Ideas for parenting-related things to build

While I’m on this adventure, I want to keep an eye out for things to build that might make it easier or more fun. Here are a few vague ideas I’ve thought about from the first 2 years of A-‘s life:

  • Parent coaching and professional development: I really appreciated having a nurse and a home visitor come to our house many times, evaluate how I played with and fed A-, and give me tips. It’s pretty interesting what you can get out of a short interaction if you’ve got something like the NCAST Parent-Child teaching scale. I also loved going to the city workshops on parenting, literacy, and child development. There’s certainly no shortage of parenting advice from books, websites, and random people on the street, but I liked the reflective, research-backed approach of Healthy Babies Healthy Children. I’m often tempted to find an educational consultant early childhood educator with experience in teacher training who can come in and help me do professional development as a parent, but I haven’t figured out my request clearly enough to set up the appropriate experiment. And the market for people who want to geek out about this and are willing to pay for it might be really small (me?), but it might still be fun to figure out if I can set up something for myself. There are a number of parent coaches available on the Net, mostly focusing on sleep or behavior. I’m curious about continuous improvement…
  • Progress tracking, developmentally appropriate expectations/principles/concepts: I’m curious about semi-structured pedagogical documentation and making it easy to learn about concepts and ideas right when it makes sense to do so, not just based on age. I enjoy keeping detailed notes on A-‘s growth, and I’m slowly figuring out how to make sense of it over time. I wonder how daycares and preschools that have moved to electronic portfolios with apps like HiMama might be doing it… Again, there’s no end of activity idea lists or Pinterest boards. Still, education textbooks are surprisingly awesome. I find progressions useful (ex: detailed development of scissor skills), since they help me understand sub-skills to look for and scaffold. I also like learning about general principles because that helps me improvise based on A-‘s interests. It would be pretty neat to have, say, a natural language AI analyze my anecdotes and help me scaffold things, and have some kind of visual way to summarize what she can do and what’s just a little out of her reach. It would be great to translate my amateur observations and help me find the right jargon to research stuff or link up to things like the ELECT framework. I’ll get the hang of this eventually! (Or I’ll find experienced educators who can help…)
  • Personalized books: Because reading is awesome, and it can be faster for me to make a book than to find just the right book at the right language level or with the things A- is particularly interested in. I see this starting to pick up, so maybe other people can take care of it.

Hah, I think these things might have a market of one for now, but that’s cool. I’m going to see if reading a bunch of books and papers can give me enough of a base so that I can ask intelligent questions. I can pass by drop-in centres to pick the brains of ECEs for free (especially on days where it’s likely to be quiet). I’m thinking of how to take advantage of how teachers and ECEs often look for weekend or summer babysitting gigs, and how there are a number of virtual assistants with backgrounds in early childhood education. I might also get pretty far doing continuous improvement on my own, especially as I create more space for reflective practice and investment.

I’ll probably come across more ideas over the next few years. I figure I’ll put these out here now just in case someone says, “Oh yeah, I was totally in the same spot X years ago, here are my notes,” or “Yup, that’s called Y, go check it out.” In the meantime, I’m having fun scratching my itch. :)

Textbook Thursday: elaboration, board games, tech

I’m reading through J-‘s textbook on child development for ideas to try with A-. The chapter on language development nudged me to take advantage of opportunities for elaborative language. A- does a great job of describing things now. I can repeat what she says, and then expand on cause and effect, perspective-taking (talking about thoughts and feelings), or narrative (relating it to her experiences).

Another interesting tidbit was about how early mathematics is helped a lot by board games like Snakes and Ladders. Kids get lots of exposure to number words, and they develop a good sense of magnitude and the relationships between numbers. Because it’s entirely luck-based, the playing field is even. We could start with a simple board of ten numbers and a coin flip (1 or 2 spaces), then work up to the bigger board. This will probably be a good fit for A- when she’s closer to 3 or 4. Looking forward to that!

The textbook also covered Piaget’s theories and other models of development. It will be fun using experiments and experiences to help A- with conceptual limitations: pouring water between different containers, learning to ignore irrelevant attributes, learning to pay attention to multiple dimensions like weight and distance on a balance scale… If I learn more about the kinds of things kids figure out and the general sequence they figure them out in, I can have more fun observing A- and supporting her learning.

