Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's Carnival Time!

My post on how Every Kid Is Homeschooled is included in the current Carnival of Homeschooling. Thanks to host Eric Novak at The Voice of Experience!

There are lots of other interesting articles about homeschooling. Some are great even if you're not officially homeschooling your children because, as my post explains, every kid is engaged in learning at home.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Child Care Study

I've been thinking about child care recently as my daughter goes to daycare two days a week. Like many parents I read about the study that found kids in daycare centers had more behavioral problems later in school. There was a lot of media coverage of this finding, but the study was interesting in several other ways that didn't get much press.

Kids who spent time in child care also had higher vocabulary scores. Meara comes home with new words every time she goes to daycare. She also comes home with new words every time she goes to Nana's house, so I think it's about new and different sources of information.

The other funny aspect of the study is that they defined "child care" as anyone other than the mother spending significant time with the child. In other words, stay-at-home dads were counted as "child care.” This doesn't seem like the best definition, at least for my generation. I don’t have enough information to know how this affected the results of the study.

The final problem I see in the media coverage of this study is that the authors themselves said that the increase in vocabulary and problem behaviors was small, and that parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care. This confirms what most of us already suspected, that good parenting is what matters to kids, whether they spend time at daycare or not.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Teaching Social Skills—Start Early!

My 16-month-old daughter Meara is fascinated with babies. She points them out everywhere we go, especially if they’re crying. She will insist “baby, sad” when I don’t see a stroller anywhere, but if I listen carefully I’ll hear a tiny wail from someplace far away. Kids as young as one show clear signs of empathy. So how do I encourage my kid to develop these important interpersonal skills? Here’s what I’m doing:

Label feelings. My daughter points out sad babies because we have talked about it many, many times. When she does something that she knows is a “no-no” I tell her that I’m frustrated or mad and use the appropriate facial expression. I try to be just as descriptive about positive feelings. “Thank you for the hug. Hugs make mommy happy!” She will actually dance around the room with me screeching “Happy! Happy!” I think she’s getting the idea.

Read together. We talk about what the character does, but also what he thinks and feels. I just read an article that convinced me it’s a great way to help kids understand other people’s perspectives. Kids who can see other points of view are much better off socially.

Model ways to solve conflict. I used to train peer mediators for schools. Kids as young as 5 can be great mediators if you teach them the language and steps to use. My daughter is too young to actively participate in solving conflicts, but I’m starting with the building blocks. I give her options throughout the day (would you like the pink shirt or the white shirt?) so she learns to make choices. When I have to enforce MY choices I always explain why. “We have to leave the park now because it’s time for dinner.” Positive Discipline: The First Three Years is a great resource for toddlers. There are also preschool and teenage versions, in addition to the original.

Laugh together. Help your child develop a sense of humor. Appreciate when he or she tries to make a joke. Share things that you find funny. Kids love to hear funny stories about themselves, so that’s a good place to start. I wrote a few weeks ago about how humor is correlated with high intelligence, sociability, and self-esteem, among other things (Toddler Humor). It’s an easy way to connect with people and break the ice.

These are good basics for grownups to remember too. I have to remind myself sometimes to tell others how I’m feeling or to address a conflict before it escalates. If you have kids, you know what incredible sponges they are. You have a real opportunity to make a difference in the quality of their interactions with people for the rest of their lives.

Every Kid Is Homeschooled

As a former teacher I have been thinking about the possibility of homeschooling my daughter. She’s only 1½ so I have some time before she’s school-aged. But of course I am already homeschooling her because I’m her mom. I am teaching her about liquids, gravity, safety, bubbles, and a million other things. Whether you work outside the home or not, you are your child’s first teacher and the homeschooling you provide will affect her for the rest of her life.

For example, I just read a fascinating article about how a mother’s reading style affects her kid’s social skills. The authors observed mothers reading to their kids (ages three to six) and found that “the use of cognitive verbs like 'think', 'know', 'remember' and 'believe' by mothers when reading picture books to their children has a beneficial effect on their children's later ability to understand other people's mental states.” In other words, kids benefit when their mothers help them understand other people’s (or characters’) perspectives. The researchers showed these kids a candy container and opened it so the kids could see that there were counters inside, not candy. Then they asked the kids to predict what another child would think was inside the container. The kids whose moms used more cognitive verbs understood that the other child didn’t have the same information about what was actually in the candy package. We read to our kids to teach them language and to encourage them to love books, and it turns out that they are learning much more.

