Category Archives: Ages

Interest Based Learning–It Works!

So the whole summer I’ve been working with Georgie on his handwriting. He got interested in writing shortly after he learned to read at age two. I kinda freaked out on him. It wasn’t his fault–I have a handwriting complex. My best friend in elementary school was a fastidious person, the kind who carefully colored things in with markers line by line, never overlapping. Through my young eyes, her stick-straight lines and perfectly curved arcs looked like a type-writer. I always felt like my handwriting, well, sucked by comparison. I spent Christmas break in fourth grade–the one where we rented a cabin and went snowmobiling–trying to reinvent my handwriting into something cute, copying the alphabet over and over, dotting my i’s with hearts, writing my e’s as backwards 3’s. It took me years to straighten my writing back out. I still catch myself trying to write those ridiculous e’s sometimes. It didn’t matter much anyway: my thoughts always ran faster than my pen and my handwriting would quickly go downhill trying to catch up to the runaway train.

Anyway, so I projected all of that on to my son and freaked out that he was going to get into bad letter formation habits if he started writing without instruction. I insisted on starting a formal writing curriculum rather than just letting him continue scrawling 2-foot high letters on posterboard with his washable Crayolas. I selected the gentlest curriculum I could find, but his little fingers just weren’t ready. My impatient rants about how his writing would be ruined forever if he didn’t start at the top of the letter and follow the directions probably didn’t help. In the end, he stopped completely–writing, coloring, painting. It was a struggle to get him to make a mark on a coloring page in his children’s class at church.

As he approached the end of his pre-K year, his teacher told me that his shaky writing–always tracing over her marks rather than making his own–needed to improve if he was going to be able to handle Kindergarten work. My goal was just one short sentence or 5 spelling words a day. I wouldn’t care about form, I would just get him to write, at all. But no matter what I did, it was like pulling teeth to get him to write each letter–a battle against suddenly thirst and bathroom trips, whining and surprise interruptions from his stuffed animal dog, who used to be called Dog-Dog but was now named Teddiursa after a creature in Pokemon, his current obession.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to redirect his interruptions by making the sentence he wrote about Pokemon. “Teddiursa is a silly Pokemon,” I wrote on a little whiteboard for him to copy. I went to help my other son read something he was playing on the computer. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Georgie bounding down the hall.

“Georgie, you need to do your writing,” I called after him.

“I’m done!” he said. What? But sure enough, all the words were down in his book, faster than he had been able to write one word, one letter last week. It was like removing the dam from a river–letters were suddenly flowing onto the page. Today he wrote a 10 word sentence (one that I tried to shorten, but he insisted on) in less than 2 minutes with no prompting from me. I can’t believe that tearing down that Berlin Wall could possibly be that easy.

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Filed under Early Elementary (6-9)

Parenting Book Review: Diaper-Free Before 3

So I never got around to finishing this post about how I potty-trained Noah, but now that Ender’s potty training has begun, I’m ready to approach the subject again. I checked out Early Start Potty Training again from the library to refresh my memory, and I saw this book–Diaper Free Before 3 by Jill M Lekovic, MD–on the shelf next to it. Boy, am I glad I did! I’ve finally found a potty-training book that embodies my personal philosophy of the process.

The philosophy behind Diaper-Free Before 3 is simple: earlier potty-training means fewer diapers. Fewer diapers are better for the environment and mean greater freedom for both the parent and the child. I personally have also found that it is easier to potty train at a younger age because 1) your child is less independent and more willing to respond to direction, and 2) you are more patient because you expect slower progress with a younger child.

Note that I said it’s easier, not that it’s faster. It took me 6 months to train Georgie at age 2.5, and it took me 6 months to train Noah at age 1.5. However, Georgie’s 6 month potty training was filled with yelling, bribery, and tantrums on both of our parts, and Noah’s was a gradual, pleasant, laid-back experience. I know which way I’d rather spend 6 months.

