Textbook Thursday: Conceptual development

Just a quick reading session today, since our sleep has been a bit disrupted lately. I read chapter 7 of How Children Develop, which focused on conceptual development. It was interesting to find out that 2-year-olds are mostly capable of understanding that desires influence actions, and that they can predict that a character in a story who wants something different from what they themselves want would choose differently too. I should work that into my storytelling. They don’t have a similar understanding of how beliefs influence actions, though – maybe closer to when they’re 5 years old.

I found it reassuring to read that a 2.5-year-old’s sociodramatic play (like when A- wants to play restaurant or dentist with me) becomes more sophisticated when scaffolded by adults rather than by peers, and adult support also helps them develop storytelling skills. I sometimes wonder what she might be missing out on by not being in daycare, but then again, I’m not sure how much time they have for sociodramatic play in daycare and what kind of support they get. I definitely see some sociodramatic play among the 3- and 4-year-olds at the drop-in centres, with some of them more oriented toward other kids instead of toward their parent/caregiver. I’m looking forward to seeing how A- grows into this, too, and what she can learn by watching/joining other kids’ play (as research says). At home, I can bring in props, playdates, or babysitters to mix things up.

There was a lot of information on how kids learn to understand categories. Plants are hard to see as living things because they don’t move as obviously as animals do, but calling attention to how they bend toward sunlight and how roots grow down toward water can help. I wonder where I might be able to show A- Venus fly traps or makahiya here – rapid motion might be a fun way of supporting her categorization.

I learned that categorical statements work better than statements about specific instances. The example given was that kids learn more about categories from “Belugas are a kind of whale.” rather than “This beluga is a whale.”

Other little things:

  • Causality: 5-year-olds appreciate magic tricks.
  • Spatial transformation: solving puzzles helps a lot. Moving around also helps build spatial understanding.


I’ve been having a bit of a challenge around A- stalling, whether she’s on the toilet or we’re getting ready to brush teeth. She wants to do things first (“First A-, and then Mama.”), but then takes forever (“I have a hard time”) or resists starting (“I don’t want to brush my teeth.”). I even got tempted to head down the road of counting down.

Fortunately, Janet Lansbury described a much better approach to dealing with that kind of boundary-testing. If I can observe A- more closely and get the hang of providing confident momentum when she just needs a liiittle more help, that could smooth things over. (“It looks like you might need a little help. Would you like me to put toothpaste on for you, or hold your hand as you brush?”) I’m not entirely clear what to do about the toilet situation aside from offering hugs and a footstool to brace against, but if I manage my own needs more proactively, I can be more patient with her.

Time to read Janet Lansbury’s books and go through her archive…

Montessori, Reggio, and other thoughts on toddler learning


I like the Montessori approach of taking kids seriously and helping them develop practical life skills. On its recommendation, we:

  • got A- real glasses and let her use real plates: Duralex Picardie tumblers and Corelle
  • introduced spreaders, knives, and scissors early
  • involved her in cooking and doing household chores: The Learning Tower is such a great help.
  • got two sets of magnetic letters as our movable alphabet
  • chose simple clothes to promote independence
  • got a small pitcher (actually a creamer) so that she can practise pouring
  • resisted the temptation to go overboard on toys, keeping her play area organized
  • respected play as the work of the child: be patient with repetition, help her find the right level of challenge, and so on.

I look forward to using sandpaper letters and other manipulatives. I like the idea of self-correcting materials and may experiment with a few. On the other hand, they do take up some space and are essentially unitaskers. Maybe the Montessori tackle boxes approach might be a reasonable compromise.

We might consider the Montessori casa system next year, when A- is 3.5, if finances permit. I think she likes pretend play a lot, though, and that doesn’t seem to be as aligned with the Montessori approach. I think we’d lean toward a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach for preschool or kindergarten, mixing in elements from Montessori.

Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia approach resonates strongly with me. I like its focus on child-led projects, with the grown-up focused on designing the environment, supporting exploration, and documenting projects. I like its support of play. I like its belief that kids are capable of amazing things if we let them, and the Wonder of Learning exhibit I got to see in 2016 had many examples of that.

The Ontario kindergarten curriculum looks great on paper, with lots of aspects like pedagogical documentation reminding me of Reggio Emilia. I’m all for play-based learning thoughtfully supported by grown-ups. While I’m home with A- and she’s more oriented toward playing with me than with other kids, I want to focus on supporting and documenting her play.

