Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July Plans

Sometimes I am jealous seeing how organized some other moms are, when it comes to planning their time and activities with their children. Of course, I don't exactly have a homeschooling mentality and I don't have the whole day with my daughter. When I am with her, sometimes it feels that I am trying to fit too many things at once. I am still looking for a system that would fit our busy schedule. I like the idea of workboxes, but I am still undecided if I want to do a theme of the week, dedicate every day to something or maybe try a book-based curriculum. Also, I know very well that in July our time for any kind of "formal" learning will be even more limited. Our friends with two kids will be visiting from Germany, and we hope to have a lot of playdates and activities together. Then I will be on a business trip in Israel for a week. So, based on Anna's interests, I decided to focus on a few themes during this month and not worry too much about the systems. Here is what I plan to do:

• Increasing observation skills. Anna is very good at noticing even very small changes in her immediate environment (like a book out of place), but I noticed that she struggles with workbook pages that ask to find an object out of four that is different than others. She can do it, if the difference is obvious (e.g. a different color or a different letter of an alphabet), but not when the difference is subtle, for example, a handle on a door is on the other side. So if someone knows of any good worksheets on "same and different", please kindly drop me a comment.

• Understanding patterns. Again, patterning activities seem very much beyond her comprehension at the moment. I am not talking about complex 3D manipulations (those IQ puzzles are beyond my comprehension as well). I am referring to simple ABAB patterns. I am curious as to why it's so difficult for her, since she is excellent at color and shape recognition. It seems, however, that she recognizes them as separate objects, not as sequences. This is probably why our reading is also stuck on recognizing the first letter of the word and trying to guess the meaning from it (or "reading" the pictures instead). We are going to do some beading and Lego building to promote pattern recognition.

• Tracing and coloring. Anna's fine motor skills are OK, but she doesn't seem to enjoy painting or coloring for long. I suspect that her fingers get tired. I saw this month that she is getting better with activities that require fine motor skills - such as peeling stickers off the sticker sheet and tracing, and I want to keep the momentum going.

• As always - book reading. I have a long list of books to look up in the library. I cannot say that Anna has a particular interest in any topics yet. If it were up to her, she'd probably read every Dora and Diego book on the toddler shelf, but I happen to not believe in reading books that retell TV shows. I also got a big lot of Let's Read and Find Out books from eBay. Some of them are way over her comprehension level, but some are more appropriate. I think we will start with the simplest of the bunch - My Five Senses, and we will do some extension activities around it - it will tie nicely with "increasing observation powers" theme of the month.

• Empathy - sharing. We expect to have a lot of playdates in July, and since our friends are coming only for a month, they will not bring a lot of toys. I already set expectations with Anna that I hope she will be a good sharer. Usually she is pretty decent, but not with our friends' older daughter, since they had some "disagreements" when they were both toddlers. I also hope to do a lot more emotion labeling and discussions about feelings - based both on books and on real-life experiences.

Well, you can track our progress throughout the month - we'll see how well we will do. Stay tuned :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Making of a Theater

I noticed that a lot of my posts lately have been about my husband and his activities with Anna. I am really proud of him and feel that our daughter is extremely lucky to have such a creative papa. On the other hand, he gets a chance to relive his childhood and do some of his favorite activities again. He was talking to me before about making a puppet theater for Anna. I happened to make one stick craft with her, and she brought a paper bag puppet from her preschool and clearly liked to play with both of them. So this weekend my husband got serious about his theater project. That's how the theater looked in the beginning - a repurposed box from a mini vacuum cleaner.

Anna was very excited to participate in making the theater. Here she is painting it:

Papa took over eventually and painted the rest of the theater. We let it out to dry while Anna "pretended" to take a nap (that didn't work out, she was too excited about the theater. Papa also drew a background and let Anna add some stickers. He was so motivated that he already started making more stick puppets for the show. Here is a finished result:

And here is a funny picture of Anna enjoying her first puppet theater show. She was totally mesmerized. So much better than TV :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lego Creations

Both my husband and his older brother were big Lego fans when they were growing up. Their parents faithfully kept boxes of freestyle Lego in their basement for almost 40 years, but finally they saw the light of the day again. Last time my in-laws visited, one of their suitcases contained nothing but Legos, and it was only half of their collection.

Legos of today are more "specialized". One can build an excavator using instructions on the box, but it's not possible to build a rocket out of the same set. My husband's Lego has a lot of wheels and some specialized parts (for example, connector for the truck's cabin and the rest of the truck), but the rest of it is thousands and thousands small parts. Luckily, Anna is not a mouther, and so my husband opened her treasures to her. He has so much fun building things "with her" (mostly for her at this point), and she is very proud about her growing collection of toys made exclusively out of Lego. The good news is that they can always be rebuilt into something completely different, and that hopefully she will be able to build simpler things herself one day. Here is her collection at a glance:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What My Child is Reading - June 25, 2009

I judge Anna's interest in books on whether she wants to keep a particular library title for longer than a week. We go to the library every week on Wednesday, so allow me to announce the "winners" of this week:

This is my winner of the week, and Anna liked the story as well. It's an excellent book to read, if you expect to add to your family soon. From the adult's perspective, I liked the poetic language and illustrations. Anna seemed to be quite interested in the story as well, even though she was vaguely disturbed by the fact that the boy in the story was not with his parents, but with his aunt. Clearly, it doesn't happen here often enough.