I also squeezed in some time to skim play = learning. I liked the chapter on extending play with creative use of technology. It focused on letting older kids explore building things, but maybe I can make some things A- can play with at an earlier stage. I’m not too keen on special-purpose coding toys yet, though. I like the idea of using tech to make concepts more tangible, like the way kids played with turning food into musical instruments based on capacitance. We have a couple of electronics kits with breadboards and various input/output things, and that might be fun to explore one of these inside days.

Hmm. I like this Textbook Thursday thing. (Not Tuesday, despite better alliteration, since that’s already earmarked for consulting – nice to get that done early in the week.) I should finish this textbook before I get another one, maybe one about play. Learning about principles and research helps me think about stuff, observe better, and recognize opportunities. It tickles my brain. How wonderful that there’s so much out there to read! It would be even awesomer if I could plug into an online community of people who geek out about this sort of stuff. That might come in time, if I can read, try things out, share my notes, and reach out. Whee!

2018-07-09 Emacs news

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

Checking the balance of my time

I like working. It tickles my brain, and I enjoy helping people through code. Sometimes I get stuck on stuff, but I can generally solve problems and make stuff easier. It’s also good for long-term stuff.

I also like spending time with A- and learning from her. I’d pick A- over consulting because tasks generally keep and kiddos don’t. I like snuggling with A-, and I like playing with her.

If I work late at night, I can generally do 1 to 2 hours of work between interruptions, so there’s a bit of task switching. I can usually pick my stopping point for the night if I stay up a little later. My brain buzzes a bit afterwards, so it’s hard to sleep. That sometimes affects my time with A- the next day.

If I get a babysitter and work in the afternoon, I can talk to people and focus better. I can generally do 2 hours of focused work, and sometimes more if A- is having fun. She strongly prefers playing with me, though.

If I wake up early, A- often insists on snuggling in bed. When she wakes up, I end up stopping work abruptly, so it’s good to take notes along the way.

If I’m careful about the tasks I commit to, I give people a chance to develop their own skills while being able to squeeze in the occasional low effort, high reward thing. I can also get better at making my prototypes easier to turn over with comments and notes.

2-4 hours is a nice chunk of focused time that I can use to make decent progress. How can I arrange my life so that I can do that regularly? Monday night or Tuesday night might be a good time to stay up late working. Monday night is particularly good, since I can take A- to the drop-in centre on Tuesday for social interaction.

It’s also good to use some focused time for personal projects: journaling, Emacs News, kaizen. As A- becomes more independent, I might start modeling 15 minutes of independent reading and taking notes.

So maybe a rhythm like this:

  • S: W-
  • Su: Emacs News
  • M: Consulting
  • T: Free choice
  • W: Sleep
  • Th: Kaizen
  • F: Journal, review

On the flipside, more sleep makes everything even better. When I’m well-rested, it’s easy to be playful and creative. So I won’t push myself too hard, I’ll keep commitments light and manageable, and I’ll code with an eye to turning things over to other people who can run with stuff.

It might be good to experiment with babysitting monthly, to monitor her readiness for it.

I like learning the things that life with A- can teach me, even though they’re harder and less externally validated than coding is. The important thing is to be where I am.

Eventually A- will be in school, or independent enough to want to go play by herself or with other people, or okay with playing with sitters or in daycare. That time will come quickly enough. No need to rush it.

Bringing who I am to parenting

I can’t help but marvel how all the different things I was interested in before A- come into play now. It’s like an integrative project, a chance to see how all these little things work together and build on each other.