So what is the Diaper-Free Before 3 method of potty training? You’ll have to read the book for the long version, but here’s my cheat sheet:

  1. Learning to sit on the potty – Starting as early as 6 months, set aside 10 minutes a day to practice sitting on the potty. After a meal or before or after naptime are the best times to ensure your child will have some success. Bring a book and comfort your child as he gets used to sitting on the toilet. If something ends up in the potty, great, deal with that, but otherwise just focus on the routine of using the potty once per day.
  2. Increasing potty opportunities for success – Once the child is willing to sit on the potty when asked, increase the your 10 minute potty sessions. I like to introduce a new one every week or so, again after a meal or before or after a naptime. Soon your child will be a pro at the routine of sitting, and even be successful some of the time. Use the phrase, “It’s time to go use the potty” rather than asking your child, “Do you want/need to use the potty?” They don’t know, and the default answer to a parent question is often “No!” Just make it part of your day, like eating lunch or brushing teeth. However, there’s no need to force your child to sit for long periods, just like you shouldn’t force your child to eat if they don’t want to. Just go and try, then finish and be done when they are done.
  3. Training sessions – When your child makes the connection between the potty and what goes in it and is having lots of potty trips each day, add a period in your day when you allow your child to wear training underwear or go naked. (No pull-ups, please!) This will allow your child to realize when they are going in their diaper and hopefully begin to make the association that they need to use the bathroom.
  4. Full time underwear – After your child understands the process and has few accidents per day, transition to full-daytime underwear!

Notice there are no bribes, rewards, or elaborate systems. This is what I love about this system. No coercion, just a normal expectation that they will learn eventually. It’s a slow process, but because you start early, it’s much less stressful because you have all the time in the world.

I also love Dr. Lekovic’s relaxed tone. She takes a very middle of the road approach to many parenting debates (cloth diapers vs disposable, early potty training vs readiness) which makes her a delightfully refreshing voice. I love how she bases her opinions and evidence rather than philosophies and guesses.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train a child. It doesn’t matter if your child is older than 6 months; just start now. I started with Ender a few weeks ago (14 months old). At first, he was terrified of sitting on the potty, but he’s calmed down now and even had a few successes. And he loves washing his hands! I’m excited to see where this adventure takes us.

What are your favorite potty training tips and tricks? What parenting books I should read next?

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Montessori, Potty Training, Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)

Quick Poll for my Mormon Readership/Friends

So some of you have probably heard from me about my enthusiasm for the way our family studies the scriptures with our very young children (5, 3, 1). I’m so excited that I’m in the process of writing a little ebook curriculum with our reading schedules in it.

The problem I have in writing this book is that I don’t know much about the experience of other families in studying the scriptures with young children. So I’m calling upon all the Mormons I know to do a little informal research study for me. If you currently have (or had in the past) young children (say, under age 6), could you answer these questions for me in the comments? (Or via email if you’d rather be private.)

  1. When did you start reading the scriptures with you first child? When did you require subsequent children to be present at family scripture study?
  2. What did you read for scripture study with young children? Did you use the LDS Scripture Stories manuals? The actual scriptures? Other scripture story books?
  3. Did you do any other studying activities (ie memorizing, journaling, etc.) on a regular basis?
  4. How consistent were/are you at reading with your children? What barriers exist to being more consistent?
  5. Any other comments, questions, problems related to studying scriptures with young children would be awesome.

Thanks in advance for your input on my quirky little project.

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Early Elementary (6-9), Mormon Parenting Hacks, Preschooler (3 yrs - 5 yrs), Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)

Busby Family Rules

Drafted these tonight for Family Home Evening. My kids were so excited to have input on the rules, and to get the rules written down so they know what they are! Georgie has been going nuts because he feels like he never knows when he’s going to get in trouble, even though it seems obvious to me. But I guess not to him. Anyway, there are two sets, general rules and the table rules.

