Category Archives: parenting

Textbook Thursday: How Children Develop Ch. 8: Intelligence and Academic Achievement

A- stayed up late on Thursday, but I was still able to sneak in 40 minutes of reading when she insisted on spending time with W- instead of me. (“Private Daddy time!”)

Chapter 8 of How Children Develop was about intelligence and academic achievement. I’m not particularly worried about either and definitely not at the moment, although I’m interested in providing as good an environment as possible for A- to flourish, and in learning as much as I can myself.

The chapter mentioned Home Observation and Measurement of Environment, for which I found these resources: Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment, Wave 1, 1994-1997 (from Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods) and HOME-SF Scales (NLSY79 Child). The main things I want to focus on for the 0-2 year part of this scale are to arrange visits to or from relatives/friends at least twice a month, and an outing at least every other week. A- often wants to stay at home, but is occasionally game for a field trip or a visit. The scale asks if the child gets out of the house 4 times a week or more, so that’s something to keep in mind. I was amused to see that having a pet counts for something, too.

The next set of questions cover the range from 3-5 years old, so here are the items I may want to focus on then:

  • Access to a music player and at least five records/tapes/CDs/etc.: I wonder how this translates to technology today. I’m definitely not keen on letting her loose on YouTube. We could dig up a CD player for her and make a few CDs. I could build a simple media interface for her with a selection of music using Tasker on an old Android phone coupled with a Bluetooth device or a speaker, which would require less fussing about with CDs. I could label the music with drawings, too. I haven’t been keen on music-playing devices, but maybe I can ask the music teacher for advice.
  • Some delay of food gratification: we mostly spread out meal/snack times, but it would be good to start delaying snacking when out and about too.
  • Newspaper at home, to model interest in current events? Or is this just a correlation with families who are interested in current events and discuss them, and who have print-rich environments? I wonder what that means for us. W- and I often discuss what we see on Reddit, but she won’t have access to that for a long, long, long time. I wonder if I can find a researcher I can ask about this sort of stuff…
  • Regular participation in community activities: We’ll continue going to the drop-in centres, and it might be nice to find or form a playgroup as well.

This literature review has more information about HOME and the influence of the home environment and home interactions on many outcomes.

The textbook chapter also talked about academic skills: reading, writing, and mathematics. At this stage, learning about letters and phonemic awareness will help A- prepare for reading and writing later on. She’s interested in letters and is starting to visually identify them. I can see if she’s ready to play games with phonics, like picking something that starts with a given sound, and then eventually telling me if two words begin with the same sound. We’re experimenting with keeping this embedded in everyday life instead of turning to apps or flashcards.

Reading is both enjoyable and useful, and the fact that reading skills will help her in school is icing on the cake. She picks up a lot of words and phrases from books, including the little books I’ve been making for her. We’re experimenting with reading to A- as much as she wants, except when we really need to do something else (like sleep). I keep my mind occupied while reading by studying the illustrations and thinking of ways to do dialogic reading, so I’m up for reading to her as much as she wants. Hmm… Maybe I can print out those dialogic reading bookmarks and put up a poster close to her bookshelf downstairs. She used to fill in pauses a lot, but now she often wants me to just read to her instead of prompting her or asking her to point to things. She’ll sometimes add her own remarks if I wait for her signal before turning to the next page. I want to keep reading fun and enjoyable instead of veering into quizzing her, so I just make an effort to relate what we’re reading to recent experiences. I’m sure our reading will keep evolving.

As for pre-writing skills, we often do fine-motor activities like drawing, playing with playdough, and cutting with scissors. I do a lot of drawing and writing in front of her, too, and she usually wants to join in. I’m not worried about getting her to learn actual writing just yet.

I’d like to weave math into playtime and everyday life as well. We count a lot and she knows the sequence, although it hasn’t quite clicked for her yet. There’s more to early math than counting, of course. A- definitely pays attention to magnitude comparisons, and will often talk about taking a bigger or smaller piece of cheese. One-to-one correspondence might be good to practise with activities like distributing forks and plates. Laundry gives us classification practice. Maybe I can make visual aids to go with counting songs. It would be nice to find a more visual timer that can work with Google Assistant’s voice recognition, too. Anyway, there are lots of early math activities to explore.

It’s neat working on our home environment and on my interactions with A- – not because we want to hot-house a prodigy, but because it’s fun thinking about these things and appreciating how kids learn. Whee!

Book: Unconditional Parenting

Updated 2018-07-29: Added note about doing to / working with.

For (Text)book Thursday, I actually managed to make a sketchnote! Hooray! Hooray! It’s been so long, I’m not even sure what my process for posting these things was…

2018-07-26a Unconditional Parenting – Alfie Kohn #book #sketchnote #parenting

Anyway. On with the book notes.

