Category Archives: sketches

Book: Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (Paul Tough)


2020-07-05a Helping Children Succeed – Paul Tough #book #education.png

Here are my notes on Paul Tough’s 2016 book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. It turns out that he’s made the book freely available online, so you can read the book with embedded videos and links.

The main thing I got from it is the importance of thinking about the environment kids learn in. A- has a pretty low-stress environment at the moment, although she might run into a few challenges later on. As I help A- learn, I also want to help her internalize these messages, which I’ve paraphrased from the book:

I belong. I can do that through our relationship by being warm, responsive, and encouraging.
I grow. I can reinforce this by telling stories about how she’s learning.
I can do it. I can scaffold her learning and encourage her when she’s frustrated.
It’s worthwhile. I can show how her learning pays off and I can help her set inspiring challenges.

I can influence the development of non-cognitive traits through our relationship and through the kind of work she does.

When I read the section on home visiting, it reminded me of how much I appreciated the Healthy Babies Healthy Children home-visiting program run by Toronto Public Health. The nurse and the home visitor taught me more about playing with A- by highlighting small things I was doing well. Because they called attention to those practices, that made it easier for me to do more of those things. I like doing something similar with A-, noticing and naming the things she’s doing well so that she gets a sense of her growth.

The book is okay, kinda light, but it isn’t a must-read. It was a good nudge to think about what A-‘s picking up in addition to the things that are easier to measure and observe.

Capturing moments

A- sat in her sled for a long time after she slid down the hill. I went over to check on her. She said, “I want to sled down with someone.” I said, “I’m here.” She said, “I want to sled down with someone who is a kiddo.” I checked with nearby friends, but no one was available. We talked a little about making friends.

It felt like a big moment. She’s starting to turn towards her peers, and that’s wonderful. I knew I wanted to make it my moment of the day. No picture of it, of course, but it was easy to jot a few keywords into my journal and then flesh it out after putting her to bed.

“I want to sled with someone who is a kiddo.”

I tried something different with this sketch. I drew it on paper with a gel pen, took a picture of it, and imported into Medibang Paint as line art. I tried using layer masks to isolate areas for painting, and that made colouring it more fun. It took about 45 minutes.

This sketching thing is pretty fun. I prefer colouring on my phone, since it’s easy to adjust the colours and I don’t need lots of markers. I’m okay sketching on my phone, but scrolling around is a bit tough. Paper might be handy for keeping the big picture in mind, and bond paper is thin enough for me to trace a second version of the drawing if I want to refine my sketch. I haven’t settled down on a favourite pen yet, so I’ll check out the art store. I think getting the hang of paper might be better than going digital for now, at least for the base sketches. Paper makes it easier for A- to pick things up, lowers the risk tremendously, and makes it easier for me to do it pretty much anywhere.

Here are a few other sketches.

A- loves pretending to be an astronaut. Today she put together a hygiene kit and had fun using it.
Look at me jumping rope!
I got in first!

I’ve been making time to draw

After A- has gone to bed (or sometimes while I’m trying to bore her to sleep), I draw. This makes me happy. Coding is hard because I get tempted to stay up too late and my brain buzzes too much to let me sleep. I haven’t yet figured out how to organize my thoughts well enough on a phone screen to write long posts. Drawing seems to be the right fit.

Eventually, I’ll be able to build up thoughts. In the meantime, it’s okay to draw for fun. I like drawing A-. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the things I like about spending time with her.

I’ve been using Medibang Paint on a Samsung Note 8. Pretty good. The limiting factor is definitely me, not the hardware or the software. With enough practice and learning, I think drawing will become easier and more fun. I wonder what it will be like to have as much fun drawing as I have fun coding.

A- likes to pretend to be different animals.
I want to get the hang of drawing all sorts of views. Gotta start somewhere!
A- likes getting all tangled up with me.
What a floppy baby I have.

I like this. It’s a way of squeezing in drawing when I don’t have two hours to summarize a book or explore a complex thought. Let’s see where it goes.

Visual Book Notes: Between Parent and Child (2003)

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.

Visual Book Notes: No-Drama Discipline (2014)

Updated 2019-03-18: Linked image.

No-Drama Discipline (2014) was written by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. The book takes a connection- and skill-building approach to parenting kids, especially during difficult moments like tantrums and misbehaviour. I like how it encourages me to take a step back and think about the long-term skills I’d like to help A- develop, and it has lots of examples of redirection and teaching.

I’m still firm when it comes to safety or other people, and sometimes I’m not in the right space to be patient. I’ve been focusing on accepting, validating, and describing A-‘s emotions whenever I can. It’s getting easier to say, “I see you’re upset. I’m here if you want a hug.” It’s hard to see what kind of progress A- might be making on her side, and I still worry from time to time that I might end up being too permissive, or that she might depend on me too much for emotional regulation. But kids have turned out just fine with a wide variety of parenting approaches, so things will probably work out too. I wonder if A- will grow into the sort of kid who resonates with the kinds of conversations described in the book. If she isn’t, that’s cool, we’ll adapt. In the meantime, this approach resonates with me, and I like what it’s helping me learn.

