Friday, October 28, 2011

Educating Oneself

"The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives."
Robert M. Hutchins

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shopping for Materials

I squeaked a little bit of extra money out of our budget this month to spend on some learning products for Raccoon, so now I'm just trying to decide which ones. After spending an afternoon browsing online (gotta love naptime), I have narrowed it down to:

Actually purchased
Memory Lifter 199 Chinese Verbs (haven't used yet)
Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children (not as helpful for a toddler as I hoped, the solution is mostly "talking about it" in certain ways)
How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way (gorgeous pictures, some interesting ideas)
Parents' Guide to Raising a Gifted Toddler: Recognizing and Developing the Potential of Your Child from Birth to Five Years by James Alvino (pretty outdated but has a few chapters I found helfpul)

What I plan to get Raccoon for Christmas (Lord willing!!)
a trampoline (yes we did)
swimming pass for the two of us at a local pool (no, the chlorine seems to make him sick)*

Wish List for Later
Wink to Learn Read & Speak Chinese
Baby Learns Chinese

Disclosure: I don't profit from any of these products, I'm just sharing about my search for materials in case it's helpful for someone else.

*I added in some (feedback) afterwards as follow-up.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The "G" Word

It seems like there should be a different label for "gifted" kids, because that one seems to imply "more special or better" (based on the criticism it gets), which isn't the case. I think "talented" is even worse, since I believe that God has given each of us something unique to contribute to the world. Some children get called exceptional, but this could confusingly refer to either end of the learning spectrum. Although in some cases gifted children also have learning disabilities (therefore they are called twice exceptional - 2e). But I feel that gifted kids do need a label in order to access specialized educational services, just like kids with other labels who have different learning styles as well.

In my random blog surfing, I came across an author who wrote a book called "Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children." I don't know if Raccoon is gifted or not, but if I had to pick one word to describe him, it would definitely be INTENSE. My husband and I have used that word since he was a baby. We didn't want to be negative about our beloved son, but we also needed a way to describe our sleepless, demand for constant stimulation, fussy, no routine, and incredible child. My husband blamed our son's behavior on too much early stimulation, but I refused to believe that. I think it is something inherent in him that just makes everything he wants, needs, and does a BIG deal. The rest of the book's title is, "Helping Kid's Cope with Explosive Feelings," and that fits too. Frustration, rage, aggressiveness, a strong-will... I feel like we've seen it all. His emotions seemed off the charts for one so small and we hit the "terrible twos" around one year old. Although I've only read the first few pages, I hope to read the whole book soon.

For some reason I was thinking about all of this as I lay in bed the other night, waiting for Raccoon to fall asleep. It would be nice if there was a label that wasn't so controversial, so that one could talk about a child possibly being "______" without the negative reactions, just like one might discuss autism or diabetes. I thought of calling them "alternate learners" (too vague), "accelerated learners" (also seems to imply superiority), intense learners, and I can't remember the other ideas, but none worked. This is probably why the name "gifted" has stuck; no one has been able to come up with a better alternative.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ideas That Help Me

The most important thing I did during our break was just to play with Raccoon. I spent a couple of weeks seeing what he liked to do, what games made him laugh, and what he asked to do most often. For Raccoon, it's still physical play that he likes best. As soon as he could crawl, there was no getting him to look at flashcards or bits anymore, no matter how much energy I put into it. What works for us now are variations of his favorite games (tag, hide-and-seek) that include word cards or other learning elements. He loves this and is now handing me the word cards he wants, or reminding me when I forget. Even my husband (a total skeptic) has noticed how much he loves doing "numbers" (dot equations) and how much fun we have.

I also spent a lot of time searching for the perfect blog about how to make it all work in our lives. I never found it, but I did read lots of amazing blogs. I can't remember where I found these quotes (sorry there aren't any links), but they stuck in my brain. One mother from a tropical island said something like, "No matter how great an idea sounds, it just may not work with your family's flow." This was a freeing thought that enabled me to let go of many things and to focus on what worked for me and Raccoon. Before, I thought that if I tried hard enough or was creative enough, I could make everything work. I felt frustrated if it didn't, figuring that I was somehow inadequate. Now, I look more at how I can fit an idea into our lives, modifying or discarding it as necessary. I don't need to, and can't, do everything. In one of Raccoon's movies, Santa tells his elves, "Choose the best gifts from each list for the sleigh." That's my priority, to make the best things - for us - fit and leave the rest.