One of my first posts on this blog was about prerequisites for reading and activities to promote sound awareness. It's amazing to see how far Anna progressed in just 5 months. She really likes rhyming now and comes up with her own rhymes. This book is great to encourage rhyming and reinforce alphabet knowledge at the same time. Most of rhymes actually work well and don't sound forced as in some other books we read.

Our opinions have split on Eating the Alphabet. Anna liked colorful illustrations and asked a lot of questions about the fruits and vegetables she didn't know. I found some of the letter pairing forced (who knows what xigua is?). It also made me guilty that we don't vary our diet more - I have never eaten at least a third of this eatable alphabet. My picky eater was suddenly very enthusiastic about trying new vegetables... at least in theory. It's time to try and found out what happens in practice.

We disagreed on this book as well. Anna and her papa loved it, and Anna sat contentedly through the whole story. She asked to read the story several times during the day - a sign of a good book in our house, which overflows with children literature. I didn't care much for illustrations - I am not a big fan of anything vintage, and this book looks very dated. I also thought that overall the story was too "grown up" for Anna - she didn't ask many questions, which usually means that she didn't really understand the book, and she couldn't answer my questions on the content. Perhaps we will try it again in a year or so.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Three Steps to Building Empathy

I didn't forget about my topic of Moral Intelligence. However, with the variety of other topics that I am writing about, it looks like the whole month of June will be empathy month :) I am returning today to Building Moral Intelligence book and covering three steps to building empathy. Here is an excerpt from the book:
Because the foundation for empathy is understanding of emotions, the first teaching step helps your child develop an awareness of emotions and develop a feeling vocabulary. He'll need this skill to successfully identify a wide variety of emotions, so he can tune in to the feelings of others.
The second step provides way to enhance your child's sensitivity to other people's feelings so that he'll become more aware of their needs and concerns.
The last step helps expands your child's awareness of perspectives other than his own. Only then will he really be able to step into other people's shoes and feel with them. These three steps increase empathic capabilities that your child will need to face a world that too often stresses apathy, coldness, cruelty and self-centeredness.

Steps 2 and 3 are for older kids, but it's never too early to talk to your children about their own feelings and help them make sense of them. My next post in the Empathy series will be about this. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tot School, Preschool or Kindergarten?

When I started to troll the web in search of fun and educational activities with Anna, I was blown away with the number of great blogs I found. A lot of smart, crafty, spiritual women (sorry, I am yet to found even one blog on the topic written by a man :)) put a lot of thought and passion into decisions on how to raise and educate their children. I found a lot of those blogs by stumbling on Tot School - where many families contribute every week and describe how they raise and educate their children under 4 years old. I participate with my other blog, but, honestly, I don't have any method in my approach. Until very recently, I didn't do any prep work for any of our "learning sessions". I don't have any curriculum or any theme of the week. To be honest, I believe that this finesse is mostly for parents who need structure to their days than for children.Young children learn best through play and attention from adults, and I think that Anna gets enough attention from both parents. In my "teaching" approach I rely most on observing her and following her interests. If she wants to continue to play with Legos while "it's time to color", I'll let her. I am trying to pick books in the library on very different topics - animals, plants, travel, school life - to see what will catch her fancy. Again, it seems too early for her to have any real "passions" - everything is interesting to her.. for the first 10 minutes. The only continuing theme in her life is books - many-many-many books that she wants to read every day.

Unlike many of the blogging moms, I don't plan to homeschool. Anna already goes to preschool for 2 mornings a week. We will extend it to three once she turns 3 in October. This year she was in the class with 3-5 year olds because of the size of the school and her great language skills. Her teachers were blown away that she was consistently the best in class in all activities that involved "academic subjects" - phonics and math. When I was trying to find suitable software games for her, nothing under K-level caught her fancy - they were all too boring in their focus on shapes, colors, simple numbers and letters. The book that she is reading in the first picture is this post is Spectrum Math Grade K. I didn't bring it from the library for her. I wanted to see for myself what is taught on K-level. She grabbed the book, went to her room and said that she wants to play by herself and teach her favorite kitty some numbers. She cannot do all the exercises in this book, but she is frighteningly close to the end of K-level in what she knows in math and language. At the same time - she is completely not interested in writing. Her motor skills were always a little behind, and I am blown away seeing tots under two holding their pencils or even scissors correctly. Anna still cannot do it, even at 32 months. That's why we are focusing more on crafts now - while I will continue to encourage all her math and language activities (a lot of those are self-led nowadays), I want to bring out her artistic self more and let my intellectual curiosity combine with formidable creative thinking of my husband. Then she will be one very fine young lady indeed :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Field Trips Rock - Niles Canyon Railway

If you live in an East or South Bay of San Francisco, this is a great day Sunday field trip for any train enthusiast in your family (including adults). You will have an opportunity to ride on an authentic steam engine that was in operation on this historic railway more than 100 years ago. All the train cars are also real train cars restored from the first half of 20th century. The ride takes about 30 minutes in one direction, then the train stops at the other station for about 20 minutes and comes back. The starting point of the ride is about 30 minutes from our home, and our best friend has suggested this trip as a special Father's Day activity. He was right - my husband enjoyed this trip a lot, since, as every geek, he is fascinated with historic trains.