Although the book felt repetitive at times, I found it helpful to see the principles applied in lots of different scenarios. I also liked reading a few stories about when it just didn’t work out, which made the approach feel more human and relatable. It might be useful to read this book backwards, actually: start with the refrigerator-sheet summary near the end of the book, and then fit the other chapters into that framework.

How does the book fit in with the other books I’ve been reading along these lines? No-Drama Discipline focuses on connecting and calming down kids (and quieting our internal anxieties, or “shark music”), while How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen goes into more detail on collaborative problem-solving. I think No-Drama Discipline gives more concrete advice than Unconditional Parenting does, but covers a narrower range of topics than Between Parent and Child. Positive Parenting by Rebecca Eanes is a bit more of an overview, while No-Drama Discipline is more of an in-depth look at one topic.

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

Book: Unconditional Parenting

Updated 2018-07-29: Added note about doing to / working with.

For (Text)book Thursday, I actually managed to make a sketchnote! Hooray! Hooray! It’s been so long, I’m not even sure what my process for posting these things was…

2018-07-26a Unconditional Parenting – Alfie Kohn #book #sketchnote #parenting

Anyway. On with the book notes.

Unconditional Parenting (Atria Books, 2005) resonates a lot with the kind of parenting we seem to be doing, and it challenges me to go even further. I’m looking for alternatives to timeouts and reward charts mostly out of curiosity, not because I judge people who use them or that I’d judge myself if those techniques end up being what we feel we need. It’s good to explore possibilities and learn from experiences.

I remember reading a parenting article that inspired me to try moving away from evaluative statements like “Good job!” towards you-focused statements (“You did it!”), or better yet, more specific, descriptive statements (“You put the wooden block on top of the other block!”). A- is almost two and a half years old now, so it might be interesting to see what we can do with more questions. (“I see you made two blue handprints on the pink paper. Can you tell me about your painting?”)

I have so much fun observing A- and acknowledging all the cool things she’s doing. I need to be careful not to crowd her, though, or to make her feel that she’s only interesting when she’s doing new things. She’s good at telling me when she wants me to do something different (“Mama dance different dance!”) or when she wants me to do the same thing she’s doing. (“Play playdough together!”) I’ve been working on toning down the running commentary for words she already knows, giving her more quiet time, and waiting until she prompts me by looking at me or talking to me. It can be hard to sit there, though. I also catch myself thinking in terms of positive reinforcement of behaviour, so that’s something to watch out for.

So far, we have the flexibility to invite A- to make lots of decisions with us and to accommodate many of her preferences. For example, she’s not keen on babysitters at the moment, and that’s okay with me. She’s getting better at telling me how she feels and what she wants, and she’s even starting to propose ways to solve problems. For my part, I’m getting better at turning things into games, which has been handy for brushing her teeth.

I like focusing on A-, not just on what she says or does. Today, for example, she was suddenly a teenager: “I hate this fish. I hate beansprouts. I hate everything.” Instead of telling her not to use the word “hate,” getting offended, or getting frustrated, I tried different things and found out that she actually wanted her own portion of fish from the fridge, not off my plate. She’s experimenting with big emotions, boundaries, language, and will, and I’m glad I have the space to support her through that.

The book has a few details on helping kids develop perspective-taking skills, which was one of the skills in the ELECT framework that I wanted to focus on. I’m looking forward to modeling perspective-taking through conversation, and practising taking her perspective too. I like how it can turn even unpleasant encounters into opportunities for reflection, which reminds me a lot of Stoic philosophy.

Unconditional Parenting is quite different from most of the parenting books I’ve come across, and it probably isn’t a good fit for everyone. It’s a little heavy on the negative side, and would probably get lots of people’s hackles up. I would have liked to read more about the challenges of applying the approach and how to figure things out together. That’s often the challenge with parenting books – the anecdotes sound so smooth, but I’m more curious about the figuring-out parts and the repairs and the let’s-try-agains. I guess I’m looking for something less sales-y, more open source support forum-y, if they makes sense? Anyway, I think we have a good opportunity to try out a few of the ideas from it, though, so it might be fun to explore while we can. It’s been a while since it was published, so I wonder what more recent recommendations say.

I do like the book’s distinction between “doing to” parenting and “working with” parenting. It reminds me of the way pedagogical documentation reframes the grown-up’s role from the dispenser of wisdom to a co-learner supporting the kid’s growth.

The book reminds me of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, both of which feel like books I can recommend a bit more generally. Janet Lansbury’s stuff, too.

As always, it’s all a grand experiment, so if something different works for your family, great, good for you! Goodness knows different things work for us at different times, too. It’s good to have things to think about and try out, though!