"A little is better than nothing." I have used this thoughout my life, and it is also expressed in Doman's books. Since I tend to be a perfectionist, I feel like things are never done, that I could always do better if I just had more time. It's hard for me to do less than my best, or to not succeed at something. I remind myself that sometimes, things just need to be "good enough." I also tell myself that the most important thing for Raccoon is to do whatever I can right now, instead of waiting to do something better later, or maybe never.

In Glen Doman's books, he recommends 9 to 15 one minute sessions daily in reading, math, and encyclopedic knowledge with breaks in between each session. This doesn't work for us. Raccoon let me know with his behavior that it was way too much. And there was no way I could keep myself organized like that and have the materials in the right place when he was in the right mood. So Raccoon and I do only two or three activity times (morning, afternoon, and evening for about 10-20 min each) or sometimes none at all. Now that we have a semi-routine going and I know that there will be good days, I don't feel so bad anymore about the crazy days. Also, now that we've been doing our semi-routine for about a month, he's begun asking for "numbers" and "words," so I think we have found a balance that we both enjoy. I read a reassuring blog entry about flashcards from "Right Brain Kids" that echoes some of these thoughts (that fewer sessions are also effective and more can be over-stimulating) along with presenting an interesting perspective on Einstein.

I do try follow most of Doman's golden rules as best I can, especially "Stop before your baby wants to stop." In the beginning, I would get carried away and want to do more than Raccoon was ready for. Lately though, it's gotten trickier because he often asks for more, especially math. At first I tried to make him wait as Doman suggests, but then he'd get mad and not want to see anything else. So now I do more the first three or four times he says it (or as long as my prepared material lasts), then we often wrestle-play at the end and I praise his effort (paying attention, listening, whatever was particularly good). If he asks for more after playing, then I run with it. Because of this, I try to have extra words, equations, and bits ready in case he's particularly interested that day. And if he's not, then I'm ready for the next time.

Since my ultimate goal is for Raccoon to love learning and for it to be fun, I design his program content around his interests. Although I'd prefer to spend our time on things he might see in school, he'd rather learn about construction machines, monsters, and clowns. I also now know far more about insects, spiders, and tools than I ever wanted to know. But the other day we saw a spider in its web at a friend's house, and Raccoon knew that it was a thorn spider. That was amazing to me, and he gets so excited when he can name things he sees in the real world (probably why he loves construction machines, we see them all the time in our city). Sometimes I try subjects I like, but if he's not interested we quickly abandon them for other pursuits. One note about this, before babies can move, you have a captive audience, so then is the time (0-7 months or so) when you can do whatever subjects you want for bits, as long as you go quickly and happily, and they'll probably enjoy it.

Another mother who went to the week long course, How to Multiply Your Baby's Intelligence (so jealous!) and blogged about it (but then never updated how she used the info at home!?), said something like, "What they taught us was not a recipe, but a lifestyle." I have also begun to think of my Christianity in a similar way - not a recipe for certain behavior, but a relationship with Jesus. So to broaden things out a little, this whole adventure is about a lifestyle of learning and my family's relationships with Jesus, each other, and the world.

Little Reader

Raccoon and I tried the trial version of Little Reader and he LOVED it. Our trial expired and he's been asking me for more, so here's hoping we win the LR giveaway!