Here are some ideas In applying from Reggio Emilia:

  • Co-learning: A- is the primary investigator. I help ask questions and explore ideas, and I take advantage of the opportunity to learn from her too.
  • Art for exploration and expression
  • Pedagogical documentation: making learning visible
  • The use of technology: We take a lot of photos and videos, and A- loves reviewing them. I talk about taking pictures to help us remember. She also has her own waterproof, shockproof camera, although she still tends to take pictures with her finger over the lens. She sometimes asks me to take a picture for her.
  • Embedding print in play: I write down her order when we’re playing pretend restaurant, and I take advantage of other opportunities to model reading and writing
  • Going out into the community

I want to get better at designing her environment to provoke her interest, and collecting loose parts that we can transform.

I’m also working on building social ties with other families who might be interested in regular playdates so that the kids can come up with projects together when the time comes. I’m also really curious about floor books, but I’m not entirely sure how to implement them one on one with a toddler. Time to experiment!

There’s a Reggio-inspired daycare opening up close to us, but I’m reluctant to commit to it while it’s under construction. There’s a highly recommended private school that follows a Reggio-inspired approach for preschool and kindergarten, and we might go for that if finances permit. Alternatively, I can probably help make public school kindergarten a great fit with parental involvement.

Tools of the Mind

I’m curious about Tools of the Mind’s approach to developing executive function and self-regulation. Play planning sounds like fun. I want to talk about plans more with A- and model drawing the plans too.

In general…

A- is pretty good at learning stuff. She imitates quickly, can focus on an activity for a surprisingly long time, and comes up with new variations. She’s starting to ask questions, and I look forward to helping her explore them.

I tend to be pleasantly surprised by what A- can do when other people try activities with her, which probably means that my developmental expectations are calibrated a little low. Bringing her to drop-in centres and classes helps me work around that by exposing her to other people’s ideas and interactions. If I get better at pedagogical documentation and reflection, I might be able to improve my ability to scaffold her play, or I might be able to bring in more help from someone who can get more of a longitudinal view of A-.

If I keep involving her in daily life, I’m sure she’ll learn all the important stuff. I’ll also make room for unstructured play and exploration, because the world is an interesting place. If I pay attention to what she’s learning and how, I think I’ll have tons of fun and growth along the way too.

Slow days

Some days, it feels like all we do is get through our daily routines. I made these visual schedules to see if they could help A- get a sense of the sequence, provide more opportunities for autonomy, and keep us moving. A- recognizes all the steps, and sometimes even asks for the cards. (“I want bedtime routine index card.”)

Between each neatly-outlined step, however, are unpredictable gaps filled with reading, playtime, soothing, exploration. In fact, we rarely start the morning routine until 12 or 1 PM, and it often takes us a few hours until we’re ready to get out the door – if we make it out at all.

Today we didn’t make it out to the playground because A- wanted to read lots and lots of books before dressing up, blow giant bubbles on the porch, and splash lots of water in the backyard. Actually, come to think of it, it was a pretty good day. Not the day I thought we’d have when we finally got up at noon, but still full of wonderful moments that I was sometimes too preoccupied to appreciate.

I could push A- more, but that’s probably missing the point. Besides, it’s good to experiment with this level of flexibility.

I realized I’ve been approaching this schedule thing incorrectly. I let it become a drumbeat in my mind, and toddlers have their own rhythm. What do I really want? I want A- to recognize distinct steps in the sequence so that she can say what still needs to be done, and grow into being able to do things herself. That can come later. Better to keep our daily routines joyful for as long as we can.

Back to Stoic philosophy. There are things that are not entirely under my control, but I can choose how to perceive things and what to will. The drag comes from wanting something that is different from what is, and what’s the point of that? I may want to go to the playground or the science centre for A-‘s benefit–or is it mine, seeking stories that also reassure me that we’re Doing the Right Thing? Phrased that way, the answer is clearer to me. She’s telling me that she’s just as fine learning from the everyday moments we share. Probably even better. It’s good to work with the grain instead of against it.