  • Kaizen, experimenting: Looking for opportunities for continuous improvement keeps everything interesting. I’m curious about play. This flexibility is also really handy.
  • Thinking out loud, connecting the dots: I’m curious about pedagogical documentation and making learning visible. I’m also curious about taking advantage of external memories and helping A- learn the same (photography, drawing, writing, etc.). I want to document our routines to help A- grow into them, and I want to document nonroutine things to compensate for my fragmented attention.
  • Research: I have fun reading research papers and books. I’m curious about psychology, communication, and so on.
  • Stoic philosophy: This helps me enjoy practising equanimity.
  • Automation: I automate little things on my phone or my computer to help me deal with my fragmented attention. Consulting lets me keep my skills and network warm.
  • Emacs: I summarize her weekly and monthly progress using Emacs Lisp and an Org Mode file. I use Emacs to write notes and document processes.
  • Quantified Self: I continue to track her sleep, nursing, and pottying, which helps me adapt to the rhythm of each day. I keep a list of words she’s said, which gives me another reason to listen to her closely and expand her vocabulary.
  • Sketchnoting: I draw stick figures for A-, who’s curious about emotions at the moment. I also sketch my plans and thoughts.
  • Publishing: I write and illustrate simple books for A-. I’m curious about illustration, so that gives me things to think about on my umpteenth read of a book.
  • Gardening, cooking: Fun to share these with A-.
  • Sewing: Very handy when she was in cloth diapers. I’m looking forward to getting back into this someday.
  • Social media: Sharing notes, figuring out socialization
  • Reading: So much! Speed reading is handy too.
  • Teaching and lifelong learning: And pedagogy, too!

Might be fun for me to go over this old list of interests and see which might be something I can share with A-. Whee!

I’m curious how other people’s backgrounds open up more possibilities in parenting. My dad’s advertising photography work and advocacies brought an endless stream of new experiences to the studio/house, and I learned a ton from my mother’s library and her work with people. I can see how my sister’s photography, zoo volunteering, baking, and humour influence her parenting. It’s fantastic that we get to experiment with so many different combinations. I’m curious – if you’re a parent, how does what makes you you influence how you parent?

