor activities, and have a higher ‘risk threshold’. There may be research on this, but I don’t know of any. I think others have argued along similar lines (eg Steve Biddulph and Sue Palmer in their books).
I’m less clear about the issues around fathers. I think the sociologists argue that fathers these days are more heavily involved in, and give more time to, their children than in the past (think of the postwar stereotype of father at work and mother at home). I can’t give references, but I’m fairly sure this is the case in the UK and also I suspect in the US.
My book No Fear has more on why I think outdoor play has been in decline. I think possibly the biggest factor is not on your list: car dependence. This has made neighbourhoods more dangerous for children, through greater traffic danger. And it has led to lower levels of walking and cycling, and hence less familiarity with neighbourhoods and declining levels of percieved social safety (‘eyes on the street’). At the policy level, car-centric planning has led to suburban sprawl which reinforces car-dependence.
I hope this helps. By the way, thanks for your comments and reaction on my blog – much appreciated.
Best wishes


Greg to Sue Palmer after visiting her web site and learning about her new book project, 21st Century Girls:

I read your comment about the book, “peer pressure to push girls towards an objectified sexuality at an increasingly early age…”  I, myself, see marketing as playing a huge role in this… as you undoubtedly know in the US Ronald Reagan opened the floodgates of marketing to children in the 1980s by de-regulating television advertising…. what has contributed to these trends in the UK?

Sue Palmer, UK:  “…we got the knock-on effects of R Reagan’s deregulation because our Margaret Thatcher embraced Ron’s philosophy, including the whole Chicago School of Economics free market thing.  We ostensibly have a little more regulation of marketing than you, but it’s neither much nor working.  And as advertising moves to the internet, the whole world is moving into the Reagan badlands.”

Note:  for more about marketing to children in the electronic new world, check out Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood, Media Education Foundation.

Week of March 4, 2012

Sue Palmer, UK, and Greg take on a, perhaps, unpopular issue.


In your lecture with Dr Frank, you truly went out on a limb (which I highly approve of for the following reasons) and described a triangle (referencing societal change during the 1980’s) whose three sides consist of:

  • the speed of change (technology)
  • competitive consumerism
  • gender roles

I have for a while, on occasion, asserted (when feeling bold) among my colleagues that the issue is steeped in the women’s movement adopting values associated with the culture of men (status and pay) rather than a societal recognition of the value of nurturing (parent, doctor, nurse, teacher, child development professional).  Had our society provided an equal pressure to value the work of nurturing in conjunction with the pressure for equal pay for equal work (justified of course) – how might the outcome been different for children (and men who work with them)?  As you quoted (Richard Laird?), “Change the relative prestige accorded to smart-assed behavior and then accord it to kindness”… I would love to have your thoughts on this.


Good grief, Gregory! That is exactly the argument I’ve just spent 18 months trying to prove in my next book (21st Century Girls). Am hoping the feminists might get cross about it and thus drum up some publicity for the importance of motherhood (and nowadays hands on fatherhood). We are two minds with but a single thought!


From Henry Manini, Kenya, after being posed the question, “Are the majority of teachers working with young children in your country men or women?  Do you have an estimate of the percentage of men and women teachers working with young children?”  Henry Manini responded, “I would say about 99.8% are women.”  He added that no “scientific statistics” were available however.

From Henry Manini, Kenya, after being posed with the question, “What are you angry or frustrated about right now?  a policy, a trend, an incident…?”


My frustrations now is that though there is no issue now in Kenya on the participation of men in training of ECDE teachers, enrollment in ECDE undergraduate and post-graduate university programmes; their participation in children’s centre based teaching, childcare and training as ECDE teachers is extremely low, perhaps the reason could be the government is yet to start employing and paying salaries to this cadre of staff.


