Your child’s first teacher — yes, you.

This is a draft of a post I wrote years ago. I’m struggling to get much writing done, so thought I’d get an old draft together and published.


I have been thinking more about my last rant on children’s books and such things. Of course, I often think about what I’m teaching Doctor Destructo (who is now known as Little Man) and what I want to teach him. I am an educator by nature and education, so I think a lot about educating. And I can be a bit odd, so Hubby tells me, so that might be it, too.

My very own sister made a good point, that these Curious George books are ones I read growing up and have I embraced the irresponsible life style? No, I escape unscathed. However, when chatting with my Dad, I learn that he and Mom had similar misgivings about the books. Thus, I suspect that a fair number of conversations and teaching moments were about logical consequences and being responsible.

All this to say that you have GOT to talk with your child. Yes, yes, every parent who bothers to seek out and read any parenting magazine or website will be told “talk to your child. When you are giving them a bath, talk to them about what you are doing. When you are changing their diaper, tell them what you are doing.”  This is a good starting point, for sure, when you are looking at this little bundle of unfinished neural connections (not my words, got that from someone else) and you have no idea what they are thinking or even if they are thinking (but they probably are, ’cause that is what kids do).


Yeah, I can have strong opinions….. And now, I know that sometimes, I just want quiet. My quiet. Little Man quiet. All quiet. It’s good to not talk sometimes. Sometimes a few years of experience brings perspective, right?

turn your back for one minute….

We are still finding our summer rhythm… 5 weeks into our ‘summer’. The Hubby finished with his teaching duties back in the beginning of May, but with moving people out of houses and apartments and just general life, we never found ‘normal’. This week is finding a ‘normal’. And its so refreshing and nice.

Apart of finding normal is figuring out our daily rhythm when we are at home all day (Little Man and I, that is. Hubby is going into school to read and write that dissertation — home stretch!). This morning, Little Man declares he wants to finger paint. I’m totally good with this — fine motor skill development, creativity, a sensory experience and who-knows what other benefit is to be found in finger painting. He started smearing the paint up his arms (yes, I can handle this…) and I decided we’d go outside to clean up. I step away for about a minute (maybe 2) and come back to find….

Look what I can do!

Look what I can do!

Paint in his hair and all over his face. :::sigh::: After I took the picture he says “I want to see it!” Its a bit scary how much he knows about how the camera and phones work.

Last summer, we spent a lot of time out under the trees. These are huge Live Oak trees and they tend to sprawl outwards as much as upwards. And they cast a deep, deep shadow on the area underneath, which can easily be 5 to 10 degrees cooler than the areas in the sun. After the rain we got on Sunday morning and 2 cool nights, the breeze is still cool, which makes sitting out under the trees a very enjoyable experience.

Summer days

Summer days

I’m thinking through what ‘science’ activity we might do this week. Maybe we will just focus on the general experience and less on any sort of discovery. I picked up to browse “The Well-trained Mind: A guide to classical education at home”. Its been good to read and remind myself of what is come and general expectations (knowing it could easily be a year or two off for any one child). At the same time, I picked up Natural Born Learners (free from amazon kindle last week. $3.99 now), which is a series of essays on unschooling. I’m philosophically attracted to both theories, and there seems to be one, very important, underlying assumption that is different between the two. In fact, I think its the assumption that sets unschooling apart from every other educational philosophy. The assumption is about how children learn (of course!), unschooling assumes that a child will learn. You put the information out there, you provide some interesting question and a child will learn. No teaching needed, no special methods needed, no formal sit-down-and-work needed. Children will learn whether you want them to or not. Every other philosophy assumes that if you (or someone) doesn’t “teach” it, the child won’t learn it. How you “teach” it varies from theory to theory. I put ‘teach’ in quotes because in some theories, its not what we imagine when we use the word ‘teach’, but its some form of active presentation of the material to the child. I suspect that I’m drastically simplifying the assumptions here and it might be that this basic assumption creates a continuum along which philosophies lie — some at extreme ends of you have to beat it into a child and the other end of not being intentional about presenting any new material. As I explore this, I hope to write about it. I feel like there is plenty written about all these things so I don’t need to add it, but I have this quite voice in my mind saying I can present a different view point which might help someone. Who knows… though we will find out!