Unconditional Parenting (Atria Books, 2005) resonates a lot with the kind of parenting we seem to be doing, and it challenges me to go even further. I’m looking for alternatives to timeouts and reward charts mostly out of curiosity, not because I judge people who use them or that I’d judge myself if those techniques end up being what we feel we need. It’s good to explore possibilities and learn from experiences.

I remember reading a parenting article that inspired me to try moving away from evaluative statements like “Good job!” towards you-focused statements (“You did it!”), or better yet, more specific, descriptive statements (“You put the wooden block on top of the other block!”). A- is almost two and a half years old now, so it might be interesting to see what we can do with more questions. (“I see you made two blue handprints on the pink paper. Can you tell me about your painting?”)

I have so much fun observing A- and acknowledging all the cool things she’s doing. I need to be careful not to crowd her, though, or to make her feel that she’s only interesting when she’s doing new things. She’s good at telling me when she wants me to do something different (“Mama dance different dance!”) or when she wants me to do the same thing she’s doing. (“Play playdough together!”) I’ve been working on toning down the running commentary for words she already knows, giving her more quiet time, and waiting until she prompts me by looking at me or talking to me. It can be hard to sit there, though. I also catch myself thinking in terms of positive reinforcement of behaviour, so that’s something to watch out for.

So far, we have the flexibility to invite A- to make lots of decisions with us and to accommodate many of her preferences. For example, she’s not keen on babysitters at the moment, and that’s okay with me. She’s getting better at telling me how she feels and what she wants, and she’s even starting to propose ways to solve problems. For my part, I’m getting better at turning things into games, which has been handy for brushing her teeth.

I like focusing on A-, not just on what she says or does. Today, for example, she was suddenly a teenager: “I hate this fish. I hate beansprouts. I hate everything.” Instead of telling her not to use the word “hate,” getting offended, or getting frustrated, I tried different things and found out that she actually wanted her own portion of fish from the fridge, not off my plate. She’s experimenting with big emotions, boundaries, language, and will, and I’m glad I have the space to support her through that.

The book has a few details on helping kids develop perspective-taking skills, which was one of the skills in the ELECT framework that I wanted to focus on. I’m looking forward to modeling perspective-taking through conversation, and practising taking her perspective too. I like how it can turn even unpleasant encounters into opportunities for reflection, which reminds me a lot of Stoic philosophy.

Unconditional Parenting is quite different from most of the parenting books I’ve come across, and it probably isn’t a good fit for everyone. It’s a little heavy on the negative side, and would probably get lots of people’s hackles up. I would have liked to read more about the challenges of applying the approach and how to figure things out together. That’s often the challenge with parenting books – the anecdotes sound so smooth, but I’m more curious about the figuring-out parts and the repairs and the let’s-try-agains. I guess I’m looking for something less sales-y, more open source support forum-y, if they makes sense? Anyway, I think we have a good opportunity to try out a few of the ideas from it, though, so it might be fun to explore while we can. It’s been a while since it was published, so I wonder what more recent recommendations say.

I do like the book’s distinction between “doing to” parenting and “working with” parenting. It reminds me of the way pedagogical documentation reframes the grown-up’s role from the dispenser of wisdom to a co-learner supporting the kid’s growth.

The book reminds me of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, both of which feel like books I can recommend a bit more generally. Janet Lansbury’s stuff, too.

As always, it’s all a grand experiment, so if something different works for your family, great, good for you! Goodness knows different things work for us at different times, too. It’s good to have things to think about and try out, though!

Tips for new parents near High Park, Toronto

Getting through the first few weeks:

  • Telehealth +18667970000 – 24-hour access to nurses so you can ask questions and find out if you need to go to the emergency room or the doctor, or if it’s perfectly normal.
  • At the first few well-baby visits, your doctor or midwife will ask you about sleep, number of wet / poopy diapers, and bottles / nursing. I found it impossible to remember these things, but an app like Baby Connect makes it easy to track stuff like that. It’s even multiuser.
  • You’ll also weigh the baby a lot. Since babies tend to protest about being undressed, it can help to use a good scale to weigh the baby’s clothes and a dry diaper before you dress the baby up, allowing you to just weigh the baby with everything on (change their diaper if wet). If you want to weigh the baby in between scheduled well-baby visits, you can either schedule a weight check with your doctor or drop by a breastfeeding clinic (https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/children-parenting/pregnancy-and-parenting/breastfeeding/services/breastfeeding-clinics/ – Crossways is nearby, Tue 11-3 / Fri 10-3).
  • It’s totally normal to need help figuring out breastfeeding. You can go to the breastfeeding clinic (see above), find a La Leche League meeting close to you, text or email your local La Leche League leaders, or find a lactation consultant.
  • Extra flannel blankets make good burp cloths. A flannel bedsheet can be cut up into soooo many flannel wipes.
  • Stash snacks and water bottles wherever you usually nurse/feed, and figure out which meals you like that can be easily eaten one-handed.
  • The BabySparks app suggests activities and helps you track milestones. In Ontario, we have free access to the Looksee Checklist at ndds.ca. There’s a wide range for normal development, so don’t worry too much about it.
  • Babywearing is a great way to free up your hands. Carry Me Close Toronto (https://m.facebook.com/myCMCtoronto/) has meetups and a carrier library, so you can try different carriers and get tips on how to carry babies correctly.
  • You can ask Google Maps to show you accessible routes, which is handy for taking a stroller around.
  • There are Facebook groups for pretty much everything. Locally, there’s a Junction Parents Meetup and a Junction Moms Meet Up Group. Bunz Kid Zone Toronto can be a good way to barter for stuff (or get rid of stuff).
  • We like using WiFi Baby Monitor as a free baby monitor on our Android phones. There’s probably something similar on iPhones.
  • Take pictures/videos even of ordinary moments. It’s fun to look back, and kids like reviewing them too. It’s totally okay to ask someone to take a picture of you, or to prop your phone or camera up and get a picture of yourself with the baby.
  • Google Photos can automatically back up all your photos, and it offers free unlimited storage for regular-quality images. Definitely good enough for printing 4×6 or 5×7.
  • If you want to share pictures and other updates via Facebook, a secret group or closed group is a handy way to control access and organize the photos. You can add people, and they can remove themselves or unfollow if they don’t want to be flooded by kid pictures.
  • Whatever works for your family works for your family. There can be a lot of judging online and in person, and it’s easy to feel guilty or insecure especially as a first-timer. Don’t worry, you got this, you’ll figure things out.

Later on:

  • Once things have settled down a bit, you might enjoy going out with your new baby. The City of Toronto has many free programs and drop-in centres. “Living and Learning with Baby” and “Make the Connection” are both registered programs run by nurses where you can ask questions, learn about stuff, meet other parents, and pick up songs and rhymes. If you can get into the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program, it’s great – a nurse and a home visitor come to your house to help you learn how to parent and play.
  • Libraries often have baby storytimes. Also, it can be hard to find time to read paper books with a newborn, but you can get e-books and audiobooks from the library too.
  • There are plenty of EarlyON child and family centres. One of our favourites is the Junction Family Resource Centre in the basement of Annette Library (M 10-1, T/Th 1-4, http://www.centralhealthline.ca/displayService.aspx?id=132493), which even has a toy lending program. They also accept donations of toys and baby clothes, which is a good way to declutter. The Parkdale-High Park Ontario Early Years Centre on Dundas West (near Dollarama, https://www.childdevelop.ca/programs/healthy-child-development) has a baby program on Monday afternoon, too.
  • The Where to Go Kiddo app focuses on the west end of Toronto and lists other free drop-ins. Also, http://kidsprograms.ca/ lets you search programs.
  • The Children’s Book Bank (http://www.childrensbookbank.com/) is a great place to get free children’s books, or to donate ones you don’t need. It’s close to Riverdale Farm and the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, so you could pair it with one of those for a field trip.
  • In terms of paid stuff, we liked the Smart Start music classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music. They have programs for 0-12mo, 12-24mo, and so on. The Royal Ontario Museum was a nice place to walk around indoors during the cooler months. Try the biodiversity section: the animals are behind glass, there are some textures to touch, and you can point to things.
  • Shallow pools: Joseph Piccinnini Community Centre has a nice warm indoor wading pool. Regent Park Aquatic Centre has wide steps going into the pool. The indoor wading pool in Trinity Bellwoods has several levels.
  • Baby sign language: We found the signs for “more” and “milk” quite useful.
  • Elimination communication: Surprisingly less intimidating than I thought it would be, or maybe we were lucky. Great way to cut down on poopy diapers and make toilet training easier later on.
  • You can get nutrition advice from EatRight, and you can also sign up for the Peer Nutrition program offered by the city. Toronto Public Health recommendations are generally in line with Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility: you’re in charge of what and when, and the kid is in charge of whether and how much.
  • You can still catch movies if you want to – Movies for Mommies (http://moviesformommies.com) runs baby-friendly screenings. Or you can borrow movies from the library, and I think the library even offers streaming.
  • daycarebear.ca is a daycare search engine. Also, ratings for licensed daycares are available through the City of Toronto.
  • It can be lots of fun learning about child development and appreciating all the little things your kiddo is learning.

Have fun! There will be lots of tough moments, but you’re in for a great adventure. :)

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.

Stalling

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

Montessori

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.