June 2018

  • Field trip
    • Jen and E- took us to the Lynde conservation area, where we saw deer, geese, ducks, red winged blackbirds, grackles, wild turkeys, and lots of curious chipmunks.
    • I went for a bike ride with A- in the trailer. Good thing I picked a nearby destination, though, since she insisted on walking on the way back. Even when she got tired, she still didn’t want to get in the trailer, so I put her in the carrier and walked the bike and trailer back.
    • A- wanted to go to the Ontario Science Centre. The field trip kids were a bit rowdy, so we hung out in the toddler play area instead. We read all their books and played with the rising toys. Outside, we played with bubbles.
    • We checked out the spider exhibition at the museum. It was pretty cool! A- pointed at the big spiders and asked what they were doing. I learned about lots of different types of spiders. The bowl-and-doily spider is neat!
    • We took the bike trailer to Vermont Square Park. One of the toys she was looking forward to riding was broken, but there were plenty of other things to play with.
    • We visited Ewan and E-. I took ingredients for one of the giant bubble solution recipes I found, and we experimented with that for a bit. Then we went to the park for lunch and playtime. Lots of fun!
  • Gross motor
    • A- wanted to practice with her balance bike, and to ride her tricycle with her backpack on.
    • A- practised going up the twisty slide with my help.
    • A- loved putting her feet on the wheel-mounted pedals of a tricycle while I pushed her around.
    • At the playground, A- was interested in climbing up and across the nets.
    • A- slid down the shed ramp backwards on her riding toy.
  • Fine motor
    • A-‘s gotten even better at playing with the bead maze at the library. She walked around it while pushing beads along the track, wove her arms around loops, and coordinated passing beads from one hand to another.
    • A- wanted to build a Duplo city. We pretended the blocks were houses. First we started with one line, then another, and then a few towers. Then A- focused on filling the space with blocks, butting them right up against each other. She was momentarily stymied by a small gap that she couldn’t fit a block into, but figured out after I asked a few guide questions.
    • A- insisted on locking the bicycle. She threaded the lock through the wheel, the frame, and the post, and I helped her close it.
    • A- started getting interested in fringing. She can also cut within an inch around a figure.
    • A- spent a few minutes methodically popping bubble wrap.
    • A- practised threading a few large beads. I should find or make a few more that would be easier to thread.
  • Sensory
    • A-, the babysitter, and I got drenched in a sudden downpour. A- was upset when she was in the rain, but we were able to reframe it as an adventure. Since the power was out in our neighbourhood, I took A- to a restaurant a little further away for dinner.
    • The sandbox had a faucet and a few toys for water play. A- filled the bucket with water and poured it down the ramp.
  • Language
    • A- postponed bedtime by cheerily insisting, “I want to talk.” She rehashed her hospital visit and other things that were on her mind.
    • A- quickly adapted to some wordplay: “I’m dizzy!” “Hello, Dizzy, I’m Mama.” “Dizzy has a pocket.”
    • A- talked about the letters on the babysitter’s shirt. I gave her a few magnetic letters, and she matched them up. I gave her a cookie tray so that she could play with the letters closer to the babysitter’s shirt instead of turning around to the fridge.
    • “Yes, ma’am.” “Yes, Ma’am? Where did that come from?” “From my mouth.”
    • “I want to eat a cookie outside. This is a good plan.”
    • A- successfully negotiated for a cookie by saying, “I want to brush my teeth after having a cookie.” Between that and using “I want to go outside” as a way to ask for an energy bar, I think she’s pretty good at figuring out how to work with our rules.
    • The alphabet molds and press-in letters arrived. They were larger than I expected – great! A- was interested in using them to cut out and stamp playdough.
    • A- took my phone and told it, “Please ask OurGroceries to add chicharon to the list.” She also wanted to add carrots.
    • “I want ice cream. The frozen one.” A- asked to buy ice cream and cones at the supermarket.
    • A- played with the -able suffix. She asked for something squishable, and she pronounced something doable.
  • Music
    • A- wanted to play the piano. She said, “Mama, listen to my song.” Then she banged on the keys a number of times. Then she said, “All done,” slid off the piano bench, and turned off the piano. Also, when the babysitter was there, she played faster or slower depending on the prompt.
    • A- sang and did the gestures for “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?” and “I’ll find another as pretty as you.”
    • A- played the piano while singing the cleanup song and the tiptoe song. She asked me to clean up, and then asked me to dance with a scarf.
    • A- participated in music class, running and jumping and tiptoeing along as we sang. She also shook the tambourine rhythmically.
  • Art
    • A- drew circles on paper and added lines. I cut it out and said it looked like the letter Q. She rotated it and said it looked like a tree. She asked me to draw and cut out apples. She pasted them onto the paper with the drawing side up, saying, “Just like Science Centre.”
  • Self-care and independence
    • We’ve been practising new bedtime routines, and they seem to be helping a bit. No food after evening snack. Bedtime activities: read books, nurse in the dark, or brush her teeth. Tapping into her desire to postpone bedtime seems to usually be a good way to get her to brush her teeth at least once a day.
    • She really took to the stroller. She likes singing to herself without us peeking in.
    • A- and E- played in the sandbox while Jen and I chatted on a bench a short distance away. It felt like a big milestone. We eventually moved closer to help them with social interaction, but still, this is a start.