Busby Table Rules
1. No robots (or toys) at the table! – Robots in this context means anything with a screen that turns you into a robot instead of a real, present human being.
2. Try one happy bite of everything before you leave the table. – You don’t have to swallow if you don’t want to, but everyone tastes everything. Everyone also must have everything on their plate.
3. If you want seconds, eat your firsts (all of them). – If you want seconds of a favorite food, you have to eat your veggies. But otherwise, you can choose to eat however much you want to. Or not at all. But no short order cooking here.
4. No crazy noises at the table. – A necessary rule in a family of boys.
5. No interrupting, no talking with your mouth full of food. – We’re working on the basics of conversation here.
6. Leave the table with your plate (or to go potty). – Even a two-year-old can clear his dishes. It’s not that hard.

Busby Rules of Conduct
1. If someone is going to be hurt or something is going to be broken, tell Mom or Dad.
2. Otherwise, use nice words and voices to solve your own problems. – Yup, I don’t make my kids share.
3. If you try two solutions that don’t work, you can come ask Mom or Dad for help. – I will think of ideas for you, or give suggestions, but I will not solve your problem.
4. No screaming at anyone (especially parents at kids!). – This one is especially for me. Guilty, 100%. My kids get to send me to time out for this.
5. No hitting ever. – Rough housing is okay though.
6. Everyone does their chores. – I tried to add “with a smile,” but my hubby said that was pushing it.
7. Everyone gets an opinion, but Mom and Dad get final say. – I want my kids to know I will listen to their complaints about the rules and consider them politely.
8. Love each other. – This covers pretty much everything else, right?
9. Laugh. – About good times, about horrible times, always.

What are your family rules? Anything important we missed?

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Filed under Discipline, Early Elementary (6-9), Preschooler (3 yrs - 5 yrs), Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)

5 Ways to Adapt Grown-up Board Games for Children

So my oldest son is currently obsessed with board games. And not the little kid ones like Candy Land that I’ve let the kids tear up for years. No, he’s facinated by our “grown-up” board games, with the millions of cards and figurines. And why wouldn’t he be? They’re colorful, have lots of small, interesting pieces, and have exciting themes like trains and conquering the world. How can lame games featuring candy and slides stand up to that? Georgie is always begging to play Ticket To Ride or Dominion. The one thing he asked Santa for this year was Monopoly.

The problem is that he’s five. Georgie might, on a good day, be able to handle the mechanics of Monopoly but the strategy of it is beyond him. And clearly letting anyone under the age of 13 touch Dominion would result in disaster.

Or would it? As a result of enormous five-year-old pressure, I’ve embarked on a quest of adapting some of our exciting, grown-up games for little kid playability. And granted, I wouldn’t hand over these games to a kid who is still in love with chewing cards or playing 52 card pick-up. But I’ve picked up a few strategies along the way that have actually made things fun.

  1. Reduce options – Many adult board games, like Ticket To Ride and Alhambra, rely on allowing you to draw either one of the five face up cards or from the draw pile. Cut the number down to reduce the time it takes your child to pick his/her cards. Similarly, in games where you are working towards multiple goals, like the four diseases in Pandemic or the four treasures in Tobago, try cutting the number down by half. Your kids will be able to focus better and be more strategic if there are fewer things to compare.
  2. Remove elements – The fun part of many modern board games is trying to track multiple strategic elements at once. For example, in 7 Wonders, there are at least 7 different ways to earn points to win the game. You might try to remove some options until your child gets the hang of a few. For example, getting rid of the blue and green cards in 7 Wonders doesn’t change game play too much, and greatly simplifies the goals. When playing Alhambra, you might choose to ignore the different colors of money or the requirement that your city be walkable until your child gets a hang of the scoring system. Similarly, you could ignore missions in Ticket To Ride and just go for straight points and the longest route.
  3. Play “open-face” – In games with lots of cards, tokens, and other collectables, it’s difficult for your child to even hold all their cards, much less understand what they are all doing. In this case, it can be helpful to have everyone play at least one game with their cards “open” on the table. Playing with cards visible allows your child to observe the choices you make, see card organization in action, and understand your strategy. Playmats can also be helpful for this purpose. We love to use this one when we play Bohnanza. You can find playmats for other card games by searching on BoardGameGeek.
  4. Make it co-operative – When a game is truly too challenging for a kid to understand, get together and play as a team. Make up a co-operative goal: for Ticket To Ride, you could pick a mission card and work together to get there. The great thing is, kids don’t care if there isn’t a failure condition. Just pick a short goal in the game and achieve it! My boys also like to play against a “computer” or “bad guy,” especially in games like BANG where the theme lends well to it. Regular co-op games like Pandemic also lend well to you just telling the kids what to do.
  5. Add a time limit – Because, frankly, you can only Ticket To Ride with a five-year-old so many times before you go nuts. Before you start, let your child know the limits: “This time, whoever gets the most points in 15 minutes wins!” This might be helped by skipping ahead slightly in gameplay by dealing out more starting cards (Ticket To Ride) or starting at a higher scoring level (Alhambra).

