Category Archives: education

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!

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.