Of course, the book I’m currently devouring is ‘The History of the Renaissance World’, but S.W. Bauer (same author as well-trained mind). I totally plan on purchasing all her history books… Ancient, Medievel and Renaissance is out. I’m hoping “modern” or some version is to be out soonish. Though it will take me a while to get through these three. The Renaissance book is *fat* at about 2 inches thick and 688 pages of text. The last 1/2 inch is notes, works cited and index.

And, if you are on goodreads.com, look for me (https://www.goodreads.com/friend/i?i=LTM2MDQ2MTUzNTg6MzY1) and if you aren’t on goodreads.com — you should be as its a great way to keep track of what you’ve read, what you want to read and what you are currently reading.

Homekeeping resources: ebooks

This is really a huge topic, but I will try to be succinct. (all links given here will open in a new tab/window)

Ebooks

There are a ton of ebooks out; a fair number are good quality books. I, in my tightwad ways, might notice a book I want to read and will wait till I see it free on amazon, or a sign-up-for-this freebie, or somesuch. Most of the ebooks I have, I got for free. Legally. Some have been pretty bad, and some quite good, and the majority in the middle. Occasionally, I’ll pay for an ebook, such as when, last spring, there was an offer of a huge swath of homkeeping-mothering-parenting-and-all-other-topics-that-an-adult-woman-in-the-US-might-be-interested-in ebook bundle. I’ve found the best way to find ebooks you’ll be interested in is to find the blogs that cover the topic you are interested in. Of course, if you just want free ebooks, a site like http://www.free-ebooks.net/ might be what you want.
In general, ebooks tend to be shorter and more focused than bound books (at least in my experience), such as ‘time management’ or ‘scheduling’ in one book, while another book discusses the documents that are helpful in homemaking (to do lists, calendars, etc).
Here are the ebooks that I’ve found most useful in my quest to better my homekeeping skills.
Organized Simplicity, by Tsh Oxenreider (http://simplemom.net/books/) — I got this book as a free amazon book in Jan 2012. She walks you through establishing your own family’s mission and vision, and then helps you figure out your priorities such that what you do lines up with your family’s mission (purpose statement is what she calls it). This is a great book for figuring out how to go about living simply
Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule so you can Live Free, by Annie Dillard (tellyourtime.com). Wow, this book was awesome! The author walks you through defining your roles, using those roles as a guide for establishing priorities, then uses those as foundations for setting up a weekly schedule. This has been the best book I’ve read, so far, about scheduling and how to go about it.
Organizing Life as Mom, by Jessica Getskow Fisher (www.lifeasmom.com). This book is the nuts and bolts of homekeeping and general parental organizing. The book is a compilation of “worksheets and planning pages to help you get your act together”. I use several pages from this book, which I’ve laminated, for my weekly planning. When you buy the book, you get a monthly update with new worksheets and planning pages and a new monthly calendar jpg you can use for your desktop background. I really like this.

Other useful ebooks

There are other ebooks that I enjoyed, learned from, or have good information, but aren’t one my MVB list.
The Homemakers Guide to Creating the Perfect Schedule, by Amy Roberts (raisingarrows.net). She walks you through establishing a schedule for your home. It was straightforward and useful information, ideas, and guidance.
Hula Hoop Girl, by September McCarthy (hulahoopgirl.net). This book more deals with our own tendency to get overly involved and too busy. Are you trying to keep more hula hoops spinning than you really ought? Or perhaps you are trying to keep more plates spinning than you ought? Either way, this book was really good at taking the reader through these issues and focusing one’s efforts.
Do the Funky Kitchen, by Laura Coppinger (www.heavenlyhomemakers.com). My kitchen is the control center of my home. And I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and in the dinning room. This book walks you through getting your kitchen into shape to work for you, which the author admits that she needs to do on a regular basis. I should probably do this again soon.
Next up: What I actually do!
Yep, finally, after how long? I’ll walk you through what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing and what I’ve found works and doesn’t work and what really doesn’t matter. At least in my life.

