Category Archives: parenting

Making the most of the next three weeks of kindergarten readiness

A-‘s kindergarten readiness program will wrap up in three weeks. So far, the best uses of my two-hour drop-off sessions have been:

  • working on time-sensitive consulting requests
  • drawing and writing thoughts
  • updating my journal
  • reading parenting books and taking notes

After the program ends, I can shift back to taking A- to drop-in centres. I’ll move consulting back to Saturday babysitting sessions, and I’ll try to make time for reading and thinking after A- goes to bed or during independent play practice time. I can use the 1-hour drop-off music class for Emacs News and a little journaling, so that’s taken care of too.

What can I do with the remaining 18 hours more of drop-off focus time so that the next phase is better?

It’s been nice having some overlap with business hours when consulting and I enjoy developing my Python skills, but I can also accomplish that by moving babysitting sessions to a weekday. If I want to move the needle, I think I need something else. Thinking and writing, then. Sometimes it’s hard to give myself the permission to explore thoughts during my once-a-week babysitting sessions because there are so many other activities with clearer and more immediate payoffs, like working on client requests, tidying the house, or preparing food. If I invest the time into planning what I want to learn, thinking through my questions, reading key resources, and reflecting on how things are going, though, I think that might help me give myself permission to make more space for things like that.

E-mail, texts, and social media are still pretty far down on the priority list. I’m not quite at the level of feeling time affluence again, but I’m sure I’ll get there someday.

So, what do I want to learn more about?

I recently read Happier (2007) by Tal Ben-Shahar. It got me thinking about how to increase the present benefits and future benefits of my parenting-related activities, since those take up the vast majority of my waking time. I’ve also been thinking about Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s research on flow and the interplay between challenge in skill. High challenge and low skill results in anxiety, low challenge and high skill results in boredom, and flow happens when things are just right. I wonder how to have more flow experiences while parenting.

I’ve been gradually reducing my parenting-related anxiety by checking my perceptions of challenges and testing how things really are. For example, the kindergarten readiness program helped me test A-‘s ability to separate from me, connect with teachers, adapt to classroom routines, and be with other kids. Her growing interest in playing with other people and her ability to tell me how she feels about her interactions reassure me that she’ll probably be able to make good friends. She’s still self-conscious about her eye, she hangs on to perceived slights for a surprisingly long time, and she occasionally resists having to do things for herself, but all those things are probably pretty normal and we can help her slowly work through them if she wants. She sometimes tells me that she’s bored, so I’m helping her figure out how to challenge herself. I think she’s going to be okay.

I’m finding it easier to not get bored playing with A-, too. Inspired by what I’ve been learning from textbooks about play therapy, Reggio Emilia, and other topics, I’ve been challenging myself to be a researcher trying to discover A-‘s interests, projects, and thoughts about the world. I’m working on stepping back, observing, making hypotheses, and testing those with questions and suggestions. I’m treating this as a chance to improve my mindfulness and creativity. I also want to make the most of the ways that parenting is different from programming, such as negotiation, co-learning, and surprise.

So, how can I use these short snippets of time away from A- to make better use of time with A-?

I want to invest some time in thinking about how to make daily space for me to update my journal and reflect on questions. It’s hard to do it after she goes to bed. Since I still snuggle her to bed (great for heart-to-heart conversations), I sometimes end up falling asleep myself. I might be able to stay awake and get a head start on thinking by reflecting on a clear question while I wait for her to fall asleep. Waking up early hasn’t worked in the past because she sometimes ends up waking up early too, throwing the rest of our schedule a little off, but maybe I can do it if I write on my phone while she dozes beside me. She’s also slowly getting better at independent play time, which gives me a little time to draw or write on a sketchpad. I don’t want to update journal entries on my phone then, since it just looks like phone time, but sketching thoughts on paper seems to be okay.

It might be interesting to see how I can get better at sharing that documentation with her. I bought a few books on pedagogical documentation that might be good to review. A- really liked the quick 4-picture collage I threw together in Canva and printed from my phone. She liked looking at the pictures and numbers, having someone reading the captions to her, and even pointing at the pictures and telling her own story. When we switch to spending more time at drop-in centres, I’ll be able to capture more of her interests. If I set a goal of printing out a sheet like that once a week, it might spark more conversations and follow-ups. If I spend some time on my laptop and make a Canva template that I can easily update from my phone, that might reduce the effort.

A- seems to like my little drawings in the calendar, so we could try adding that to our evening routine. Later on, if I want more space to draw or write in, a Hobonichi Techo or some other paper diary might be a good approach. I wonder if I can even glue small photos into it.