My gift to my daughter is to make the most of this homeschooling opportunity. Our textbooks will be “Go, Dog, Go” and “Goodnight Moon.” Our field trips will be to the zoo, the park, and Nana’s house. We will conduct experiments with bubbles and light switches, and we will reinvent our classroom to suit our needs each day. I think this is what homeschooling is all about. I may never want to give it up!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Very Early Childhood Education

When I taught seventh grade, my students came into my classroom with their opinions of school fully formed. Kids who loved school were still going to like it whether or not they enjoyed my class. Kids who hated school were, for the most part, going to continue to hate it. It felt like I was getting them too late.

I worked with a group of second graders several years ago on a playground mediation program. Some of them already disliked school or thought they were “bad at math.” By the time kids reach school age they already have years of education under their tiny little belts. When my daughter was born a year and a half ago it really hit home for me that all parents are teachers. We just don’t get underpaid for it like in the public school system.

Here’s what I hope I’m teaching my daughter right now:

Reading is fun. I try to enjoy books at her pace. Sometimes we read from back to front. Sometimes we just point out what’s in the pictures and don’t read the text at all. When my daughter says “book, lap” I drop whatever I’m working on. It’s one of the rare times she sits still enough to snuggle.

Try things more than once. Pouring sand into a cup is hard the first time. And the second and the tenth. But it’s fun to practice and eventually you won’t even remember that you couldn’t do it. I try not to do things for her if I think she is close to doing them herself. I give lots of praise for effort. And we celebrate when she learns a new skill by showing it to Daddy or with singing and dancing.

Sing, dance, participate. It’s embarrassing to perform the itsy-bitsy spider in the grocery store. But only for me. My daughter thinks it’s great, and she always enlists random passers-by. So I participate and try not to be embarrassed because on this one I think she’s teaching me. Kids who are willing to be creative and try things are much better off when they get to school. They’re not afraid to raise their hands and participate.

I want to instill in my daughter a love of learning. I’m pretty sure the way to do this is to model it myself. We are not doing any expensive mommy-and-me classes. We didn’t sign up for preschools while I was pregnant. For now we’re just exploring the world together.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All the Babies Are Above Average

I often hear people commenting “She’s so smart,” or “Wow, he’s advanced,” about babies they meet at the playground or grocery store. Nobody ever says “Gosh, your kid is slow!” Many parents do worry secretly that their own child is behind in some way because there’s a ten-month-old down the street doing algebra. I try to admire all the types of intelligence I see in other people’s babies because I think it’s great for my daughter to have smart playmates. She has learned such interesting tricks from watching other kids!

The good news for worried parents is that ALL of our babies are getting smarter. Or at least average IQ scores are rising. Nobody is sure why this happens, but it may help that each generation has better nutrition and access to education. James R. Flynn, who discovered the phenomenon, says that “IQ tests do not measure intelligence but rather correlate with a weak causal link to intelligence.” Either way, you can be proud that your baby is “smarter” than babies from a few years ago, at least until they re-standardize the IQ tests again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Forever in the Basket

I hid my daughter’s stuffed lamb in a basket the other day when we were playing. Since then she keeps going over to look in the basket and says “lamb? lamb?” in a puzzled way when he’s not inside. She’s seen him in several other places around the house but she keeps checking in the basket.

This is a dilemma of the advanced sensorimotor stage. If I hide the lamb while my daughter is watching she finds him immediately. Most babies master that task between 10 and 12 months. My daughter, at 16 months, only struggles when she has no idea where the lamb is. All she can think of to do is check the last place she successfully discovered him. In a few more months she’ll branch out and search more creatively. Then I’ll have to hide things for real if I don’t want her to find them!

This whole episode makes me smile because my daughter is employing MY mother’s technique for finding lost things. “Now think back, where was the last place you remember seeing the lamb…”