Writing Inspiration — goals and excuses

I have felt a complete lack of inspiration when it comes to blog writing lately. Please note that its been nearly 2 full weeks since I last put up a post. I’m sure I’ve had witty thoughts, inspiriting words to write and interesting articles, but none have lasted long enough to make it into the post editor. Maybe that’s  my problem? Maybe I should be writing the posts in evernote.

Anyhoo, one day this last week, I found I had the best excuse ever for the complete lack of inspiration and energy. I’m pregnant!

Yes, let me holler that a bit louder and more clearly. I’M PREGNANT!!!!!

And the timing is just about perfect as far is it being an excuse for not blogging. God’s timing is perfect in other ways, too, though I doubt He intended to give me an excuse for not blogging over that two week period.

I should still have some goals for May, right? After all, there are birthdays this month that require some sort of gift like object (little boy and a nephew), one of the languishing baby blankets is for a friend who’s hubby got a job (yea!) and is moving this summer (boo!), and June is quite out for getting much other than survival done. I’ve worked out to teach some swimming lessons that month — though that gets one goal done, “swimming lessons for little boy”.

Of course, I also need to be sure and tell the story of our journey to grow our family. And post #500 is quickly approaching and there is the sense that it should be some deep/insightful/exciting kind of post. We’ll see.

As for April goals, I did okay.

  1. Write Hubby a love note (though it was by email, that still counts, yes?)
  2. Work on morning devotion habit (a bit of Bible study, a bit of prayer)
  3. Finish the 2 very late baby blankets (since both babies are born!)
  4. Read 2 new books.
  5. Keep up the blog habit (2x a week!)
  6. Work on being intentional with my time.

Yeah, I think I did okay. In fact, I read way more than 2 new books as I jumped for the ‘ultimate homemaking e-book bundle’ last week. 97 e-books. I’ve made it though a slew of those books, though some I stopped reading after a  page or two when I figured out I wasn’t so interested in that book. (note to self: I should review these books as I read them)

May goals…

May will be about maintenance. Maintain habits, maintain house, that sort of thing. And I’ll dabble… in sewing, reading books. And I’ll aim to post about them along the way.

I love the idea of making goals and working towards them, but that seems to be what is first to go when my energy lags or life gets busy. I must remember to make the goals work for me, not be a slave to them.

And Happy Mother’s Day! I got a great mother’s day gift this year…. a positive pregnancy test. 😛 Any other fun gifts?

 

Picking good Children’s books

So, after my last post it struck me (based on some comments) that I didn’t want to suggest that I wouldn’t read Curious George to Doctor Destructo or that I was going to be all uppity about the books we would read. We are still reading Curious George and Winnie the Pooh, and other merely fun books (as in not necessarily more than a fun story). In fact, I think these are the kinds of things we need to be reading now. So, I thought I’d present my thoughts on what makes for a “good” children’s book and book collection.

“Good” as in I think its worth reading more than once, perhaps many times. Such is the way with books these days, in that if Doctor Destructo decides he likes a book, he wants it read over and over and over again. Like putting a song on repeat.

What makes a book good?

1. The book tells a story. Books with pictures that are labeled certainly have their place, but better are those with stories. Doctor Destructo really likes the Baby Words book, which has photographs and words, but no story. Those are nice when you want to point and give words, but true language development, I think, come as the child hears a narrative. They hear the way the story progresses from the beginning, to the climax, into the denouement. This is where a child will hear those odd ball grammatical structures that we really hardly ever use in everyday conversation, like “If I were a butterfly, I’d….” or those fun conditionals, “if you give a mouse a cookie….”. If you are lucky (and likely worked hard), and can read to your child in a language other than English, you might find other fun grammatical structures like the Spanish subjunctive (I think that’s what its called. We don’t really have it in English.)

