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Ideas for parenting-related things to build

| parenting

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

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

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

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

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Textbook Thursday: elaboration, board games, tech

Posted: - Modified: | geek, learning, parenting

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!

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Checking the balance of my time

| parenting, work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So maybe a rhythm like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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Bringing who I am to parenting

| parenting

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

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

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

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

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Bubbles

| parenting, play

I’ve decided to spend on bubbles. I like being the grown-up with several bubble wands tucked into my bag for playground time. It’s nice to let kids take turns. Some accidentally spill bubble solution, and that’s okay. It’s a learning moment. Some have a hard time taking turns, and that’s also a learning moment. When I can, I like bringing a wand and a tray for making large bubbles. No automatic bubble-makers, though. I like the way manual bubblemakers require you to learn how to control your movement or your breath.

Regular bubble solution is easy to get during the summer. Giant bubble solution doesn’t seem to be as readily available here, so I’m working on getting the hang of mixing my own and forming large bubbles. I bought guar gum from Bulk Barn and Dawn dish detergent from No Frills, and I mixed up a batch of Quickest Mix:

1 kg water
50 g detergent
1.5 g guar gum
2 g baking powder

I may eventually try different frames and practise bubble-making techniques. Even the bubbles I can get from the Dollarama large bubble kit test most kids’ ability to resist popping large bubbles (they rarely survive long enough for people to enjoy looking at them!), so I don’t have to worry about making larger bubbles unless, say, we’re just hanging out in the backyard.

What about A-?

Small bubbles: A- She can both blow bubbles and wave bubbles out of the regular wand. She usually goes at the right speed, although sometimes she still goes too quickly. She holds the bubble wand container upright and can dip into it herself, and she gives it to me to close when she’s done. She usually dips it gently, although she gets influenced by kids who dip the wand multiple times quickly (that creates foam, which makes it harder to blow big bubbles).

Large bubbles: She can wave bubbles out of the large bubble wand, although they tend to pop on her clothes because her arms are short. She generally doesn’t blow bubbles out of the large bubble wand – maybe because she doesn’t want them to pop in her face.

Social: A- generally likes making bubbles, asking “May I have a turn?” She doesn’t seem to mind sharing the bubbles with other kids, and occasionally offers the wand to others. We usually attract quite a few kids who set up a regular rotation, so it’s a great way for her to see turn-taking up close. She can wait for a few people’s turns, although she prefers to watch instead of occupying herself with an alternative activity. I talk to A- about how happy the kids are because she’s sharing her bubbles, pointing out how they’re chasing bubbles or making bubbles.

A- doesn’t like chasing bubbles when there are lots of kids around, but she sometimes chases bubbles when it’s just us. It makes sense – a limited field of vision might make her more cautious in chaotic situations like that.

I sometimes keep playing with bubbles even after she’s moved on to something else, like digging in the sandbox. I like how bubble-blowing gives me something fun to do while I give her space for independent play. Sometimes she asks me to stop playing with bubbles and go dig with her instead, so I happily oblige. After all, I’m there to play with her, not just amuse other kids (or myself!) with bubbles. =)

Ideas for leveling up

  • Using bubbles to ease transitions
  • Trying a bubble wick
  • Trying a commercial giant bubble mix
  • Bouncing bubbles
  • Experimenting with the properties of different bubble makers and different solutions
  • Copper wire bubble wands, for custom shapes: maybe later on, when she’s more interested in crafts?
  • Bubble art, catching bubbles on paper: probably at home, might need more coordination
  • Bubble geometry experiments: later on
  • Keeping an eye out for bubble events in Toronto

What could awesome look like?

  • A background activity while A- plays at the playground
  • An ice-breaker and karma-builder
  • Practice in sharing and altruism
  • The occasional large-bubble hangout with A- and maybe a few friends
  • Something to contribute to grown-up get-togethers, too
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Working on play

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, play

Parenting doesn't come intuitively to me, but I mostly make up for that with deliberate study. I read books and research papers for ideas, experiment with different ways to play, observe A-, get her feedback, and reflect on things myself. I want to improve my ability to play.