    • We went to the ocularist. He pushed A-‘s conformer. A- was upset, but she calmed down right away when the ocularist asked if she wanted a toy from the treasure chest.
  • Eating
    • We had a Father’s Day dinner at Ka Chi. A- liked the dumplings and the bibimbap.
    • A- enjoyed her first ice cream cone. She experimented with eating it with a spoon.
  • Household
    • We got a new spray bottle. A- happily sprayed kitchen surfaces and wiped them with a towel.
    • A- helped cook a lot this week: banana bread, shake and bake chicken, sweet potato fries, and even wontons.
    • We helped W- clean the carpet.
    • A- wanted to fold laundry. She also liked answering questions such as: “Mama’s or A-‘s?”
    • A- picked out the house key from my key ring.
    • A- enjoyed harvesting basil for pesto. “Ooooh! So many basil!”
  • Social
    • A- is more aware of portions, and will defend hers by saying “That’s my moira. That’s your moira.” and making the appropriate hand gestures. Time to read Beyond Fate or revisit that Ideas episode…
    • A- asked me to transfer her to a swing closer to another kid.
    • I was looking for my keys, and A- helpfully piped up that they were on the floor. Yay! Later, I was looking for my headlamp, and A- got them for me. It was tucked into a corner, which was a little odd. Hmm…
    • We ate at a restaurant because power was out at home. We talked through the process, and A- practised what to say and do. I asked her to say, “Excuse me, check please,” and she tried that at our table a few times before we talked to the easier.
    • At the JFRC, I shared a large bunch of grapes at snack-time, and they were well-received. At circle time, A- brought over a stool and sat on it. She imitated the family support worker’s gestures and softly sang words too. She waved the scarf around, and she flapped the parachute up and down. Best circle time engagement so far!
    • A- and E- played in the sandbox…
    • We hung out with Quinn, Richard, and Linda at Vermont Square Park. We blew bubbles, ate snacks, and enjoyed chatting.
    • A- shared toys with a few daycare kids who were also playing in the sandbox. When it was time for them to go, A- helped put their toys in the bag. She even wanted to join them as they practised lining up, but we didn’t wander over in time.
    • I talked to A- about babysitting. She said, “Stop babysitting experiment. Mama play with A-.”
    • We ate at Swiss Chalet to celebrate W-‘s progress at work. A- wanted sweet potato fries. She also drank a lot of water. When we finished eating, we prompted A- to ask for the check. She raised her hand, and then when the server came over, she said, “Check, please.”
    • Martin kept A- happily occupied while I worked on some code for his project.
    • We went to a neighbourhood party. A- had fun with the neighbours’ playset.
    • We had Ewan and E- over. A- had a hard time waiting for a turn with her high chair and shopping cart, but she was okay eventually. Lots of fun blowing bubbles and feeding each other prawn crackers.
  • Pretend
    • We had a long pretend conversation with the electric fan. A- asked me to ask it questions, and A- told me what it answered.
    • We played pretend ice cream shop. I described the flavors. She asked for the brown one. I handed her some playdough and told her it would be $3. She fished a scrap of paper out of her handbag and said, “I pay with money.” I thanked her. She kept looking at me expectantly, then said, “Receipt.” I gave her a piece of paper. Then she said, “Napkins.” More paper. Then she said, “Money.” That cracked me up – she made sure I gave her change.
  • Cognition
    • We built two towers of Duplo, and then A- wanted to put a block across the top. We built a couple of other tower pairs. I started counting the blocks I added: sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three. When we got near the top of the second tower, I asked A- how many more blocks we needed to add. She said a number that happened to be the right answer. She was probably just lucky, but hey, why not incorporate more math into our activities..
    • A- wanted to carry my bag. She tried dragging it. Then she sat down and started emptying it. She said, “Take it all out to make it lighter.”
    • A- covered her ears in anticipation of the arrival of the subway train.
  • World
    • The giant bubble maker was a big hit.
    • A- liked stepping in puddles and leaving footprints on the dry part of the sidewalk.
  • Kaizen
    • We bought a bike trailer: Thule Chariot Cheetah XT.
    • I took the bike and trailer on a test ride around the block. After I built up confidence, I took A- around too. We survived!
    • I made Tasker scripts for adding descriptions to my pictures, logging them in my journal, and linking from my journal to the pictures. I learned how to call Java functions from Tasker and how to work with images in scenes. I want to use this to create more pedagogical documentation.
    • I wrote some code to watch a directory and add Org links to new files, managing them with Org attachments. I also experimented with org-download and dragging and dropping images into Emacs, and I wrote a command to read the caption from an image’s metadata and insert it into the buffer.
    • I installed Resilio and used it to synchronize my pictures with the NAS.
    • I added pictures and printed out last week’s review. I also replaced # with Unicode stars and labels in the image filenames.
    • I wrote a shell script to add photo captions for printing.
    • I migrated my blog database to utf8mb4.
    • I resized my Linode server, taking advantage of a cheaper plan.
    • I explored the YouTube Live / Hangouts on Air interface so that I could pass along tips.
    • I stayed up late to try the guar gum giant bubble recipe from . Very promising! It made a couple of big bubbles in the cool, still air of our kitchen. Next, I want to experiment with different frames and work on technique.
  • Us
    • W- and I actually managed to sit down and play Borderlands 2.
    • I helped Popo with her Android phone while she played with A-.