2. The books shows life in a way that says ‘normal’ to you. This will vary from family to family and what your values are. But I believe strongly that parents SHOULD instill in their children a set of values that reflects what you believe. (note: not someone else, not the school, but the parents). If you think ‘normal’ is a Mommy and a Daddy and kids, then let your books reflect this. If you want your child to think that ‘normal’ includes a different configuration of people as family, then your books should reflect this. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have any books but those that reflect ‘normality’, but it serves to point out that what your children see in life, in books and on TV is what they will learn as ‘normal’. (I know this is very not p.c., but then I don’t care too much about being p.c.) I figure by some certain age, children will learn that what they know as normal isn’t normal for everyone. That will bring new teaching moments when you get to talk about being kind and generous even when it seems strange or different. But I think that is a discussion on a different topic.

3. The book uses precise language. Not that it must use lots of big words or words with complicated ideas. But you shouldn’t have those moments when you think “what did that mean? Did he mean A or B?” and then have to figure it out yourself. The example I can think of comes from the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I love!). In the story about Paul, the author states something to effect of ‘he was a good man — he kept all the rules.” I think she means “he thought he was a good man because he kept all the rules.”

4. The lack of typos, grammatical errors and spelling errors helps. We have found two grammatical – capitalization errors in Blueberries for Sal, and its been in print since the late 40s. I doubt we are the first to find these errors, but it surprises me that our 1977 version wasn’t fixed before printing. But then, perhaps the editors have the view that children don’t need good modeling of these writing mechanics. Of course, it might be that I would have never noticed them unless Hubby hadn’t pointed them out to me.

So that evaluates individual books, but what about the collection of books that reside in your home? Or, more appropriately, the kinds of books you aim to check out from the library.

1. Have some books that are just beyond your child’s current “reading level”. And let them have access to those books. At first, Doctor Destructo only had access to 3 board books (e.g. when he was 4 and 5 months old). Later, when we acquired a larger collection of books via hand-me-downs, I added a slew of new-to-us board books. I think Doctor D was about a year old when I pulled out The Berenstian’s B Book, Green Eggs and Ham, and other books that had paper pages. It took several tries before we made it all the way through Green Eggs and Ham, that’s  a decently long book. And The Cat in the Hat took many readings before we made it through the book in a single session. But, with practice we could read it all in one sitting.  In the past month, I pulled out some larger (and older) picture books that have a fair number of words in them. For Christmas it was The Polar Express and The Story of the Candy Cane. Now its The Frog Princess , Velveteen Rabbit, some Winnie the Pooh books (not Milne written though, Disney written) and a few others that I’ve collected through my years at a teacher that have presented challenges. We’ve made it through The Frog Princess once, though Doctor Destructo tends to loose interest when there isn’t a picture on the page (there are 2 spots where both pages are just text). Most of these books we have not even read through once yet. But we give it a try every now and then.

I knew one little boy who had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the summer before kindergarten. Yes, he was particularly bright, but more important, I think, he had 3 older siblings, one of whom was in 5th grade when this child went into kindergarten. Likely, he’d been hearing stories that were ‘too old for him’ since he was born. So, it was only natural that he venture into such a chapter book at a young age. I do not expect Doctor Destructo to do such, I have no plans to pursue it, but I do plan to start reading chapter books out loud to him when we can actually talk abut the story (rather than merely name the things from the story), which will be several more months I suspect. We will read them out loud and talk about them — I think this makes for excellent language development. When he chooses to read them on his own, whenever that is, it will be a good day, even if he is 7, 8, or 10 at that point.