It might also be worth updating our list of favourite meals and researching a few things to try, especially ones that A- can help me prepare. If I can move some tidying into the week, that frees up some babysitting time too. And if I can think of ways to encourage J- and her friends to help around the house, or to take advantage of any babysitting time they can spare, that can move time around as well.

Structured activities are a bit of a hit-or-miss with A-, who often has a clear idea of what she wants to do. I like taking advantage of the activities at the drop-in centres, since other people have gone to the trouble of collecting materials and setting things up. It was nice trying out Playing Preschool’s themed reading lists and activities, though, so it might be worth spending a little time in the afternoon (maybe during independent play time) getting those ready. Also, if I read about the ideas behind activities, then I might be able to make better use of the activities at drop-in centres. I can also ask parent workers while I’m there.

So it might be good to use the time from kindergarten readiness for:

  • writing and drawing reflections on what A- and I are learning, so that we can build on that
  • thinking about how to improve our daily and weekly routines
  • learning about early childhood education, pedagogical documentation, and other things that can enrich time with A-
  • improving my photo workflow so that I can make something I can share with A-

At the end of the kindergarten readiness program, I think it would be wonderful if:

  • I’m ready to make the most of the activities at the drop-in centres by suggesting the right level of challenge, providing interesting vocabulary words, and capturing her interests for follow-ups
  • I’ve figured out how to update my journal at least weekly and maybe share my reflections on a more regular basis
  • We’re all set to cook together and do other household chores
  • I can make at least one photo collage a week, maybe even involving her in the process

Might be fun!

Reflecting on the kindergarten readiness program

A- has been going to a two-hour kindergarten readiness program three times a week. It’s a drop-off program, so it was a good opportunity to test how she would do in a group situation. I knew that she could separate from me because she was happy to play with babysitters, and she was familiar with different activities and centres because I’ve been taking her to the EarlyON drop-in centres. I wasn’t sure about committing to preschool or daycare, though, so the 10-week kindergarten program I found was just the right thing for testing things out. It actually runs four times a week, but we skip Mondays to go to music class instead, and that’s been all right.

The first week went smoothly, but the second and third week were tough for A-. She cried at drop-off and didn’t want to go to school. I had to peel her off me a couple of times. Still, it was a good opportunity for her to learn how to calm herself down. The teacher was amused by how she quickly got the hang of the “cooldown couch,” going there when she was crying and joining the class when she had calmed down.

When I talked to A- afterwards, she told me that she didn’t like school because teachers sometimes told her what to do. She wanted free play time with Mama instead. I told her that life is like that. Part of the time, you need to follow other people’s instructions, and part of the time, you can do your own thing. The better you get at doing what people want you to do, the more freedom you get to do what you want to do.

I really liked the way A- and I can talk about how she feels about school. When she said that school is boring, I asked her why. We talked about what she found easy or hard, and how doing what the teachers ask her to do shows them what she can do and can lead to more interesting challenges.

Another time, A- told me that she didn’t like school because the teachers told her what to do. I asked her what they tell her to do, and she said that when she finishes the craft, they tell her that she can go and read. “But I don’t know how to read yet,” she said. I clarified that it was okay for her to look at pictures. We also came up with the idea of donating one of her books so that she had something familiar to look through if she wanted. She picked “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,” so we gave that.

She also mentioned that she didn’t like school because they didn’t sing Wheels on the Bus during circle time, so I coached her on speaking up when teachers ask if anyone wants a particular song.

The following week, A- mentioned how she didn’t like it when teachers called her name and told her to do something. After a bit of probing, I found out that she was talking about when they’re being called one-by-one for pick up – she didn’t want to interrupt her playing to see me!

A- generally liked snack time. Asking what she had for snack and if she liked it was usually an easy way for us to start talking about her morning. She could sometimes tell me what they did for craft time or if they sang her favourite songs at circle time. If I asked her how school was, she just said, “Fine,” so it was good to ask about specifics.

We’re 8 weeks into the 10-week program, so the teachers have been doing evaluations. The main teacher told us that A- is highly verbal and happy to contribute to conversations. She understands the games and activities that the teachers explain and is usually one of the first to join in. They’re working with her on getting better at tracing letters on worksheets.

I feel pretty confident that A- will adapt all right to kindergarten. We have a morning routine that gets us out of the house at a reasonably early time. She’s been great at giving her ocular prosthesis to the teacher if she takes it out. She can talk to us about what’s going on and how she feels about it. We haven’t tested what it would be like for her to be in a group situation the whole day, although she’s happily been with babysitters for eight hours at a time. She’ll probably get the hang of it quickly.

