Category Archives: learning

How A- is helping me learn how to read better

A- loves books. They’re usually a good way to calm her down from a tantrum, enjoy a pleasant afternoon, and get her all snuggled in and sleepy at bedtime. I don’t mind reading them again and again, since each read gives me an opportunity to learn more about writing, illustration, and even layout. It’s so much fun hearing the words and ideas from books bubble up in our everyday conversations.

I’d like to learn more about best practices for reading with young kids, like dialogic reading. A- responds well to the comments I add pointing out feelings or relating things to her life, and she often asks about things when I leave plenty of space for her to jump in.

A- doesn’t like feeling quizzed, though. When I pause to let her fill in blanks or I ask her questions, she protests, “I’m the baby.” By that, she means, “You’re the adult. Read it properly.” She knows the books and will sometimes “read” the whole thing to herself from memory, but sometimes she probably just wants to relax and listen. Sometimes she’ll play along if I give her a special word and ask her to point to it whenever it comes up, but that’s hit-or-miss. If she wants to play the game of correcting me, she’ll ask me to read the book upside down.

I think I’ll focus on making space for her questions and letting her take the lead for now, instead of taking more of a teaching-ish approach. I can model questions by wondering out loud. We can just keep it really pleasant, and probably that will pave the way for phonics later on. It’s totally okay for her kindergarten teacher to do the heavy lifting of teaching her how to read. My job is to help her want to read.

It might be nice to be more intentional about the books we get. Our neighbourhood library has a good selection, but there are all sorts of gems out there that we might not find just by pulling books off the shelf.

I can thin the herd a bit by bringing some of our books to the Children’s Book Bank, so that her shelf isn’t so packed. Then it might be easier for her to find and pull out books she likes.

A little thing: if I update the script I wrote to renew my library loans so that it works with the redesigned site, that could save me a bit of clicking.

I can look for ways to perk myself up if I’m falling asleep reading during the afternoon slump. A- usually accepts it if I tell her that I need to move or do something different, and maybe a dance session could help us get our blood flowing. I can also drink water and eat a quick snack. I can invite her to read a book outside or explore the garden, especially as the weather warms up.

This is great! I’m learning how to read, too. :)

Adjusting to less focused time

It feels like I’ve had much less focused time over the past two months. Weaning, sickness, and A-‘s bigger emotions all needed more patience and energy. I’ve been prioritizing sleep and household maintenance over things like staying up to consult or write. On the plus side, we’ve gotten back into the rhythm of preparing meals for the week, and cleaning the house is a little easier now.

How can I adapt if this is my new normal?

I’ve been setting more firm boundaries (myself, bedtime routines, etc.), and that’s been working reasonably well. I’ve also adjusted my plans and made sure not to commit to more consulting than I could do.

I’m not keen on making videos a regular part of her day, since we don’t want to add another cause for conflict. I considered creating space by having a babysitter come over for 3-4 hours. A- is still not keen on the idea, though, and I can see how we both benefit from the time we spend with each other.

So the main thing to do, I think, is to rejig my plans in order to make the most of the constraints. What do I want to learn even without lots of focused sit-down time? How do I want to grow?

  • Equanimity: This lets me turn A-‘s tantrums into learning opportunities. I can practise appreciating her and this life, especially when we’re in the thick of things. Taking care of our basic needs gives me the space to be patient and kind when A- needs me to be, and it’s good practice in anticipating and heading off challenges. I tend to be firmer than W- is, so I can work on noticing when a little kindness or flexibility might help a lot when A- and I are on our own.
  • Household maintenance: I want to take on more chores, help A- get involved, and become more effective. This is also a good opportunity to practise noticing things. I can learn things from W- and from the Internet.
  • Thinking, learning, and improving in short bursts: I want to get better at using little pockets of time. Drawing and dictating might be good techniques to explore further.
  • Mindfulness and being present: I want to get better at being there for A- instead of letting myself be distracted. I want to get better at enjoying now. I also want to balance that with thinking about and doing my own things. I can start with a few magic moments a day, and then expand from there.
  • Playfulness and creativity: I like the way W- interacts with A-. It might be interesting to practise playfulness and creativity, especially since A- can be my play partner and guide. I can pick up ideas at the drop-in centres, and sometimes reading helps.