Anna loves books about trains and playing with toy trains. She likes big trains too... in principle. She was a little tired, and was not at all convinced that going on a big loud train is a good idea. She spent the first part of the trip looking like this. She was worried that we will go into a tunnel - she was not a big fan of tunnels when we went on a kiddie train ride in Gilroy Gardens a few weeks ago. She was curling into a tight ball on my lap asking if we are in the tunnel yet. It took her about 10 minutes to get curious and open her eyes, but even then she wouldn't want to stand up and look outside.She was a lot more enthusiastic about her experience on the way back. She still wouldn't want to run around the train, but at least she enjoyed the ride and asked a lot of questions. Her favorite part of the trip, however, were toy trains on both stations run by train enthusiasts. She said in the end that she wants to come back and ride on the train again, when she is just a little bit older and almost as big as papa. I think we will repeat the trip next year, when she is better able to appreciate the historic aspect of it and maybe has a bit more exposure to "real" trains that she had up to now. Our next train-related trip will be going to downtown San Jose by a light rail.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

We are not "an average family". My husband chose to put his career in tech industry on hold to be home full-time with his daughter. Why he and not me? I didn't want to be a stay-at-home mother at the time. I enjoyed my work and my coworkers more than he did. We had comparable incomes, so the loss would have been about the same in both cases. And I wasn't working 12-14 hours a day like he was during never-ending cycles of yet another product launch.

It was the best decision for our family. My husband admits that he would never have spent so much time and bonded with Anna so strongly, had he been working full time. He has been with her every day since the day she was born - changing, burping, comforting, playing. reading, entertaining, disciplining. They have their own special games that they play and special songs (not to mention special German language that he speaks to her most of the time).

My husband is not like an average stay-at-home mom too. He doesn't worry too much about Tot Schools, teaching her something in any formal way, art projects. He prefers to be out and about. From early days Anna had playdates, going on hikes, playground visits, going shopping as an important part of her daily routine. They still spend a lot of time by themselves - reading and free playing. He builds things for her and with her, and she really remembers every toy that he made himself. He can focus on her single-mindedly, while I try to multi-task way too often.

I am not jealous. My daughter is still very much a mama girl. I enjoy all the benefits of this close father-daughter relationship - knowing that my daughter is safe while I work, watching her learn physical skills that I might be too apprehensive to teach her, watching her develop interest in building things and trying to understand how things work. I just hope that one day my daughter will meet a man who will be just like her father. Than she will be a very lucky young woman indeed.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Things Kids Say - Sleeping Songs

Lately Anna started to invent "sleeping songs". Usually she makes them up on the longer rides in the car. As I mentioned, she is a good car rider, and we don't bring a lot of entertainment for her. She seems to use the time in the car to think and to talk to us or, in many cases, to herself. A couple of nights ago, when I was putting her to bed, the following conversation unfolded:

Anna: Mama, sing me a song

Me: OK, what would you like me to sing?

Anna: A sleeping song.

Me: A sleeping song? What sleeping song?

Anna: The one that says, "What would you like to eat?"

Me: Hmm... I don't think I know that one. Will you sing it for me?

Anna: Yes. (in a singsong voice) What would you like to eat? How would you like it cooked? How do we make it good? Yes, I like it. Then we go and wash my face, and then you wash my hair.  And then you read me books before bed, and then you tuck me in. See, mama, this is my sleeping song! It makes me happy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where Is My Parachute? (Or Flying With Young Toddlers)

My favorite ABC and 123 Learning Cooperative has a picnic on the topic of traveling with children. A lot of people wrote about car trips. We are lucky in this respect. Anna is a good car traveler. As long as the trip is under an hour, she is quite content to look outside, listen to CDs of children songs and stories and talk/play word games. As we are a little obsessive in the area of cleanliness, we have a family rule of not eating in the car and drinking only water. We bring snacks, but eat them during rest stops. It makes the trip longer, but in my mind part of the pleasure of destination is in the journey to get there.

We live in the Silicon Valley while my parents are on the East Coast, and my husband's family is in Germany. This makes flights unavoidable. A lot of my international friends are in the same boat, and when I talked to them about family visits, they shook their heads and said, Good luck! This is a sad reality of traveling with young children on long flights - a lot of things work... but each works only for about 10 minutes, at least in our case. Here are some lessons learned and things that worked well for a young toddler (our first flight was when Anna was 17 months, second one is at 20 months).

• Don't fly on red eye flights. Instead try to arrive to your destination late in day. When we flew to New Jersey, we decided to take a red eye thinking that we will just sleep through the flight and sleep some more while there (the flight arrives at 5 am). Well, Anna had other plans. She was extremely excited to be on a plane and also very tired and wired. She didn't cry, but she didn't sleep either. After 2 hours of requests for water, milk, more water, books, etc., I was exhausted. Finally she went asleep... for about 2 hours. When we arrived, she was excited again - to see her grandparents, their cat, the new house. Besides, it was morning. She absolutely refused to go to sleep, and there I was - at a wet playground at 7 am with a wild and unruly toddler trying to get her work off her energy and nod off. Good start of the vacation.

• Bring a lot of snacks and don't expect that your little angel will eat something that she hasn't tried before. Well, at least ours didn't. We brought the milk that doesn't require cooling (Horizon brand), and Anna was not amused with its taste and texture. She kept whining and asking for her milk. Unfortunately, airlines don't carry milk nowadays - only creamers. Ugh.

• Don't overwhelm your young toddler with novelty. Following the same line of thought, that I read in some other responses to the topic, we brought some new toys, books and coloring activities. But Anna was already really tired and overwhelmed with all other new things around her - the movement of an airplane, announcements from the cabin, smells, etc. She craved the comfort of something she knew. She was clinging to her blanket and her kitty for dear life the whole flight, and she wanted me to tell her familiar stories and sing her familiar songs.