Greg’s note:  This is an important part of the conversation among early educators.  In some countries, the teaching workforce (and workforce in general) is made up of a significantly higher percentage of men.  Low wages would clearly exert economic pressure to drive these men into other professions.  In countries such as the United States, the high participation of women in the general workforce means that low ECE salaries are not a concern for the men alone (according to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2008, women were expected to make up 48% of the workforce – an increase of 6.7% since 1988, continuing a steady increase since 1950).  Over the years, men attending NAEYC Conference workshops on the topic of recruitment and retention of men in the field have frequently avoided the salary issue – as in the United States today, women are as likely as men to be the primary breadwinners for their family.  It would be disrespectful to these women to assume that their need for worthy wages is somehow less than men due to the “nature” of the early education work.  It would be equally disrespectful to men to assume that they would somehow, by nature, be less motivated to make economic sacrifice to be a part of this noble profession.  The question of the “intangible” currency of this work should not be construed to have a gender connection absent an equal consideration of the quite tangible stigma (dis-incentive) often associated with men who do choose to enter the ECE profession.  As a side note, esteemed Men In Child Care and leader, Bryan Nelson was once upon a time noted for his practice of asking young men working at fast food restaurants if they had ever considered a career in early education.  Their response (generally, no, they had never considered such a thing) is clearly related more to the social dis-incentive than to the economic one.

Week of February 26, 2012

From Sue Palmer, UK (after I contacted her regarding my viewing of and great appreciation of the Toxic Childhood Lecture – see below): 

Dear Gregory.

You say the nicest things!  I’ve just been jolly lucky, as someone who can scratch a living by writing and speaking, to be able to throw myself wholeheartedly into this for about twelve years.

I’ve actually changed the five finger exercise since that video. It’s now (from thumb to little finger):

  • communication
  • love
  • play
  • discipline
  • education

which works much better, and takes in the points you make. Communication covers all aspects of human interaction, not just language; and education (very rightly the smallest finger, useless without all the rest) covers more than literacy.

But I keep the middle finger till last to keep the audience guessing what it is. I tell them that all the other things come from us adults — we give them to the child. The middle finger, which holds the hand together and is taller than the rest (as the child has to grow beyond where we grown-ups are) comes from the child himself.  it’s the natural learning drive, and our job is to respect it, support it, and when necessary back off.

Then I reveal that it’s play, and can mention the whole risk/challenge thing.

Isn’t it amazing how long it can take to work out a way of saying something that’s so patently obvious? I’ve been doing the five finger exercise for about five years, gradually refining it in response to what people say (there’s a two-year-old version on my website). Maybe it’s still got a long way to go, but I’m pretty happy with it at the moment.

All the best,


The lecture on Toxic Childhood referenced above is available for viewing on YouTube.  It is a multi-part video including data on childhood.  Simply go to Youtube and search “toxic childhood”.  A link to Part 1 of the lecture –  This is a truly remarkable lecture.  Dr. John Frank and Sue Palmer paint a compelling picture of change, action and the future of childhood in the United Kingdom and Scotland.  To paraphrase Sue Palmer: Because of the influence of “competitive consumerism”, we look for solutions to buy because we no longer value what we have always known that children need for free, “love – warm, firm, discipline – free play – language – literacy”.  I suggested to Sue that we might add to the list, “risk and challenge”.  We will find out what she has to say in next week’s entries on “Across The Pond”.

From Sue Palmer, UK:  No, I refuse to give in!  We have to try to give them what we got.  What sort of old people hand on something worse to their young, if they can possibly do something about it?

In California you have that wonderful Institute of Play, which I keep telling people to Google. There are so many good people trying to do stuff all over the world. Eventually, everyone will see sense.

Please forgive the passion

More from Sue… Just got an email from someone there whose teacher uses Toxic Childhood as a text book! Gosh! Didn’t imagine I’d ever be taken seriously in the USA.

From Tim Gill, UK:  Hi Gregory
Nice to hear from you. I would be happy to exchange emails from time to time. I do get a fair few emails from students and professionals around the
world. As you can imagine, at some times I may not be able to reply as fully as at others, due to pressure of work. But I will try to respond as best I can.