These things are less obviously rewarding than, say, figuring out a clever solution for a client problem or coming up with a neat Emacs hack and blogging about it. But they’re worthwhile things to learn anyway.

How can I make my learning more intentional? It might be interesting to make myself a list of things to focus on or try out, and then try one at time while keeping an eye out for other things that are relevant to the situation. For example, I could have a day of involving A-‘s toys in tasks, then see how that resonates with A-.

How can I make my learning more visible? I think journal entries will help a little. Sometimes A- insists that I stay close while she’s sleeping, so that might be a good time to write. I can draw thoughts while waiting for A-, too, which is a good way to model writing and drawing. Paper seems to work a little better than drawing on my phone, although maybe that’s a matter of practice. I don’t have a good workflow for dealing with notes yet, but I can archive pictures for now and deal with them as mostly transitory thinking aids.

I’ll probably have lots of focused time later on. Crunch time isn’t forever. Even if I may need to start over, I’m not too worried. I think I’ll be able to get the hang of things again.

In the meantime, we’re mostly set up for playing and doing chores at home. Once we recover from this cold and cough, I think our daily rhythm will involve drop-in centres as well as home time. I’ve got things to learn and ways to grow. I can do this, even though it’s a bit different from what I’m used to.

Life changes. It’s good to adapt.

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!

Back to biking

We got the Thule Chariot XT bike trailer that also quickly converts into a stroller. Our goals are:

  • Model physical activity, and biking in particular
  • Explore more of the city
  • Expand our range

We started by getting A- used to the stroller. She’s generally amenable to it, and has asked for it when she’s sleepy. She also likes insisting on walking or even pushing the stroller, saying “I want to exercise my body!” We totally support that, of course, so I don’t insist on putting her back in.

This week, I tried biking. I rode the mountain bike by itself a few times around the block to get the hang of it, since the shifters and frame were different from the ones on my bike. Then we hitched up the bike trailer, and I rode around the neighbourhood a few more times. Then we did a test ride with A-.

I’ve been testing the bike trailer on short trips with A-. She’s not always keen on it, which makes getting her into the trailer and on the way home sometimes a dicey prospect. If I don’t have any time pressure and I make an effort to be extra-playful, though, I might be able to convince her to put on the helmet and get in the trailer. She responds better to play and energy than to collaborative problem-solving. Today, it helped to stick lots of stickers on the helmet and to pretend to be getting ready for airplane take off.

I’d like to practise with short trips to playgrounds that she might likes. Maybe High Park, Vermont Square Park, and Dufferin Grove. Those are well-served by public transit in case I need to bail. Worst-case scenario, I can probably lock the bike up somewhere, take a picture and send the location to W-, and he can retrieve it. I’d rather avoid that, though.

I think it might be good to experiment with keeping things low-pressure.

  • I’ll take transit for classes, appointments, and other things I need to get to or leave in a fairly predictable manner. Even then, I’ll give people a heads-up that stuff might happen, and I’ll keep an oops fund in case I need to pay for last-minute cancellations or cab fares.
  • I won’t let any embarrassment about running late get in my way.
  • When making plans with friends, I’ll give them a heads-up, and I’ll trust in their being grown-ups who can replan or find something that works for them.
  • A- tends to stay at a park a long time once we get there, so maybe I can ping people once we arrive and then see if they want to meet up. I should wrap up a few hours before sunset, too, just in case.
  • Speaking of trust, I’ll also trust that people can make their own decisions about whether they want to hang out with us in a playground (with bubbles! and snacks!). I’ve been a little uncertain about hanging out with non-parent friends because of the stereotype of a kid-obsessed parent who can’t talk about much else, but parks can be nice to enjoy anyway, I’m starting to free up some coding and thinking time, and maybe people might want to hang out with kids because it’s rejuvenating.

Biking opens up exciting possibilities. I don’t have to make it pay off entirely this year, or even worry about the break-even point compared to transit. I think a different experience of Toronto might be well worth it. It’s also good practice in adapting to situations and getting better at being playful. Looking forward to getting out more!

Thinking about more reflection and sharing

Okay. I’ve gotten basic recording sorted out, I think. I can capture quick notes, photos, and videos to document our lives and serve as placeholders for further reflection. I can organize them into rough categories. Babysitting gives me enough brainspace for both consulting and self-improvement. My sleep is still a bit messy, but that’s probably at least half because of me. I’m confident about spending time with A- and helping her learn stuff. Time to think of the next steps.