• Bring Benadryl. I wouldn't use it on the crowd under one - they sleep just fine without it. And, yes, I know that drugging your children is bad. But... this is the only thing that gave us much needed break on the way back from Germany after 5 hours of trying to get Anna to nap with conventional means. Our friends recommended to try it once at home, because in about 10% of cases it actually makes kids even more wired. We were not one of those 10% - it worked well, just not for too long, 2 hours later Anna was back desperately wanting to leave that plane now.

• When everything fails, remember that this too shall pass. Our worst moment on the plane happened during our return flight from Florida when Anna was 17 months. We ran out of food, and a "fasten seat belts" light was on. She wanted out, I said "No". The worst tantrum ever ensued. She cried what felt like eternity. The watch showed that it was actually 10 minutes, then she grabbed her blanket, said, I am all done! and went to sleep for the remainder of the flight.

• Expect the worst and enjoy the rest. I have to admit - the experiences of international flight and time zone adjustments with a young toddler made me cancel our plans of yearly visits to Germany. I told my husband right after our flight last July that next year I am not going. After weighing pros and cons, we decided that we will wait with our next international flight until she is over 3 year old and better able to entertain herself. However, despite being cranky and sleep-deprived for most of the vacation, we did enjoy seeing our friends and family. Also, every time we travel, we see significant spurts in Anna's language and cognitive abilities. My husband says that it's because her brain is "rattled" by a new experience. That's why this year we plan to fly cross-country again to visit my family. I am confident that barring some unforeseen complications (such as illness or bad turbulence), this trip cannot possibly be worse than the ones we took when she was under two.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What My Child Is Reading - June 18, 2009

Anna is 2 years 7 months old now. Since materials of the last week proved to be too difficult, I used an advice from other contributors of Well Read Child to look for more age-appropriate books. Unfortunately, this week many books proved to be "too simple" for Anna. For example, she was interested in Mama Cat for the first days, asked to read it 4 or 5 times and then was done with it. I think that she didn't find the story particularly engaging - she doesn't seem to be a big fan of animal stories unless they are used as substitutions for people (for example, in Richard Scarry's books).

The next book was a classic sequel by Eric Carle - Polar Bear Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? Anna liked Brown Bear OK when she was younger. Not her absolute favorite, but she always liked the pages with teacher and children. It was the same with this book - she liked to try to imitate animal sounds, it expanded her vocabulary (and even mine) with new words for animal sounds, but she wasn't particularly interested after the first two days.

I personally really liked Greg Foley's book (and checked out another one from the same series yesterday). Anna, however, didn't get the ending. We read A Very Hungry Caterpillar a zillion times, but she has never seen a real transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. So for her the caterpillar was gone, and a butterfly in the end was a new friend for Bear. I wish we could find some real cocoons, so she could see the cycle of butterfly and not just read about it.

We read other stories by Audrey Wood before, so I picked this one more or less randomly. It was "a miss" in our house. First of all, the whole subject of napping is not exactly a welcome topic in our house. Second, the grandma is ugly - eewww. Finally, Anna didn't find the story of people and animals piling on top of each other to sleep particularly engaging. I think we read it two times total - a sure sign of rejection here.

Anna and I disagreed on this one. I picked it randomly from the shelf, because I know that she is interested in emergency vehicles. Well, she was. She wanted to read this book every day for many times. But in my mind it's poorly written, at least for a set under three. On each page Anna wanted to know what happened, and I wasn't prepared to go into discussions on crime and illegal border crossings. So every time there was a tug of war about this particular book - usually Anna would win and we would read it yet again with me trying to dance around certain topics.

Tada! I am pleased to annouce the winning book of the week! And, again, it comes from our own collection. We got this book as a present from our friend, and she got it at the library sale. The book was hiding behind other books on the top shelf, and my husband unearthed it by accident. Anna took to it right away. I think she finds it especially engaging, because her nickname in our house is Mouse, and she hears, Whose Mouse are you? practically every day. This book also has very simple and sparse text, but unlike Mama Cat, it's not as repetitive. It was the first book that Anna wanted to "read" by herself and repeated word-for-word in its entirety. I'll see if I can capture it on the video, it's pretty fascinating to watch a two year old that appears to read - with proper intonation and turning pages at the right moments. An all-around winner here :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

G is for Games

Both my husband and I like board games. Since we are both from Europe, we prefer European board games - The Settlers of Catan is my favorite, but we have very many different ones. Of course, they are way too early for Anna, so we started trying toddler board games with her. Hi-Ho Cheery-O was a short-lived hit, but Chutes and Ladders proved to be too long and too confusing. So one day my husband sat at the kitchen table and in ten minutes created a board game for our daughter. We play it together as a family every day now, and everyone has a blast. The game is played with a six-sized dice and with wooden game pieces. There is a musical square - you are supposed to sing a song if you end up there. There are a lot of squares that involve move backward or forward. There is also "hug kitty" square - Anna has a favorite toy and she is very excited when kitty (who sits on the table during the game) gets a hug. And there is a square that requires kissing a player on your right or on your left. It's simple, but it enforces a lot of concepts - left and right, backward and forward, taking turns, following directions, etc. And the best part is in the end - the winner gets a piece of chocolate and shares it with other players :)

We also play word games when we are in the car. Because ABC and 123 has "G-related" activities planned, we picked sound guh yesterday. I asked Anna to come up with some words that start with this sound. She volunteered guitar, goat, guest and get, then said that she wants to guess now (of course, at this point I pointed out to her that guess starts with sound guh too). When we play a guessing game, it's almost like a crossword. I tell her something about the target word, and she is trying to guess what it is. For example, an animal who lives in a jungle, likes bananas, and also lives in a zoo sometimes - gorilla. Someone who comes during Halloween, says Boo! and not real - ghost. Anna really has fun with this game, and I think it extended her vocabulary significantly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Stages of Empathic Development

I found the following description from Building Moral Intelligence very helpful:

The first year of life - global empathy. The child cannot clearly distinguish between himself and his world, so he is unclear as to who is experiencing distress and interprets it as his own. The six-month-old baby heard another baby cry and began to cry too.