2. Books that prompt conversation or thoughts beyond the book itself are great tools. At the beginning, it will be just you talking, but it establishes a habit of talking about what you read and reflecting on it. Even now, I will talk to Doctor D about what we are reading and what it means. Now days, he usually responds by naming something from the story, but a “conversation” has started. When you see something that reminds you of that story you read yesterday, remind your child. Doctor Destructo received two fun posters of colorful pictures showing opposites (hot-cold) and prepositional opposites (in front of, behind). We aren’t so much talking about the grammar presented, but we do name the animals and objects. And when we name the treasure chest, Doctor D made the connection to the Bible story about the treasure the man found in a field. He got his Bible and went looking for that story. I helped him find it and we talked about it (retold the story in our own words, really). Doctor D has connected the wise men story in his Bible to the wise men from the manger set we have to the wise men in the Christmas cross-stitch on the wall. I’m pretty sure I helped him make those connections by pointing them out, but he’s got them down now.

I imagine this changes as your child grows in their language use. But the principle remains — talk about what you read. Books that give you something to talk about are good to have around to encourage this.

3. Don’t bother with twaddle (trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense). We had these cute little board books in the shape of different animals. They were counting books, but the one shaped like an octopus counted up to only six. Yeah, random. Books that really feel dorkish to you are not worth the suffering they will cause. Be done with them! While the child is little, we parents control a great deal and we can weed out the twaddle. Encourage your child with books that are worth reading.

4. Big, colorful pictures! Those pictures grab your attention and will hold your attention longer than any word will. Now, not every book should be a picture book, but have some around. And if your child is still exploring the idea of reading, those pictures give him something to look at as you read the words. The Kohl’s Cares books are great in this area, we’ve got several of them and we love reading them (Actual Size, What do you do with a tail like this, Lama Lama misses Mama). There will be a time and place for reading books with no pictures, but that shouldn’t be all your books.

Well, I’ve hopefully, given at least one person the tools to find good books. Do others think about these things at all or am I as weird as Hubby says I am?

Poor morals in children’s books

So, I’ve noticed in a fair number of books that I’ve read with Doctor Destructo that the morals that are taught (as in the moral of the story) are pretty poor. As an example, I shall present “Curious George Rides a Bike”.

First, George is called a monkey, but he doesn’t have a tail. That means he’s an ape. Ah, the misrepresentation of facts.

Now, George gets a bike on the anniversary of when the man with the yellow hat took him from Africa. George can do tricks (yea!), but gets bored and disobeys by leaving the immediate vicinity of the house. Then the newspaper boy pawns off his work of delivering papers to George. (that was very not smart of him). George doesn’t follow directions and doesn’t delivery all the papers, and then folds all the papers in to boats. While watching his boats, he hits a rock with his bike, and messes up the front wheel (some regret occurs here). Then George sees a tractor pulling trailers (the animal show you find out). The most-certainly-not-creepy director gets George to come along to be in the animal show. Bob fixes Georges bike and they head off. The next major event is George disobeying direct orders to not feed the ostrich (he was curious!), and then again disobeying when he leaves his bench to save the baby bear. But because George saves the day, all is forgiven (the lost newspapers, all the disobedience) and he gets to be in the animal show. (I’d just type out the text of the book, but I fear that would violate copy right.)

Now, please don’t tell me that its just a children’s story, so I shouldn’t be so hard on it. That’s Doctor D really isn’t learning anything, its just a story. I don’t buy it. We learn a great deal from the ‘stories’ we hear and see. But that is not my topic here, per say.

First, I’m bugged that irresponsibility is excused in the name of curiosity. It is possible to be both curious and responsible, and George never suffers for his lack of responsibility. But others suffer the consequences of George’s irresponsibility regularly. The man with the yellow hat must spend time looking for George and the folks on the other side of the street never get their newspapers. And that’s just this book.

Next, it bugs me that George’s disobedience is all forgiven and forgotten because he saved the baby bear. Forgiveness IS NOT earned, it can only be given freely. Or at least true forgiveness is like this; God’s forgiveness is like this. We cannot earn His forgiveness, nor His favor. In the same way, Doctor D cannot truly earn my forgiveness when he disobeys. There is a debt, a payment for that disobedience (just as we have a debt to God, “for the wages of sin is death”), and if the pay back is earned, well then that is more like justice.  But when I forgive that debt, it is done with mercy and grace, which are freely given and never earned.