I think there are three big areas for me:

  • planning and experimenting with potential improvements: needs attention, creativity, and implementation time
  • sharing tweaks and things I’ve figured out: good for backing up and for conversation
  • making sense of facts, asking questions, synthesizing, reflecting

Our continuous improvement capabilities are okay, although of course there’s room to grow. Physical stuff (reorganization, trying stuff, decluttering) can happen throughout the day. Reading fits in late at night or in snippets throughout the day, although I’m still skimming for things to think about instead of being able to take notes or think about things in depth. Coding tiny little tools fits in late at night or during babysitting sessions – not big projects yet, but shell scripts and short Emacs Lisp functions are quite doable.

I’d like to get better at circling back and posting source code and experiment notes. Maybe I’ll start by including just a paragraph or two describing key motivation and intended result, then jump straight into the code or description. I’m not sure if it will help anyone else, but who knows? Besides, it’s good to have stuff like that in my own archive.

It seems like such a splurge to use babysitting time for thinking, drawing, and writing. I don’t know if I can write a post worth $120+ to myself or other people, and besides, I want to write more personally relevant things before I get back into sketchnoting books or putting together, say, Emacs guides. But if I think of the babysitting as primarily paying for A- to practise independence and social interaction with someone one-on-one, I do some consulting every week, and I make an effort to pick up one or two new activity ideas each time we have someone over, I can think of the discretionary time as a bonus instead of trying to optimize my use of that time.

Let me think about sense-making. I’ve been focusing on just capturing what was going on because it was hard to think more deeply. I’m a little less preoccupied now, so I have some brainspace for thinking. Some questions to ponder:

  • What is A- interested in learning? What does she think? Why does she do what she does? How can I grow so that I can support her even more effectively?
  • What else can I experiment with? How can I reduce waste or costs (including intangibles), and how can I increase benefits?
  • How can I make learning visible for both A- and me?
  • What do I want from all of this? How do I want this to shape me?

Writing this on a bench in the park, arms around a sleeping A-, I’m somewhat challenged by the small window I’m writing in (there’s room for a couple of paragraphs and that’s it), the inability to refer to other things side by side, and the possibility of interruption. But maybe I can think and write in medium-sized chunks: a little bigger than the quick notes I’ve been taking, but small enough that I don’t need an outline or the ability to easily rearrange my text. I can write more stream-of-consciousness stuff instead of worrying about editing. I can give myself permission to cover ground relatedly instead of worrying whether I’d written about something before, or if I’d just dreamed it.

Let’s warm up those thinking muscles. :)

Babysitting experiment #2: the baker

Babysitting experiment #2 was also a success. A- had her heart set on making carrot muffins today. She was peeling carrots when Stephanie (the babysitter) arrived. Stephanie had professionally trained as a baker, so she was a perfect fit for A-‘s interest. As I worked in the other room, I heard them talking about how the oil and the sugar lighten in colour with mixing, and why we grease the muffin tins. A- remembered so many steps in the process, even checking the muffins with a toothpick. Stephanie complimented A- on being a good baker. A- said, “No, I’m a cook,” which amused us.

They enjoyed the freshly baked muffins for snack, and I set out some berries and cheese too. A- asked, “Would Stephanie like so much snacks?” After snack, A- played in the play area with Stephanie. Then they went to the backyard for some digging and ball-throwing.

I managed to do a little over 2.5 hours of consulting. The rest of the time was mostly helping out, cleaning up, and getting a head start on chores. This let me use A-‘s nap time for reading (1 hour), so that probably counts too. Like before, A- fell asleep shortly after the babysitter left.

A- seems to like the novelty, and I think I’ll enjoy the diversity of skills and experiences people bring. I liked being around to translate A-‘s more obscure requests and overhear the things she wanted to know more about. At the same time, I was able to focus much better on code than I used to be able to do late at night. This could work out nicely.

One afternoon a week feels like the right balance for us at the moment. I was able to think a little about consulting in between sessions, but not let it take over my brain. We were able to do a few fun field trips together. I captured lots of little moments in my journal. I should probably think of kaizen projects that would take about one hour to do, and tee those up for next week. Hmm…