What are your family’s favorite board games? Does your child ever want to play games above their skill level and what do you do about it?

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Filed under Early Elementary (6-9), Having Fun, Preschooler (3 yrs - 5 yrs), Tall Poppies

Monsters University as a Parable of Gifted Education

I was skeptical when my husband picked Monsters University for our family to watch on New Year’s Eve. But since my husband is an avid movie watcher, we’d seen everything else that was remotely interesting. It was that or Planes, which had gotten panned on Rotten Tomatoes, so Monsters University it was.

So like I said, I had my doubts about yet another transparent Disney milk-the-cash-cow attempt. But if someone had just told me that the movie was about gifted education, I would have been all in.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know Monsters University was about gifted education? It wasn’t in the trailer? Well, no, MU wasn’t explicitly a tale of why we need gifted education in this country, but it’s about as close as we can expect mainstream Hollywood to get.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Monsters University features Mike Wazowski rather than Sully as the main character. Turns out, Mike has wanted to be a scarer ever since going on a field trip to Monsters Inc. when he was a socially isolated but charming elementary school monster. Right away, I was intrigued with how the film was going to pull this off. Anyone who has seen the original movie knows that Mike does not turn out to be a scarer: Sully’s the main scarer, Mike is just his clueless assistant. How could they make a movie for little kids where we know from the beginning that the main character is going to utterly fail? Or, at least, how could they make such a movie without being heartless jerks?

The film skips to Mike’s first day at Monsters University, where in his first day of scare class, he is informed by the highly creepy, dragon-centipede-hybrid dean of the department that there will be an exam at the end of the semester to determine who will qualify to continue in the program. As she says, “I’m here to make good scarers great, not make mediocre scarers less mediocre.” Hmm, interesting educational philosophy there . . . .

Enter Sully. He waltzes into class late, without so much as a pencil, and impresses everyone with his lineage of great scarers. A rivalry ensues between Mike and Sully, with Sully floating by on pure talent and Mike studying his butt off on technique, history, and theory. At first the cut scenes show Sully trouncing Mike in class—after all, he’s a 6–7 foot hairy blue nightmare and Sully’s a green adorable beachball. But soon, the professor notices Sully’s stagnation and Mike’s marked improvement from practice.

This experience exactly mirrors what happens to many talented students when they hit college. So many truly gifted kids breeze through high school, never lifting a finger to study even though they are in the “honors” or “challenge” sections, or even in an AP or IB program. Nothing they do in school requires them to push themselves past what comes easily and naturally. Then eventually, they finally hit the ceiling—in late high school or early college these students reach a class where the answers don’t just come to them. And they have no skills to cope with it. At 17 or 18, they are faced with a challenge for the first time in their lives, and because they don’t know how to overcome, they feel like imposters, failures, idiots. They give up on what they were born to do and do something easy.

Alright, being truly honest, this happened to me. Up through high school, I never met a class that I had to study for. Oh sure, I had to memorize lists (like world capitals) when they came up, but other than that, no studying was ever required for me to both comprehend the class material and pass the class with flying colors. When I got to college, it was pretty much the same story, until I took organic chemistry in my sophomore year. Here I ran up against concepts that didn’t make intuitive sense, that I couldn’t read once and then completely understand. I had no method for dealing with this and ended up flailing to get a C in the class. I re-took it the next year and did better, but it only got worse as I took biochemistry and physical chemistry until eventually I quit my chemistry major to pursue something that didn’t require much effort on my part.