I think these are big issues and big deals that I want Doctor D to understand. And, so, I often edit the story a bit. I will use the words ‘justice’, ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’. When consequences seem reasonable, they are handed out (for example, I will have George pay the folks who didn’t get their newspapers for the newspapers he made into boats or, from a different book, Bambi gets grounded after staying out too long). I will change words so that its not because George rescued the baby bear he gets to be in the animal show, but the director will thank George for rescuing the bear, forgive George for disobeying, and to be gracious and let George be in the show.

Now, I figure the day will come when Doctor D actually recognizes the words on the page and will ask “Mommy, why did you change the words?” I look forward to that conversation. And until then, I will unabashedly change the words or completely remove the book from the reading options if its bad enough. We had one book that was a counting book that had little monkey’s disobeying and being trouble makers all through it; it had other problems as well. That book was removed from the collection. And I’m finding that many of the books I grew up with are like this, and books published now are often the worst. I guess I’ll either need to edit or stick with older books.

Books that get READ

So, some book you just read. And some books you READ. I’m currently working on two books that one must READ.

First up, I’m reading On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

Wow, this book is amazing. I started it the summer of 2011, so that means I’ve been reading it for a year, and only the 600s (pages) of 800 some-odd. I have minor in chemistry from undergrad and am unceasingly hungry for knowledge. This book meets both needs (chemistry info and knowledge), plus food. There is history of all types of food, information on the chemical changes that occur as you mix, cook, sear, bake, grill or whatever you might do to the food you are working with. He discusses the traditional ways of doing this, that and the other, and the more common modern or industrial ways. He explains why somethings just aren’t done at home any more. I’m currently in the chapter about sauces, and I suspect I will want to experiment with the next sauce I make. Hubby won’t like that, I don’t think.

I’m also working on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home. Its different from Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, but I’m still thinking through how they are different. The two books do overlap in some ways, and it seems, intuitively, that Home Comforts is more timeless (and Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook more bound to current times), but I’m not able to articulate exactly what makes me think this. The two books are organized quite differently, and Home Comforts, despite being thinner, is a full 120 some-odd pages longer. Home Comforts has many, many fewer and smaller pictures and smaller text, while the Handbook has some very nice, large black and white pictures. The text is more non-academic-reader friendly (its a bit bigger), but Home Comforts never struck me as “academic”.

So, when I finally finish the Handbook, I plan to write a nice detailed discussion of how the two are different. I suspect that to happen in a month or so.

Anyone else working on books that need to be READ?

Baby Stuff and Books

As you might guess, my mind is very focused on BABY right now. I find it hard to think about, much less talk about anything but the baby. (I just realized, I’ve done almost all video and no stills of recent. Gonna have to fix that).

Isn’t he just cutest and brightest baby you ever saw? Of course, he is. He slept longer last night than ever before, so that’s very exciting and he’s started the social smile, which makes play time even better. He still has a hard time going to sleep; I’ve started following a nap time and bed time routine which seems to help some, though its still a tad early to tell.

I continue to work on diapers, though I’m going to switch to making soakers for now. I counted the full stash and we have enough diapers, when Samuel upgrades a size, for me to do laundry on Monday and Thursday (not every other day). But, we will need more soakers as most of the diapers are prefolds.

Also, for my birthday, I picked up some new books that I’m excited about. They are:
Large Family Logistics
Growing Up Sew Liberated
The Edible Front Yard
Martha Steward Homekeeping Handbook

I promise to offer opinions and a review of each one. I’m almost finished with The Edible Front Yard and Large Family Logistics. The Martha Stewart Homekeeping Handbook hasn’t arrived yet (3rd party seller — got it cheap!), and I want to sew a few things from Growing up Sew Liberated before commenting on it (I’ve looked at all the projects).

Any exciting books or babies for you?