Sometimes I want to nudge her along faster because I’m tired or hungry, or I need to brush my teeth or go to the bathroom. I’m the grown-up. I can get better at anticipating my own needs or bearing a little discomfort. I’m also okay with weathering the occasional upset when I need to insist, but I’d rather get better at solving the problem on my end whenever I can.

As I bring myself closer in alignment with what’s out there instead of what’s in my head, I’ll be able to appreciate A- more. What a great opportunity to practise being flexible, even if I might occasionally fumble.

Week ending 2018-07-13

  • Fine motor
    • She liked spraying the playdough with water and working it in to soften it up.
    • A- liked chug-chug-chugging the Duplo train cars in a circle around me.
  • Sensory
    • A- stuffed plastic bags into the yogurt container and made a plastic bag sandcastle.
    • After class and our picnic lunch, we went to the playground to meet up with a friend. A- had so much fun at the splash pad. She kept constantly checking in with me and then going to the splash pad, getting progressively closer and closer to the jets of water until she got to the point of wetting her hands and then wetting me. She was so happy! She also spent a lot of time digging in the wet sand. (5.3 Sensory – Sensory exploration)
    • A- and I played with giant bubbles on the deck. I tried to make a bubble around a bubble, but it was hard.
  • Language
    • A- wasn’t keen on dressing up, but agreed to do it if I read her a book while she did so.
    • I’m not awesome. I’m brave.
  • Music
    • A- did the actions when I hummed the music for “See the Little Bunnies.”
  • Self-care
    • She skinned another knee while stepping off the sidewalk, so we patched her up with a bandage.
  • Household
    • A- helped water the grass. She did a good job of keeping the nozzle high above the soil.
    • A- helped me make red bean buns. She said, “Just like playdough!”
    • A- had fun blowing milk bubbles, modulating her breath so that they didn’t overflow the container. She also insisted on sorting utensils and playing in the kitchen.
    • When we were playing in the sandbox, A- wanted to use a stick to level the sand in the yogurt container.
    • A- helped sort laundry by colour.
  • Social
    • We made it to circle time at the drop-in centre. We donated the baby toys. A- followed along with the actions for See the Little Bunnies, which she hadn’t done in a while.
    • We invited Joy and J- over. J- was fascinated by our cats. I made a fresh batch of playdough and gave it to them after we all played.
    • I was talking to A- about having friends over. She said, “Mama, ask me what not to share.” I asked her, and she told me that she didn’t want to share her headlamp and her lights. That’s great, she can remind me to ask important questions now!
    • I experimented with bringing our giant bubble kit to the playground. Looks like crowd control might be an interesting challenge. This might come in handy later, when A- can play more independently and when she might benefit from observing kids work out conflicts.
    • A- noticed the lines on my knee from when I knelt on the bathroom tiles. She knelt down to try to get lines on her knees too.
    • We went to our first nature class. A- was proud about finding her nametag, and she asked me to write her name using crayon. She was too sleepy and reserved to participate in opening circle time, and the information on habitats was probably mostly for my benefit rather than hers. She walked maybe half of the trail going through tall grasses, though, which was a pleasant surprise. We avoided the poison ivy that they pointed out. Our bubble kit came in handy during bubble time. At ending circle, A- felt happy enough to follow along with the gestures. Yay!
    • We met up with Jen, Ewan, E-, Hala, Florian, and S- for dinner near the High Park splash pad. A- ate lots of bread, cheese, and watermelon. She had fun playing with the fountains, and she spent some time independently playing with the playset. She and I played with another two-year-old, who also enjoyed the “I’m Stuck / Earthquake” game.
  • Kaizen
    • I drew our bedtime routine, printed it on an index card, and covered it with contact paper. A- was curious about the card, and referred to it a few times.
  • Us
    • A- stayed up late, woke up early for class, and played a lot, so I figured she was in for a good long nap. I jumped on a web conference call with one of my clients, fixed some embarrassing bugs in my code, and got the prototype working again on his computer. I think I had some old code that was shadowing the error, and I could have tested more effectively. Anyway, great timing. A- woke up just as we succeeded in getting things to work, and she let me snuggle in bed with her while I leaned the laptop on the bed so I could keep an eye on stuff. That probably means I don’t need to get a babysitter for Monday. If I can set up more meetings or more coding on the fly around long naps, all the better!

2018-07-16 Emacs news

Links from reddit.com/r/emacs, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News, planet.emacsen.org, YouTube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.