I feel good about the research that has gone into the play-based approach to early childhood education. It makes sense to me, and I think it will be a good fit for A- too. There's so much room for me to grow as A-'s "stage manager, mediator, player, scribe, assessor and communicator, and planner"1.

  • Stage manager: How can I provoke her curiosity by adding interesting things, and how can I give her space by removing things? How can I manage our time to match her energy and give her opportunities for different kinds of play? What's a good balance in terms of props to support pretend play and loose parts to encourage imagination? How can I start building relationships for playdates and other avenues for socialization?
  • Mediator: How can I support her interactions with other kids, modeling problem-solving and conflict resolution without dictating a particular approach? How can I help her learn emotional regulation and problem-solving techniques even when we're playing by ourselves?
  • Player: How can I build on her play scripts without taking over? How can I reflect her energy and enthusiasm? How can I invite her into everyday routines through play?
  • Scribe: How can I help her play with writing and literacy? What can I model so that she can experience the power of writing, reading, and drawing?
  • Assessor and communicator: How can I document and reflect on our learning? How can I share that with her and with other people? I tend to narrate and actively play with her. Maybe I can experiment with taking a step back so that she can take the initiative, and so that I have room to observe, document, and reflect. I capture a lot of tidbits. I can practise selecting some and tying them together into stories so that I can make sense of them.
  • Planner: How can I help her raise the level of her play? How can I build on what she's interested in? How can I share more ideas and experiences with her?

What could awesome look like?

  • We're constantly learning and improving, and it's fun. We enjoy spending time with each other and exploring the world.
  • I can keep up with the breadth and depth of her curiosity. We might even learn most things through experimentation, rather than my answering her questions.
  • Every so often, I summarize her learning in a specific aspect, marvel at her progress, and share the story with her, W-, and others.
  • As she begins to turn more towards social play with peers, we have group interactions at drop-ins as well as one-on-one or small-group interactions with more regular friends. She has the confidence to negotiate roles in peer play and repair minor mishaps. She's had lots of opportunities to feel good about other people.
  • When she goes to preschool or kindergarten, she's familiar with tools and materials. She can ask questions, think of ways to explore, enlist help, and take advantage of resources. She can tell me about her day, and we can think of ways to build on things when she's at home.

What do I want to work on now?

During the day, I want to figure out how to play well with A-. I tend to narrate her actions and follow her lead. I love how she's developed a large vocabulary and the confidence to make specific requests. I wonder about the possibilities that might open up if I step back and give her more quiet focus time so that she can take even more initiative. I also wonder about the possibilities that might open up if I engage her even more actively during pretend play, expanding scenarios and planning real-life experiences to enrich her imagination. There are benefits to both approaches, so it's hard to go wrong. I want to get better at asking A- exploratory questions, too, and I'm looking forward to helping her develop the ability to think about ideas. Whee!

I want to use some of the time when A- is sleeping to organize and reflect on her learning. I have a decent workflow for capturing specific moments. I'm starting to pick ideas and look at them across time so that I can get a sense of her progress over months, like this one I did based on a year of music classes. The next level up is to take either a single moment or a group of moments and ask myself: "What could she be thinking? Why would she think that way? How can we support and explore that? What might she want to learn?" If I can share that, that would be even better.

How can I invest in learning this even better? What could the delta look like?

  • Stuff: What's worth buying or adding to our play area? What can I share with the drop-in centres near us?
  • Experiences: What kinds of experiences will tickle our brains? What can we go out and try?
  • People: What questions could I ask an early childhood education consultant or teacher coach? How can I take advantage of someone's professional experience while reflecting on A-'s learning? How could that help me level up? How can I invest in building relationships and lifting other people up?