This ability to push through challenges and overcome is called “grit” and it’s the big trend in education theory right now. Many books I’ve read on education—I’m thinking particularly of How Children Succeed—focus on the idea that it’s not about how high a child’s IQ is that matters; it’s how hard they work to overcome challenges that matters. And this is often true—in many cases, a high-achieving but average child will outperform an unmotivated, under-performing high IQ child. So these theorists say that we should focus on building this quality in children in school, rather than focusing so much on academic progress.

There are two problems with this theory. And both of them are addressed in this movie.

First is that high academic achievement and gaining grit are hardly opposing processes, where we have to choose one or the other. In fact, in the case of gifted children, high academic standards are a necessity in order for them to develop grit. After all, how do you develop grit except by facing challenges? And to challenge a gifted child, you must set academic standards that challenge them, at their level, regardless of whether that level is one level above grade or five.

We can see this in Sully’s character. He’s always been the most terrifying thing around, so he had nothing to reach for. His ability was assumed and never challenged. Not only has this prevented him from developing grit, but it has also been psychologically scarring. In a critical moment near the end of the movie, Sully tells Mike, “I act scary, Mike. But most of the time, I’m terrified.” He’s terrified of not being good enough to live up to his (and his family’s) reputation. Many gifted kids have this affliction: they know they can’t go on never messing up forever, so they spend their whole (educational) lives waiting for the other shoe to drop—for things to get hard for them—and they are terrified of what will happen to them when it does. Their whole self-image is built on being able to do everything easily, and so is very fragile to challenges. We are doing these kids no favors by saying they are “fine” because they are performing above grade level and letting them “relax and be a kid.” What we are doing is the opposite of letting them relax—we’re winding them up more and more as they wait for the inevitable moment when challenge might kick in.

The second problem with the grit theory is that, while grit and perseverance are important, talent actually does matter. Comparing high achieving average students to under-acheiving gifted ones is a total set-up. When you compare apples to apples (hard-working kids of different IQ levels), you can see that IQ absolutely does matter in final achievement. A high IQ child allowed to push themselves through acceleration and compacting of curriculum could make the next big discovery in quantum mechanics or sustainable fuel. And no matter how hard an average student pushes, they just won’t have the mind to make those leaps.

In Monsters University, high-jinks ensue at the final exam and both characters end up getting kicked out of the program, then joining the ridiculous Scare Games in an attempt to get back in. Their team of misfits comes within one event of winning the competition when the dean confronts Sully about his team’s chances being ruined by Mike’s presence. Sully sticks up for his new friend, talking about how much he knows. Dean Hardscrabble comes right out and asks him, “But do you think he’s scary?” And Sully has no response. Of course Mike isn’t scary. No matter how hard he stretches and works, he just lacks the natural ability, and that can’t be changed. As she says at the final exam, “Mr Wazowsky, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”

This idea makes most Americans very uncomfortable. Our country is founded on freedom, and we see this as placing an unfair limitation on people. We are willing to accept the idea of talent in sports and artistic endeavors, but claiming that some people have a talent for academics is just too much. This egalitarian urge is one of the reasons so many districts fight having a gifted program, insisting that all students are gifted. This is, of course, ridiculous and a lie—if there are some students on the special education side of the curve, there ought to be an equal population on the other end of the normal curve. But this lie makes us feel comfortable about ourselves, and about depriving a generation of geniuses of their fair education.

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Filed under Early Elementary (6-9), Tall Poppies, Tiger Mother

Potty Training the Slow Way: Faster is Not Always Better

I started this post in April when I starting potty-training Sailor, but I’ve been hesitant to post it until we met with success. How could I talk about this stuff if I didn’t know how it would end? This week, Sailor has been almost 100% diaper free with few accidents, and I ‘m ready to declare success. So without further ado, here’s a little mini-series on my new thoughts on potty-training.