Beginning around age 1 - egocentric empathy. The child's reaction to others in distress begin to slowly change. She now understands that another person's discomfort is not her own. The two-year-old saw her mommy crying, so she sat next to her and softly patted her arm.

Early preschool years - emotional empathy. Around the age of two or three, the child begins to develop role-taking capabilities. He recognizes that someone's feelings may be different from his, is better able to decipher the source of another person's distress, and finds simple ways to offer comfort or show support. You look sad. Your car broke. You can use this one.

Cognitive empathy - early school years, beginning around age 6. The child can now see things from another person's perspective, so there is a noticeable increase in her efforts to support and comfort those in need. The ability to use language to comfort others also substantially increases. That old woman looks like she needs help getting into the elevator. I will hold the elevator door open, so she can walk in safely.

Abstract empathy - late childhood: ages 10 to 12. The child can now extend empathy beyond those he personally knows or can directly observe to include people he may have never met. The people in Africa look so hungry. If I sent some of my allowance each week, it might make them feel better.

It made me realize that maybe I push Anna too hard by trying to get her to comfort her playmates when they are in distress. She is still in age-appropriate stage of emotional empathy, when she tries to sort out the feelings of this other person. She is pretty observant and very sensitive to moods. Even when she looks at the pictures, she asks sometimes, Why is he sad? or Why is she worried? She always asks us why is he/she crying? when she hears someone in distress. But strong emotions of others scare her. She is raised in a quiet home, where everyone is polite. My husband and I rarely argue in front of her (and we rarely argue in general). A couple of times we did it really freaked her out, and she kept asking for weeks, What did papa say? Why were you loud? She is able and willing to offer comfort to us - when one of us doesn't feel well, she will come and cuddle and give many hugs and kisses and tell us to feel better. But she is not willing to extend herself to playmates, because she doesn't have any real friends yet. I now feel more comfortable that she is simply too young and empathy for playmates will come with age.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Moral Intelligence

The seven crucial values that authors identifies are:

• Empathy - identifying with and feeling other people's concerns

• Conscience - knowing the right and decent way to act and acting that way

• Self-control - Regulating your thoughts and actions so that you stop any pressures from within or from outside and act the way you know and feel is right

• Respect - Showing you value others by treating them in a courteous and considerate way

• Kindness - Demonstrating concern about welfare and feeling of others

• Tolerance - Respecting the dignity and rights of all persons, even those whose beliefs an behaviors differ from our own

• Fairness - Choosing to be open-minded and to act in a just way.

According to an author, the first three virtues form the foundation of our children' moral intelligence. The focus of this week will be on empathy. Stay tuned :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Attachment Parenting vs... What?

A couple ago, I made some remarks regarding attachment parenting in my post on Raising an Optimistic Child book that an esteemed author of The Wonder Years replied in her comment. I thought that I will write a post with my views on attachment parenting, and now finally I have 30 min to do so.

Even before Anna was born, I read multitude of books on child development and raising young children. As I mentioned before, I like to know my theory before even attempting practice, and being an only child, I had very little exposure to babies before my own unexpectedly came along. As I was reading, it quickly became obvious that "the theme du jour" in parenting advice world is "attachment parenting". It mostly applies to children in the first year of life and stresses physical closeness between a mother and her child - breastfeeding, babywearing and co-sleeping.

It's not that I disagree with an importance of close relationship between a mother and her baby. What I disagree with is a sort of doomsday scenarios that some of these books and articles picture. It sounds sometimes that your children will be somewhat "damaged" unless you follow the gospel of attachment parenting. I know women that were depressed just because they didn't have a perfect birth prescribed by attachment parenting and insisted that now they will be unable to bond with their infants properly.

I already profiled "Baby Whisperer" book earlier in my posts, and that was the book that really meshed with my own view of parenting. I think it can be described as "common sense parenting". I followed the premise of that book - think of what you want and don't start on the road where you don't want to be. So, we never co-slept, because I wanted to still have a bed with my spouse, not a family bed. I never wore my baby - I have some back problems, and I couldn't find anything that was comfortable both for me and for Anna (Interestingly, my husband loved Baby Bjorn, and Anna spent a lot of time there while he was running errands or hiking with her). I breastfed my daughter for the first 15 months of her life and didn't mind the fact that she didn't sleep through the night until 18 months. That was who she was, and I accepted that as part of her. I went back to work full time, when she was 3 months old, and my husband took full-time parenting responsibilities confidently and successfully. We never had to "sleep-train" her, to break her out of pacifier (never gave her a pacifier), to potty train her in three days (a subject of a separate post). We never baby-proofed our house. We just paid enough attention to our child and taught her not to touch things that were "not her toys". So far I am happy with the results. Our daughter seems to be healthy and happy. She is introverted (not shy, just prefers to play by herself), but she interacts well with her peers in preschool, and she seems to be securely attached without all the "necessary" ingredients of attachment parenting. We just connected to who she is and responded to what she needed - love with firm boundaries.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Culture of Appropriate Praise