Footnotes:

1

The teacher's roles described in Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds' book Play's The Thing (2001), quoted in Full-Day Kindergarten-Based Learning: Promoting a Common Understanding.

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Figuring out rhythms for our days and weeks

| life, parenting

It rained almost all weekend. W- focused on cleaning the house. I felt a little guilty and unproductive, pulled this way and that by A-‘s requests: “I want to play playdough!” “I want to go outside!” “No Mama go upstairs!” “I want to read books!” “I want to play with letters!” All the while, W- was bustling around, getting stuff done. But W- was patient with us, and we did manage to help a little with folding laundry, tidying up, and cleaning the carpet.

I was thinking about what a better weekend routine could be like. Then I realized something: of course, A- won’t have weekends until she has weekdays. She doesn’t care about the calendar. She goes by our daily routine, modified slightly on the days we have classes. Our daily rhythm has some time for self-care, some time for tidying up, and lots of time for play inside and outside. There’s no space yet for the kind of focused project work that W- can do, unless A- is asleep (and even then, she still wakes up from time to time). That’s okay. That will come in time.

What can I do about weekends now? I’d like to free up more time for W- to work on projects. It would help to move more household chores to the week, especially if I can make them playful.

  • Laundry: It’s cheaper to do during the weekend, but maybe I can bring down and sort things more frequently, and I can start a load every now and then. A- has gotten interested in answering questions about laundry (“Is this A-‘s or Mama’s?” “Mama’s!”), a good prelude to sorting. She’s also interested in folding, although she’s probably still pretty far from being able to do it. Practice time!
  • Cooking: We’ve been able to cook a few times, so we’ll keep trying. If I time it for when W- will be home, then he can take over during the final stages just in case.
  • Tidying: We do a small tidy-up before eating, but maybe we can expand it, especially if I turn it into a game of spotting what’s out of place. If I donate some of the children’s books that are too advanced for A-, I can free up a basket that I can then use to carry things around.
  • Vacuuming: I don’t like doing this when A- is with me, because she usually insists on being close and the vacuum is quite loud. She started getting interested in hearing protection, though, so maybe she can wear hearing protectors while I vacuum.
  • Groceries: I can usually pick up staples, but I don’t like buying lots of ingredients without confirming with W-. It’s easy for W- to pick up groceries on the way home, too.
  • Hanging out with A-: This is an important part of the weekend. Figuring out ways that we can involve A- in projects and in household chores means W- gets to spend time with A-, too.

I wonder if I can increase my playfulness so that I can engage her in more household chores, and I can think about scaffolding her so that she can gradually build skills. She’s got built-in drives toward helpfulness and mastery, so I can take advantage of that.

A-‘s indoor play tends to focus on playdough, letters, scissors, drawing, and pretend. She loves being read to. She can spend hours at the playground, too. All of those are wonderful things. I want to be fully there when we’re playing, not trying to pull her towards chores. I think it will be more about gently insisting that we need to do something as a small part of our daily routine, and then perhaps enthusiastically suggesting things when she’s undecided.

We’ve considered hiring help. So far, it’s been good for A- to see us involved in taking care of the house, and for her to get involved as well. It’s pretty manageable, actually. We aren’t at the point of being stressed by it, so we’re going to keep playing it by ear.

It would be neat if we can shift enough from the weekend so that chores generally feel evenly distributed throughout the week. Then W- can choose whether he needs to spend the time working on projects, he can spend time hanging out with us, or he can slow down project work so that A- and I can join. It’ll be fun figuring this out.

As for me, I can accept that I won’t be able to work as fast or as effectively as W- does. Even if A- switched over to hanging out with him, I probably wouldn’t even think of half the things he does, so that’s okay. Instead, I’ll focus on helping A- learn as much as she can, and I’ll try to learn as much as I can as well: what he notices, what he knows, what he does about stuff, and so on. There’s plenty for me to learn even when I’m playing with A-. We can do this!

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