I have to admit, when I was potty training Monkey, I was totally caught up in all the “potty train your child in a week/day/hour” methods that are out there.  I loved the idea that I could just be done and not deal with all the messes.  Yuck.

These methods did not work for us for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t have the patience to focus exclusively on potty training for any amount of time.  Most of “instant” methods I read about required a lot of time dedication from the parent. When I tried it, I found that all I could do if I wanted the method to work was watch my child for accidents and babble about the potty. Any distraction led to failures. I felt bored and trapped, and it made me mad and impatient.  Ditto for Monkey. Even a day was too much to ask; we have better things to do.
  2. I had a hard time understanding the real challenge of potty training is not getting them to go on demand, but getting them to understand when they need to go.  Monkey had the first part down in about 30 minutes; knowing when to go took six months or more.  It was baffling to me why he couldn’t put two and two together.  I didn’t help that Monkey is so naturally bright–I expected him to comprehend this as quickly as he had picked up reading. He didn’t.

After all the yelling and crying associated with Monkey’s extended potty-training period (6 months, a year if you count our first few attempts), I was ready to find something else for training Sailor.  I did not want to go through it again, and more importantly, I didn’t want to put my cute little Sailor through it.  In a whim of random library trawling (whoever coordinated our library so that the parenting section of non-fiction lies next to the kids area was a genius), I picked up a couple of books on potty training from the library including Early-Start Potty Training. It’s a very interesting book, mostly focusing on infant elimination control, the idea of potty training babies starting at 2-4 months. (If you thought babies had no bladder control, consider how quickly your child stops peeing during diaper changes. It only takes a few months before your baby learns that this gets a very negative reaction and they have the control to avoid it.)

I don’t know if I’m quite hardcore enough to take on potty training an infant, but their section on training 18-to-24-month-olds was exactly what I was looking for. A few things I liked about it:

  1. Less time consuming – Instead of potty-training suddenly occupying your whole existence, you start extremely gradually and move up, enfolding it into your daily routine. If you’re doing fast potty training, you’re cumulatively taking hours out of your child’s day for this rather boring activity.  After the first novelty wore off, I’d be put out about it, wouldn’t you? Slow potty training solves this by introducing potty time slowly, so the burden is gradually placed on your child.
  2. More patience – Maybe it’s just me, but it was so much easier for me to be patient with an 18-month-old than a 2.5 year old. I didn’t expect him to understand and I felt fine taking it slow since he had so much more time before he hit the age where it was socially unacceptable for him to be in diapers. I treated it like an interesting experiment to see if he could learn, not expecting any results at all, just establishing habits.
  3. Conditioning, not logic – Frankly when we potty-trained Monkey, there was a lot of arguing and reasoning, bribing and rewarding. But in the end, the reflexes involved are a mostly involuntary system and logic isn’t very helpful. Young toddlers are better programmed to learn by imitation and conditioning than 2 and 3 year olds. Early-Start Potty Training frequently uses the analogy of house breaking a puppy versus housebreaking a fully-grown dog: the dog will understand what you want better but be less able to comply because of habit, whereas the puppy won’t understand but is easier to condition. (I take this on faith, since I’ve never had a dog.)
  4. Balance between child-led and parent-directed – Finally, slow potty training isn’t as in-your-face, “you will do this” as some of the fast potty training methods, but it’s not as wishy-washy as the “let your child tell you when it’s time” methods that will have your child still in diapers at age 4.  It’s definitely parent directed, but the demands upon the child are incremental and therefore a lot less onerous and less likely to draw resistance fire from your toddler.

One thing you must have to accept before you go the slow potty training way: there will be accidents, there will be mess, but it won’t be as bad as you think. Since reading Early-Start Potty Training, I’m beginning to think that all of our modern potty training woes stem from our desire to avoid mess. We start at a later age, hoping they will comprehend quicker and reduce mess. We invented “training pants” which are basically still diapers–they work great to avoid mess, but they eliminate the natural consequences that speed potty learning.

Next week: the steps I modified from Early-Start Potty Training to form my new go-to potty training plan.

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Potty Training, Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)