This post will be the last one in my series on Raising an Optimistic Child book. I will write about the chapter that I found interesting and relevant. It's called Create a Family Culture of Appropriate Praise. The authors made a point that praise benefits both the giver and the receiver. The receiver gets a boost to his self-esteem and, if commended for doing something well, his sense of competence. The giver gets an equally valuable reward: seeing the faces he cares for light up and strengthening the relationship. If praise is withheld, the blow is dealt to children' sense of self-worth and competence. Then the authors went into more details about three types of appropriate praise saying that each is necessary at the right time and can be damaging if it's the only type of praise received.

• Praise for achievement (what he does). Whenever you think that your child does something well, tell him. However, achievement praise loses its power if it's used indiscriminately - if, for example, "that's fantastic!" covers everything from finishing dinner to riding a bicycle alone for the very first time. Indiscriminate phrase for achievement can actually promote narcissism and extreme self-absorption, inability to make friends or behave appropriately in social situations, irrational anger at others, and a lack of interest in learning.

• Praise for process (how he does it). The research showed that "process praise" - for effort, inventiveness, keeping at it - is the most effective kind. Process praise is not focused on outcomes, yet it helps children actually do better at tasks. He learns that how he does something is important. He will keep using the techniques and ways of thinking he got praised for and that are most likely to bring about a sense of mastery and success - both major factors in preventing and healing depression.

• Praise for person (who he is). People need to know that they are valued just because of who they are, without having to strive for this recognition. You can say to your child, "You are a great kid!" This is a relationship-building praise, but it's also a statement of your feelings toward your child. The subtext is: "I love you and I am not going to abandon or desert you." Since there is nothing a child fears more than abandonment, this is a vital ongoing reassurance.

The authors also stress that there is such a thing as bad praise. One example they give is using "nonspecific" praise. For example, telling a child he's "good" when you are really pleased he's picked up his toys doesn't let him know specifically how he can maintain your approval. Even praising a child for a fixed trait such as intelligence or being musical or athletic can backfire. The child has no control over these genetic characteristics. Researchers have found that labeling children as gifted or talented may also have a negative impact by causing them to become overly concerned with justifying that label. They may become less willing to risk academic setbacks by taking on challenges that enhance their learning and mastery skills.

I found the last paragraph especially interesting, because it seems that some parents appear to be in extreme rush to get their toddlers labeled as gifted. There is one parenting forum I encountered that is called "Advanced Toddlers and Preschoolers". Half the posts there start with the same question, "... my 20 month child recognizes letters. Is he gifted?". Even if he or she is, what difference does it really make? Young children still need the same things - opportunity to play, socialize with peers, enjoy outdoors. Their natural talents will develop much better that way. Oh, well, I am going to get off my soapbox now and go give my daughter a much-needed bath.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sense of Touch - Mystery Bag

Motivated by ABC and 123 request for activities around the theme of five senses, I came up with this simple game for Anna that we call a "Mystery Bag". I took five objects from her play area - a toy plate, a small toy, a play-doh shape, etc., and for the first time I showed them to her and explained her the rules. I put them in the bag and she had to reach in the box, find an object, feel it and tell me what it is. She caught on right away and had a lot of fun with this activity.

We played it three times in a row, and for the second and third time I didn't show her what I am placing in the bag. In the third round when I was ready to switch to something else, I put there a new balloon (without an air in it). She couldn't tell what it was and was very intrigued. I gave her clues - This is something that can become round and light if you put air in it. That wasn't enough, so I imitated blowing the balloon. Then she could guess correctly. We pulled the balloon out, blew it up, and had a grand old time with it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What My Child Is Reading - June 11, 2009

As I mentioned before, our last week visit to the library based on Top 30 List suggestions, was a disaster. Fortunately, a few books from our home collection were chosen by Anna as favorites this week:

My mother sent this book to Anna when she was about 1 year old. It has various paper tags to make things on the page change - the flashlight changes between dark and light, the rollercoaster goes up and down, etc. Not a lot of words, just actions illustrating a concept. Obviously, the book was not appropriate for a one year old, and even now it's sometimes hard for Anna to manipulate the tags gently, but she was very excited about the book, especially about the rollercoaster page. She kept asking when she can go on the rollercoaster - you can tell that she enjoyed her visit to Gilroy Gardens :)

We are continuing on Richard Scarry's streak for the second week straight. After our success with Please and Thank You Book, I pulled out What Do People Do All Day from our "too early" shelf. Majority of the stories in this book are still over Anna's head, but she enjoyed a couple of stories, especially Everyone is a worker. It's amusing to see though how different the world is now - she kept asking why the cashier in the bank gives money to someone directly outside of the bank. She was not a big fan of A Visit to the Hospital and Fire Station stories - she really doesn't like to read about bad things happening to anyone.

After reading "Top 30 List", my husband pulled out another book from our "too early" shelf - Owl Moon. Surprisingly, this one turned out to be well accepted. I shook my head when I looked into the amount of text on the page, but there is something about the book - it's not a poem, but it reads like a poem. Anna is fascinated by owls (thank you, Winnie the Pooh and San Fransisco zoo), that's why I think she likes this story, even though a lot of words and concepts (including snowy forest in the middle of the night) must be hard for her to understand.

