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Debbie O'Leary
School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Learning Matters

News tips about education from Indiana University

Which toys should parents buy their children during the holiday season to promote creativity? Jonathan Plucker, IU associate professor in counseling and educational psychology and director of the Indiana Education Policy Center, focuses his research on creativity, intelligence and development of talent. Plucker said toys with bells and whistles are usually the ones that end up in the back of the closet the soonest. "I have found that children are attracted to the bright lights but not necessarily the toy itself," he said. "Building toys such as Legos and toys that children can interact with usually hold their interest for the longer haul." Video games that require problem solving can increase creativity, he said, but just as with television, if video games are used merely to pass the time, they are not providing much intellectual stimulation. "Let's face it. Kids take their cues from parents, relatives and siblings. A parent who tells his child to turn off the video game or TV and do something more active is going to seem pretty hypocritical if he sits and watches football games the entire holiday break. Parents need to take responsibility for the games their children play and the behaviors they are modeling," he said. For more information, contact Plucker at 812-856-8315 or 812-855-0707 or

Stress is an equal opportunity issue, according to IU Professor of EducationThomas Huberty.Whether it's positive stress or negative stress, the physical outcomes are similar. "Positive stressors surrounding the holidays can result in anxiety, tiredness, irritability and feeling out of control," Huberty said. "It's important to provide structure when the holiday routine changes, which will alleviate many of these symptoms. We can reduce anxiety by increasing predictability through structured routines and schedules." Huberty said it's also beneficial if parents can delegate responsibility, since their added stress can affect the stress levels of their children. Including children in holiday activities, such as shopping, decorating and baking, helps them feel part of the festivities while providing added structure. Parents can also incorporate learning activities into their holiday schedules. "It's good to plan fun learning activities that don't look like school," he said. "Kids need time away from the structure of school, but family learning experiences can be invaluable." He suggested taking children to such places as museums and zoos, or on short trips and tours. For more information, contact Huberty at 812-856-8332 or

Universities can help Latino college students stay in school by following several guidelines. According to Vasti Torres, IU associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies, administrators should let go of the myth that Latinos do not value education. "This is a myth brought on by the fact that many Latino parents do not know how to support their sons and daughters in college," Torres explained. Like many first-generation college students, Latino students must explain to their parents why they have less time to have a job or help with siblings. Therefore, universities should provide culturally sensitive orientations for parents. Administrators should also recognize that policies based on retention research may not be culturally sensitive, such as the evidence that first-year students do better living on campus. This may actually serve as a deterrent to immigrant Latino students. Officials also should make sure that Latino students are aware of the educational and social support services provided by the institution. In addition, Torres said, university officials should seek to understand issues that are culturally sensitive and language that could be misinterpreted, as well as to create supportive environments. "Students who are trying to find others like them or working to better their Spanish language skills need environments where these activities are valued and visible," Torres said. For more information, contact Torres at 812-856-8399 or

Chinese females are portrayed in traditional roles in K-12 textbooks perpetuating gender myths among the next generation, according to IU Education Professor Heidi Ross. She recently collaborated with colleagues in China on a review of gender roles in Chinese textbooks and studied how that nation's teachers are reinforcing certain social stereotypes. Ross, who specializes in international and comparative education, found that in preschool and early elementary school grades, female characters in current textbooks are portrayed as caretakers with historically feminine roles while male characters are usually absent. As grade levels increase, so does the appearance of male characters shown primarily in professional positions. "Young male characters are portrayed in active, leadership positions while girls are characterized as good students who talk about their clothes and hair," Ross said. Researchers also examined how females are depicted in history and social studies textbooks and discovered that even the roles of the most dynamic and influential women are distorted and they are shown as helpmates to their husbands. Ross found that teachers often reinforce those stereotypes. "There's not a lot of critical reflection on the construction of gender in Chinese classrooms or teacher preparation programs," she said. The studies have been commissioned as a result of China's rapid social and economic development and the state's efforts to extend effective schooling to all of China's citizens. The success of girls in schools is being re-examined because, said Ross, "Chinese experts realize that the most important investment their country can make is educating its women." For more information, contact Ross at 812-856-8389 or