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Reflecting on the kindergarten readiness program

| parenting

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!

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Learning and teaching early math

Posted: - Modified: | parenting

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.


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

| parenting

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.

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Playground season

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, play

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!

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How A- is helping me learn how to read better

| parenting, reading

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. :)

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Resuming our babysitter experiment

| parenting

We experimented with babysitting last year. A- generally got along well with babysitters from the agency, although she eventually told me, “Stop babysitting experiment. Mama play with A-.” So we stopped. I relegated my consulting to the occasional late night, and sometimes went a month or two without logging in.

Once in a while, A- liked to pretend that I was a babysitter ringing the doorbell and coming to play with her. She also asked me to read books about babysitting, including the one I made for her.

A- started asking me to get a babysitter recently. I figured we could give it a try again. She immediately got along with the sitter from the agency, and didn’t look for me at all. From my hideout in the basement, I could hear peals of laughter, loud conversation, and even the occasional made-up song.

I spent most of the session writing documentation and updating reports. Focused time! Awake focused time! It was nice to make real progress.

I asked A- if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she did. She even picked having a sitter over going to “school” or playing with me. The second time the babysitter came, she had just as much fun playing with her, and I had just as much fun coding and listening. I asked A- again if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she said yes. After the sitter left, I asked her if she thought her playtime with the sitter was too short, too long, or just right. “Too short,” she said, so we’ll book the next one for five hours.

A- was extra clingy after the first session, but a bit more relaxed after the second one. She fell asleep on the walk to the library, which gave me a little time to write.

My goals for babysitting are:

  • Support A- as she practises independence: It’s good for her to practise asking other people for help, figuring out fun games together, and learning from other people’s styles. It also helps her learn she can do lots of things without me and be away from me for longer periods of time. I might even be pleasantly surprised by what she can do based on other people’s expectations.
  • Be inspired by other people’s interactions with A-: the kind of energy they bring to childcare, the interesting things they share or bring out in her, the games they come up with…
  • Create space for making things better or capturing and organizing my notes. Consulting increases my budget for experiments and resources. Reflection helps me remember things I’ve learned and decide what to do next.

So now that babysitting is back on the table, what does that change? How can I build on this?

  • I can schedule babysitting sessions once a week for as long as A- is up to it. I can fill that time with consulting or other tasks, so it’s worth it on my end. Although consulting is fun and easy to justify, I could also dedicate some time to continuous improvement, writing, drawing, organization, and personal projects.
  • Knowing that I’ll have some scheduled focused time should make it easier to get proper sleep at night, which should make it easier to focus on her during the day. Also, it’s really nice to just be able to sleep when we’re sleepy, instead of trying to stay awake while she’s falling asleep.
  • It would be good to gradually stretch it to six hours, to prepare her for being away from us for that long when she’s at kindergarten. It’s still good for her to have an afternoon nap, so we’ll probably move the starting time earlier.
  • The weather is warming up, so it might be good to figure out the logistics of going to other places like the playground or the drop-in centre.
  • In summer, the pool of available babysitters expands quite a bit. It might be interesting to experiment with independent sitters, especially ones with teaching experience. On the other hand, the agency is pretty convenient too.
  • A- hasn’t yet had a big meltdown that required comfort from a babysitter, so I’m not sure if she’s ready for that yet. We can work on emotional regulation when we’re together, since she’s not quite ready to do that on her own or with strangers yet.
  • Eventually, I can check how she does in a group situation. Parenting workshops with childminding and drop-in centres with parent relief programs might be good ways to test it out, or I can explore coworking spaces with childcare. The city also runs a few recreation programs for her age range, although most of those are too early in the morning for her current sleep rhythms. Kindergarten readiness programs can also help her get used to school routines and group interaction.

With that in mind, next week, I plan to:

  • Line up non-consulting tasks so that I can use my time well once I’m done with the SQL debugging I’ve scheduled,
  • Pay closer attention to the differences in the way we interact, and see what I can learn,
  • Experiment with 5 hours, with the option to cut it shorter if she’s tired or cranky, and
  • Ask the babysitter what she would need to be comfortable taking A- out to the backyard or to “school,” and offer it to A- as an option.

I’m glad A-‘s curious about this again!

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Visual Book Notes: Between Parent and Child (2003)

| parenting, sketches, visual-book-notes
2018-08-08a Between Parent and Child

Between Parent and Child (2003) by Dr. Haim G. Ginott, Dr. Alice Ginott, and Dr. H. Wallace Goddard is an update of the 1965 parenting classic. The book covers situations starting from toddler tantrums to talking to teens about the facts of life, and it manages to do so without seeming scattered or too sparse.

A few quick reflections on life with our three-year-old:

A- definitely can’t hear me when she’s in the grip of strong feelings, so it makes sense to me to focus on reassurance. Sometimes when she’s really upset, she shows me that she wants some space by running away and crying, “Not Mama!” That’s cool. I say, “Okay, I’ll be right over there. Let me know if you want a hug.” Sometimes she wants to be close (“Up! I want to be in the carrier!”) and that’s cool too, although it’s a bit harder when I don’t have the carrier handy.

I like the point that the book made about helping kids learn how to appreciate music and use music as an outlet for feelings, since I tend to think of it in terms of cognitive benefits instead of appreciating it as a human art. A- and I have been going to music class since she was a year old, although I think that’s been mostly because I like singing nursery songs and enjoy learning more of them. As she grows, I want to model enjoying music around her, and maybe help her find something she likes to do too. We’ve got a piano, a toy glockenspiel, and a couple of ukuleles and recorders, so there’s plenty to explore. Also, A- loves dancing, so I should remember to put music on more often.

It might be interesting to experiment with the “Show me how angry you are” approach the next time A- gets angry. I wonder if she’ll take me up on drawing or dancing it out.

The parent-as-consultant approach for homework help and everyday living sounds really nice–almost too idealistic, but who knows? Anyway, it might be worth trying as A- gets older.

Overall, Between Parent and Child is probably the book I’d recommend as a practical overview of this parenting approach, using other books such as How to Talk so Little Kids Listen and No-Drama Discipline for deeper dives.

If you like this sketchnote, feel free to print, reuse, or share it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence. Enjoy!

Tech note: I drew this sketchnote on my phone (Medibang Paint on a Samsung Note 8), so the handwriting’s a little shakier. It was great being able to read and sketch in little snippets of time.

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