We bought this book at Barnes & Noble about a month ago and reading it on and off since then. It has a nice mix of classic tales (Old McDonald, The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina) and modern stories for children (Auntie Octopus, Roly and Poly). Anna's favorite story is Cuthbert, a Lonely Crocodile. It's about a crocodile who wants to have brothers and sisters like other animals in the jungle. In the end he gets 10 baby brothers and sisters, and Anna always looks very pleased at the ending. Oh, the plight of a single child :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can craftiness be learned?

Now I have a daughter, and things are different. I did well personally and professionally, but I would love to see her more creative than myself. My husband complements me in this - he is very creative. He can sew, does simple carpentry, loves Lego blocks and created his own board games in the past. He always draws birthday cards and calendars. But he is also very mess-averse. He always takes care to organize his working space just so and immediately cleans up. Doing any arts project with our toddler stresses him out. Luckily, Anna goes to preschool for 2 days a week, and her preschool teaches ABC through art. They have a lot of projects similar to those featured on my current favorite crafts blog - Our Crafts and Things. I am thinking of making more art projects with her at home, but a few things keep interfering with my best intentions:

• Time limitations - a lot of crafts require some preliminary assembly, work time and then clean-up time. Considering that we usually have about 2 hours together of time together between my arrival home and time for dinner/bedtime routine, I sort of prefer to spend this time in free play outside or doing activities that we both enjoy more - reading together or unstructured play of her choosing. Sadly, Anna rarely if ever chooses to do arts if she is not prompted to do so.

• Energy level - again, after getting up before 6 am and spending full day in the office, I am pretty tired in the evening. Since for me art is work, I often simply lack motivation to guide Anna in this direction

• Anna's natural interests. Unfortunately, she appears to be my daughter, after all. She likes art projects when she gets into them, but she doesn't spontaneously reach for them most of the time, even though she has free access to her play-doh box and to her cutting/sticker box. If she plays by herself (which is rare), she prefers puzzles, cars, or pretend cooking. Sometimes I question whether I should really "push" her into art, considering that I didn't develop any interest in it despite enough exposure.

• Overwhelming number of choices. When I come to arts and crafts section of Target or any other store, I am blown away by options. What is the difference between tempura paint and finger paints? What is the glitter clue for? How to choose construction paper? That's why I am really looking forward to entries that will give some ideas for the best art supplies for young children. I'll be reading!

Monday, June 8, 2009

E is for Exciting Easter Egg Experiment

As I wrote in my post a couple of days ago, we don't do any "letter of the week" activities, but the request from ABC and 123 made me think creatively about fun things to do with Anna that would begin with letter "E". So I created this little egg game. We used Anna's sand and water table as a prop, but any sort of container with water will work. I took a few plastic Easter egg from our Easter basket in the closet and showed her how empty egg float in the water. She had some fun pushing them around with a stick. Then we opened them and put some small rocks inside. We watched how eggs would submerge deeper and eventually with a certain number of rocks (we counted them), the eggs sank. Our eggs also had a small hole inside, which made an experiment even more interesting. I let water in, and we watched how a hollow egg sank as well when it was filled with water. Anna had a lot of fun, and we also discussed the opposites of heavy-light and float-sink. Of course, the bonus activity for older kids would be discussing why heavy ships don't sink. But Anna didn't ask, and I decided not to push into this direction. I am curious if she thinks of this question herself :)
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Field Trips Rock - Gilroy Gardens

Yesterday we went to the Gilroy Gardens - a great family park that is only about 45 minutes away from us. Unlike Disneyland, this park is built specifically for preschoolers, even though there are a couple of rides there for older children and adults. Most of the rides require chaperone anyway, but there were some where she could ride by herself. We spent 3.5 hours there, and she had a great time. I heard her talking to her toys during the nap - her narrative was constantly interrupted by giggles and excited panting, but it went like this:

Kitty, I want to tell you about the great time that I had. I went on boats... and I went in a strawberry. And then I went on a Ferris Wheel high-high up, and we went back down. Oh, and we went in a balloon... It was just a little bit scary. Not very scary, but a little scary. And I went on a train! But the train wasn't Tootle. Tootle is yellow, and our train was black.

Needless to say, we'll be coming back this summer. Thinking whether to buy a membership or just play it by ear :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Getting to "Yes"

I am finally finishing the Principles of Happy Parenting. Y stands for "Getting to Yes!". Yes, I can swing by myself! Yes, I can wear big girl underwear! Yes, I can please my parents. It's about upbeat confidence, realistically appraising what you can and can't do, not allowing one setback to deter you, and getting recognition for your competence from those who matter to you.

The last point about recognition is important to me. There is a school of thought that cautions against overpraising our children. Raising an Optimistic Child talks about the "culture of appropriate praise". I will write a separate post about it one of these days. We praise Anna often, maybe sometimes a little too often. But it's not easy to "get her to Yes". She has very conservative estimates of what she can do and doesn't want to jump out of the comfort zone. I appreciate it in the situations involving physical danger, but I would like her to learn how to try new things without worrying that she won't do them perfectly. Even getting her to spend some time at drawing is not easy - apparently she cannot do it well enough to her own satisfaction and gets easily frustrated.