As for me, I’ve been using the time to read parenting books and resources, take notes, update my journal, write down or draw my thoughts, run errands, chat with other parents, catch up on email, and compile Emacs News. It’s not quite long enough to get deep into programming or consulting, and I don’t want to lug my laptop around anyway. A Bluetooth keyboard makes writing things like this post much more comfortable, though. It’s been nice having a frequent 2-hour break to do those things.

Time to start planning what to do after the kindergarten readiness program ends. I’m okay with not doing worksheets. Going to drop-in centres usually results in lots of interesting new activities that I can sneak math or science into. A- is fascinated by books and asks me to read quite a lot of them, so I’m not worried about that either. I think we’ll do fine by just going to drop-in centres, with Saturday babysitting and maybe the occasional extra babysitter session if I need to catch up. We might do another kindergarten readiness program during the summer before school, since there are a few full-day options then. I want to get better at scaffolding A-‘s learning and appreciating her growth, and I’m glad I’ve been able to read more about early childhood education while A- was in class. I’m looking forward to trying out those ideas!

Learning and teaching early math

I was delighted to find a textbook called Learning and Teaching Early Math: The Learning Trajectories Approach at an EarlyON drop-in centre. The Esso Family Math program reminded me to talk to A- about math concepts beyond counting, and it was great to learn about math in early childhood education in even more detail.

Subitizing: This is about instantly recognizing small groups without counting them. The key tip was: “Use small number words in everyday interactions as often as you can.” S straight-line arrangements of homogeneous objects are the easiest, then rectangular, then scattered. Presenting different groupings can help kids learn how to add groups up to get a total.

Counting: When A- counts too quickly, she sometimes misses items or double-counts. I can encourage her to focus on accuracy by saying something like, “Slow down and try very hard to count just right.” Pointing, touching, or moving items can help. This is a good time to introduce board games.

Comparing, ordering, and estimating: Number lines are hard to work with. 10-frames might be a good starting point. Estimating can be helped by subitizing and using benchmarks. Games to play: building stairs that are missing a step, matching place settings, asking “Who is older?,” asking “Is it fair?”

Arithmetic: Predict, then count to check. “Counting up to” can lead to subtraction (5, 6, 7, 8). When A- starts doing math in school, it can be good to help her learn how to use her non-writing hand to count as a way of confirming. The textbook had a good breakdown of different types of problems and their difficulty: change-plus, part-part-whole, change minus; a + ? = b; ? + a = b. Showing dot diagrams can help with subitizing and decomposition. (6 = 0 + 6 = 1 + 5 = …) Break apart to make 10. See which numbers can be shown with the same number of fingers raised on each hand.

Spatial thinking: Feely box? Also, talking about patterns, landmarks. Taking pictures of things and their immediate surroundings, then going on a scavenger hunt. Make my picture. Shadows.

Shape: Don’t forget to show different variants instead of just typical triangles, etc. Identify squares as a special type of rectangle. Talk about attributes (points, sides, …). Show distractors. Secret sorting – guess my rule.

Composition and decomposition of shapes: Pre-composer, piece assembler, picture maker, shape composer, substitution composer, shape composite iterator, shape composer with superordinate units. Block & LEGO building: planned, systematic; verbal scaffolding. Agam program? Pattern block: outlines, vertices, matching sides, internal lines.

Geometric measurement: Standard rules are more interesting and meaningful? Teaching kids to line up endpoints. Cut pieces of string to help with indirect measurement. Subskills: iteration, zero point, alignment. Logo programming can be helpful. Talk about bigger, smaller, longer, shorter. Area is hard; try folding/cutting/moving paper. Talk about capacity/volume, angle, finding similar angles.

Patterns: Not just visual patterns (ABAB) – the search for mathematical regularities and structures. Be careful about using = – don’t use it to list objects (John = 8, Marcie = 9), numbering collections (III = 3), strings of calculation (20 + 30 = 50 + 7 = 57 + …). Provide variety (ex: 8 = 12 – 4). Contrast with > and <. All math is a search for patterns, structure, relationships.

How do you know? is a very powerful question. Ask it to get kids reflecting on how they figure things out. Challenging tasks result in better long-term memory. Promote a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. Well-designed computer manipulatives can be worthwhile.

Parents:

  • Talk about bigger numbers (4-10) for sets of present, visible objects
  • Discuss math while reading
  • Keep fathers involved
  • Talk about geometry and spatial relationships
  • Do puzzles, play math games
  • Cook with kids
  • Have high to very high expectations
  • Don’t worry about base 10 blocks, etc.