As you may have seen from my website biog, I am not really an ece professional, although some of my work does bring me into contact with
people from early education and childcare. My main overlap with ece people is around risk and outdoor play.
Best wishes
Tim Gill

From Sue Palmer, UK:

Sounds like our governments have a great deal in common. I wonder whether Hillary Clinton had any idea what she was starting when she drew everybody’s attention to the importance of the early years at that White House conference in 1999. Since then, everybody’s been desperate to get at little children — marketers, media, politicians, teachers.

Who’d be a pre-schooler these days?

From the Men In Child Care Facebook Group:                                                                                                                                                                              Come on people… the State of California wants to invent a new category of “education” called Transitional Kindergarten. Well, the School Districts used to operate something quite similar to that – and it was called Kindergarten. Some of you may remember… blocks, sandbox, graham crackers and milk… But they screwed that up. Taking children that were born in the three months between the old age of entry and the “phasing in age of entry” and inventing a name for it in order to give it to the public schools is in poor judgment, poor faith, and a complete disrespect to what we do. Check out the new DRDP SR (designed for TK and K by WestEd) and you will find that motor skills development and Health are gone. Why? Because there would be no way to assess motor skills and healthy lifestyle in the world of TK since there would be insufficient attention (and time) given to recess and PE and nutrition… I’m filthy, stinking, angry.  My question to Sue for the week:  “What’s making you angry this week?”

Sue Palmer says, “all sorts of stuff going on around Early Years Education in the UK and I seem to belong to every pressure group going… Pot-stirring turns out to be extremely time-consuming.”

Bryan Nelson has offered to facilitate my inquiry with his contacts in the World Forum Men’s Group. 

February 24, 2012

This page will host ideas, articles, insights, thoughts and conversations with ECE colleagues from outside the United States.

As I prepare for the course, I have made outreach to some remarkable people.  It is my hope that these individuals will entertain my invitation.  At any rate, I highly encourage everyone to visit their sites:

I will document excerpts of my conversations with these leaders on this page.  The most recent conversations will be added to the top of this page.  I will follow the above websites as Part 2 of my assignment.


8 thoughts on “Across the Pond

  1. Alicia says:

    Hi Greg,

    It sounds like you have started some really great correspondences. I am always interested in education in the UK. I look forward to reading your upcoming blogs highlighting your converstaions with these professionals.

  2. Alicia says:

    Conversations!! Typos make me crazy! Sorry!

    • gregoryuba says:

      you know, it’s said that it takes a pretty un-creative mind to think of just one way to spell a word… plus, it has also been shown that people focus on the beginnings and ends of words and skip over the middles when they read…
      i didn’t even notice the typo until you mentioned it!

  3. Erika Thall says:


    It sounds like you’re having a lot of luck with your correspondence with ECE professionals out of the US- congrats! It has proven not to be such an easy feat and I know lots of work went into contacting and getting responses. I, too, am looking forwarding to reading your blogs and continuing to learn more about ECE in the UK. Enjoy your time learning from Tim and Sue, as we will continue to enjoy learning through you!


  4. Susan says:


    Way to go on making contacts!! I have been quite unsuccessful in making contact with anyone. I have sent out numerous emails, but I am trying to be patient. I know people are busy and emails are not always answered quickly.

    Thank you for the great posts! I enjoy reading your posts!! You are an exceptional writer!


  5. bucknerc says:

    Are any children anywhere playing anymore? The loss of childhood as we know it (knew it?), is looming gloomily on the horizon. Scary….

  6. Sara says:

    That is so exciting to hear about. The thought of children soon not being able to play is just to much to handle. I know that some kids would come out okay because their home life would allow that, but there are so many kids that need more of that everyday. I really have had a shift in my own personal passion as I changed from one mindset to another. Thanks for making that possible with all of your great and informative posts! Awesome job.

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