How do you encourage your children to push their boundaries?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What My Child is Reading - June 4, 2009

While getting to know my fellow bloggers writing about young children, I came across this lovely site - Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile. An author of that site brought me to another site - The Well Read Child that has a weekly feature called What My Child is Reading This Week. Since we love books and go to the library every week to refresh our reading selection, I thought I will participate in it as well. So what is my child reading this week? Mostly the books that we brought from the library. We have a lot of children books at home, but she likes new books (same things with new toys). However there were two books from her own collection that were in favor this week.

Oh, A-Hunting We Will Go. We got this book at the library book sale. I don't like the book that much, but Anna is fascinated with the pictures. She also likes to make up her own silly verses set to the motive of her favorite songs, and this book is built that way - children pretend to go hunting and pretend to catch various animals. Anna's favorite is about a snake that is being put in the cake. She always giggles and says that this is silly.

The other favorite from our own collection was a German picture book with moving parts about a harbor . I think she mostly likes it because I don't refuse to read it, and I read it in English, so she understands it better than when her father reads it to her in German. Usually I don't read her German books, because I don't know the language well enough to read the story.

We also brought a few books from the library. Lately Anna was very interested in maps (we have a GPS navigator in the car, and she also watches Dora occasionally). So I brought her As the Roadrunner Runs: A First Book of Maps and National Geographic Beginners World Atlas. She liked the first book a lot, but she didn't ask to keep it for another week. Usually she wants to keep reading her favorite books for more than one week.

Our library has a big stand with toddler picture books selections, and she pulled two from the stand and insisted that we take them home. They were Clifford's Happy Mother's Day and The Night Before First Grade. Don't ask me why The Night Before First Grade was on the toddler shelf, but Anna actually liked it and asked a lot of good questions about the content. She didn't want to read Clifford even once, when we brought home. Good, because I can't stand this series either.

My favorite out of our haul last week was When I Was Five. It's a delightful and funny story about little boy's tastes and how they changed when he became six. Anna liked the story and enjoyed tracking Jeremy's cat on each page of the book. She was also fascinated with how someone uses "bad words" and wanted to know what it means. Obviously, she didn't hear any anywhere yet :)

Anna's favorite was Richard Scurry's Please and Thank You Book pictured in this post. She was a big fan of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go for a long time, but I think by now she knows every vehicle and every character in that book. Her favorite story was Pig Will and Pig Won't. My personal favorite story was about Pests, it allowed me to have a talk with Anna about Interrupting Pests, and why papa and I get angry sometimes when she interrupts our conversation. Definitely a good book - I will probably end up buying it for the future, if I see it on sale somewhere.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alphabet Activities with Toddlers

This post is for tomorrow's discussion at ABC and 123 Picnic. At her ripe old age of 2 years and 7 months Anna knows her ABC pretty well. In fact, her preschool teachers (she goes to the class that has kids age 2-5) has commented to us several times with surprise that she consistently trumps her older classmates in ABC activities. That's why we don't really do any targeted "letter-of-the-week" activities outside of occasional discussion of the letters we encounter and the sounds they make. She sort of understands letter-sound correspondence, but it didn't move her any closer to actual sounding words out yet - when she is not interested in something, she wouldn't budge. But what we did we do to encourage her interest earlier? Well, here is the short list:

Very early exposure to letter shapes -our nursery decor was based on ABCs. My husband personally selected the fabrics and sewn pillowcases and curtains (I mentioned before that he is the crafty one in our family).

A lot of ABC and word books before she was one - I have described our favorites for that age in my earlier post.

Computer Time - while I don't believe in educational TV programming (because it's not interactive), computer is different in my mind, because we play on it together. Even though, all forms of electronic entertainment combined are limited to max of 30 min a day in our house. I cannot say enough about Starfall - we started doing "letter of the day" there (for about 10 min a day) when Anna was about 9 months. I also tried various games with her - the only one that we both liked for a while was Reader Rabbit Playtime.

Tactile activities - playing with foam letters, sticker letters, magnetic letters (we intentionally bought only lowercase, because many parents focus too much on uppercase alphabet) making letters out of play-doh, out of sticks, etc.

As our daughter got older, we progressed to more story-like ABC books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr Seuss's ABC. However, our favorite ABC book turned out to be this one. I believe firmly that emotional intelligence is as important to young children (and to adults) as knowing their ABCs or learning to read.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Planning for the best outcome

I am going to continue with the review of HAPPY parenting principles today. The second P stands for Planning for the best outcome. It's an interesting topic and deals with fostering ability to delay gratification. I read before that the research shows that children who are able to accept delayed rewards when they are very young tend to do better in school, their careers, and life in general. Anna is not bad in delaying gratification (for a toddler) and understands the concept of a prize chart when the prize comes in the end. That's how we passed the "pooping on the toilet" hurdle. However, I agree with the authors that planning is not something that very young children can do, since they don't really have a concept of time. The chapter offers some ways to help a child over four learn short-term planning skills:

• Give your child a part of the plan to arrange ot discover by herself or take the lead in planning for - such as the clothes she'll wear or the best neighborhood places to walk the new puppy.

• Encourage games and activities that involve strategy and teamwork among siblings and/or the whole family, such as treasure hunts.

• Don't rush her. Allow her time to work out what she wants and to plan for it. Don't expect her ideas to be wholly rational and don't mock her if they're not. If something she planned for won't work, explain why and make some suggestions for what would.

• Do what you say you are going to do, or let her know when plans have changed. Her emotional security depends on knowing that people she idealizes are trustworthy.

• Don't expect the child under age four to be happy about putting off the good stuff; just explain that it's sometimes necessary.