The book mentioned that many early educators tend to spend just a little time on math, and may even have a bit of math anxiety themselves. I like math, so it might be good if I handle sneaking in more of it during play time. Based on this, I think I’m going to try:

  • Bringing a die around so that we can use it for subitizing practice and impromptu dice/board games
  • Looking for developmentally-appropriate spatial puzzles at the drop-in centres
  • Using more comparative language (bigger/smaller) when we’re playing with playdough
  • Making up patterns and talking about patterns I see around me (“I noticed that…” “What do you think the next one will be?”)
  • Taking advantage of A-‘s interest in fairness, comparison, etc.

Babysitting experiment so far: pretty great, and working on making it even better

We’ve had twenty babysitting sessions so far. We started weekly experiments in May 2018, when A- was a little over two years old. She asked me to stop after eight sessions, since she wanted to play with me instead. We resumed in April 2019 because A- wanted to give it another try. I wanted to quickly reflect on how that experiment has been going and think about how we can build on it.

What have we been doing?

We scaled up from 4 hours a session to 7 hours a session. This works really well for me because it gives me one or two chunks of focused time long enough to dig into and solve reasonable problems. It probably works out even better than a half-day preschool program, since transitions chew up so much time.

I increased it to 2 sessions during the week because we might be away for a trip, so I wanted to front-load some consulting and personal time.

We started booking Saturday sessions as well so that W- and I can work on house projects together. I think it’s worth investing the time and money in developing my DIY skills, and I want A- to grow up seeing us do that kind of stuff.

What have I learned from having all these different babysitters?

A- gets along well with lots of different people. She switches over to focusing on the new babysitter within a few minutes, and she seems comfortable heading out to the park with them even if it’s just the first time they’ve met. She’s good at communicating what she wants and can be easily understood. She generally likes to take the lead, but she’s willing to accept suggestions and reminders.

There’s one babysitter that A- loves, a few she’s okay with, and a few she’s less keen on. A- seems to respond well to energy and engagement. Even when A- and the babysitter don’t click as well, I learn something from what I think might be missing. It inspires me to be more engaged, too. It’s great having such a variety of people. It’s like being able to experiment with different parenting styles and personalities while keeping A- constant.

A- likes the crafts and games they suggest, and often asks to repeat them. The babysitters often introduce things I wouldn’t have thought of trying with A- just yet, so I’m pleasantly surprised by her capabilities. They’ve made it out to playgrounds a few times, although A- often prefers to stay close to home.

A- really likes helping me pay for the babysitter, too. She’s learning to recognize different numbers and bills. Hmm… If the sitters don’t mind, I might switch to paying mostly in 10s so that she can get used to hearing that sequence of numbers. I talk to her about withdrawing cash from my savings, how I earn that money by working, and how the babysitters earn their money by working too. We even talk about receipts and taxes in the process.

What did I do with the time?

  • Consulting: 25.5 hours, or a little less than 50% of the hours since we resumed the experiment in April. Lots of SQL and Javascript. Working during the daytime is much, much nicer than staying up late. I make faster progress and feel happier, and I can talk to my clients as needed. Also, if I remember to go to bed early, I have more energy when I’m with A-.
  • Coding: I worked on a bunch of little tweaks for Emacs and my phone so that I can update Emacs News and my journal more easily. I also organized my files, updated my blog, and did lots of little kaizen projects.
  • House stuff: I painted the cabinets, and I’m looking forward to doing more house things.
  • Organization: I tidied up my basement workspace and organized my files.
  • Errands: I took two hours to go to the Philippine consulate. It was nice not worrying about whether A- would get bored or need to go to the bathroom.
  • What didn’t I do? Drawing, sewing, batch-cooking, and self-care still felt lower-priority than other things I could do with that time. Writing is pretty sporadic too, although I turned a few Emacs tweaks into blog posts.
  • ECE: I’ve only done a little bit of early childhood education reading and preparation. I could spend more time and energy doing this, since enriching our days together will likely pay off more than incremental tweaks to my computer or phone setup.

What concerned me before?

How would the sitters interact with A-? I see a lot of parents and caregivers focused on their phones or other adults while their kids play fairly independently, and I can be like that too unless I make an effort. So far, most of the babysitters we’ve gotten have seemed pretty engaging, though. Seeing them in action helps me appreciate the kind of play skills I want to develop myself. At some point, A- will be more interested in playing by herself or with other kids. At the moment, though, she wants lots of interaction, and it’s amazing what she can learn with someone’s help and appreciation. I think my ideal at the moment is for A- to have a supportive and appreciative play partner who expands her vocabulary and understanding, occasionally asks questions or suggests things that challenge her, and sometimes models new techniques. It’s hard to do that sort of stuff, so I’m glad I can pay for role models.

I want to learn more from how sitters interact with A- without disrupting them. I can hear them from the basement, and I come up for snacks and for transition time. (Then A- says, “Why did Mama come up?”, in a “I’m fine, I want to keep playing with the babysitter, Mama go back downstairs” sort of way.) Hmm… If the babysitter’s okay with it and if it doesn’t mess with my concentration too much, maybe I can listen on the baby monitor when I’m working on personal projects.

Less awareness of A-‘s interests and growing skills? As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about this at all. When A- is interested in something, that interest runs through everything she does. I still feel in tune with what she’s curious about and what she’s working on.

Less exposure to household stuff? Not an issue at the moment. A-‘s still involved in getting groceries, cooking, cleaning, and other things we do around the house. I’d like to eventually involve her more in DIY, but that can wait until I have more skills and she has more self-control.

What’s the next step?

More time? A- often tells me that 7 hours is too short. She wants to try 8 hours, which means we need to:

  • get ready earlier in the day
  • do chores early afternoon so that we can have dinner and do bedtime soon after the sitter leaves
  • help her get the hang of either going out, playing, and napping in the stroller, or resting during quiet time.

Eight hours might make it easier to get an occasional babysitter outside the agency, if we decide to go that route. Summer is coming up, and it might be awesome to snag a teacher or early childhood educator on a summer break.

Do we want to consider a regular babysitter or daycare? I actually like the variety that comes from having different babysitters, and we don’t offer enough hours or commitment for someone else to commit to us for a longer term anyway. At the moment, A- is more interested in playing with a grown-up or by herself than with other kids. I’ll expose her to more group situations later on, but in the meantime, I think it’s worth having someone focus on her, help her answer her questions, read her tons of books, and so on.

How can I build on what A- does? Babysitters often come with one or two ideas and we have a lot of open-ended supplies, so they’re already doing pretty well. The table I made is a little too text-heavy for them to quickly glance at, but quick verbal instructions and one activity pouch might work. I can rely on their experience to figure out what level A- is at and come up with an appropriate challenge or spin. In fact, they generally do a better job at this than I do, so the less I get in their way, the better.

A- freely shares what she’s interested in (“I’m a firefighter!”), so I don’t need to brief them on that, since a good babysitter will pick up A-‘s cues and incorporate them into activity suggestions. I have plenty of days with A- for following up on those interests anyway. (We’ve been to the fire station four times in a little over a week…)

It might be interesting to build on techniques, which I can pick up by asking about crafts and displaying her work. For example, A- has been very interested in painting and then folding the paper or placing another piece of paper on top, and she repeated that technique with other sitters and with me. If I annotate her art with the date (and possibly sitter name), that also helps me cross-reference it with the babysitter when asking A- about her babysitter preferences.

Another level would be to build on concepts. If I systematically go through something like Playing Preschool, that might help me spot opportunities to sneak more learning into stuff A- wants to do. She can generally fill the whole day with things she wants to do, but she’s curious about new things in her environment, so that’s how I might be able to provoke her curiosity. I can work on getting the hang of this myself before figuring out how to get the babysitters on board with it too, since they’re already doing a great job of exposing A- to different kinds of activities. I don’t want too much structure, anyway – just a little to support more discovery and thought.

There’s something pretty interesting about this setup, and we’re very lucky to be able to do stuff like this. I’m curious about how to make the most of it.

Playground season

We spent the whole day at the playground and splash pad. I have a feeling that many days in summer will be like that. A- loved playing in the sand, climbing up the ladders, sliding on the slides, and touching the cold water. She mostly played by herself or with me, but sometimes she played with other kids. She didn’t want to go home until she got hungry.

What’s different about the playground compared to the drop-in centres that we often go to? She needs a little more supervision and assistance, because she often wants to climb. The bathrooms are a bit more of a walk. And of course, there’s sand everywhere, which means being a little more careful during snack time and when we get home.

What can I do to make the most of this change? I can make a list of things to think about, and I can use typing or dictation to jot down those thoughts. I can practise colouring or drawing. If I prepare, I can even use the time for my own exercise. That way, I can ease into more physical activity myself. There’s plenty of space, so I can do jumping jacks and other little ways to get myself moving.

I can pack more snacks and a light sweater for when it’s cool. I need to get better at applying sunscreen and encouraging A- to wear clothes that block the sun. A- would probably like a bucket or a yogurt container for collecting water or making sand castles. Napping in the stroller or on the couch can keep sand out of the bedrooms, and we can make a routine of showering before dinner. I’d like to find a hat she likes.

When the weather is nice, the best place for A- to be is outside. I’m just going to have to get used to being an outside person. It’s good for us!

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. :)