Check out Down Syndrome - Up Up and Away, a great blog for more info about the giveaway, and much more.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Motivation

Since I had done a lot of reading before Raccoon was born, I felt like there was so much more that I should be doing to enrich Raccoon's crucial early years. I imagined other mothers being able to do these amazing programs with their children that I could not, due to trouble with nursing and sleeping, colic, several major moves, and other upheavals during Raccoon's first two years. I did the best that I could, incorporating as many things from the Doman books as possible. But as he grew and became increasingly mobile, almost everything that we were doing, and enjoying up to that point, stopped working. I got stressed trying to find new ways to make things work, and then it wasn't fun anymore for Raccoon or for me. I took a break for awhile from intentional early stimulation, and I stepped back to examine why I was so frustrated that things weren't working. So what if we didn't do any structured learning? One of the common criticisms of early learning is that the parents are forcing the children. I wondered, if I was really honest, did I have any hidden motivation or agenda?

In the end, I realized that my motives were a mixture of good and bad, like most things in life. Mostly, I wanted to share with Raccoon my love of learning. But if I was truly honest with myself, there was also some need to validate my capabilities as a mother by his achievements. "See, Raccoon can do this, so I'm not a total failure." After realizing this, I prayed a lot about whether I should continue or not. After a time, I felt peace about it and I set some new goals.

My new focus in every area is exposure and enjoyment, not mastery or performance. I don't need to know how much he knows, test him, or try to catch it on camera. Glen Doman says that the child will show the parent in time, and Maria Montessori said something like, "You don't dig up the seed to see if the plant is growing." As long as Raccoon and I are having fun, and the information that I provide is clear and of the highest quality that I can do in a reasonable amount of time, I am content. My focus is also on being more intentional about enriching the time that we spend together and to create more mutual respect in my relationship with Raccoon. (Love is already there and flourishing.) My ultimate hope and prayer is that if he learns that I listen to and respect him now while he's little, he'll still come to me and trust me to respect him when he's not so little anymore.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Praising Effort not Ability

Something very important that I learned is that it is better to praise his effort than just to say "You're so smart." Even as a baby, Raccoon had a low tolerance for failure and would get extremely frustrated if he couldn't do something the first time. Up until about a year and a half, I'd been praising him as the Doman books suggested, saying "You're a genius," etc. But after reading an article similar to this one, I began to praise him for trying again, being patience, persevering, working hard, and for practicing. I figured he was too little to notice the difference or understand the meaning of the words, but he surprised me. Within about a month I noticed a significant difference in his behavior, including a much higher tolerance of failure and more willingness to practice new skills, whereas before he would just give up and throw a rage-filled tantrum.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Early Learning Activities

I tend to do really well for a while, then get busy and slow down, then refocus again. It hasn't worked for us to try to have a timed schedule (X at 10 am), but I've found that if I combine the learning activities with certain repetitive elements of our day then I am much more successful. We have a semi-routine going which I hope to expand.

Things we are currently doing (in random order):

*Word cards - once or twice a day when we go to the park by our house, around 5-10 cards a day. Right now we're doing animal names, so we play a game where I am the animal on the card and I chase him around.

*Math - Doman's dot equations, we're currently on multiplication and I've begun introducing numerals. He likes the equations but doesn't like it if I just show him the cards and tell him the numbers, so we only did the individual dot cards up to fifty, several months ago. We play a game where he jumps on the bed while I show him the equation, then he gets to throw the answer card in the air.

*Encyclopedic Knowledge - we do this on the computer, mostly in the afternoons after naptime when he doesn't mind sitting for bits. The amount we do depends on him, but I try to get in at least 3 sets, and sometimes do up to 8. We often end up looking at one he likes several times. I use many different resources for this (Picture Dictionary from the IAHP, powerpoint presentations, Memory Lifter, and plain picture files I saved from Wikipedia.) I try to do ones that show the word then the picture, but sometimes we just do pictures. I have just started to introduce some Chinese characters with pronunciations (animals).

*Physical Activities - we usually go to the park by our house twice a day (morning and afternoon). I use the time to encourage him to run, climb up and slide down, swing, walk on a homemade balance beam (a door frame someone threw into the park that I propped up on some stones so we go around in a half rectangle), and imaginative free play.

*Music - when Raccoon was 19 months, I took him to a band concert because I wanted to go. I expected to leave before it was over because my son is VERY active and has wanted to be in constant motion since birth. I was shocked when he sat quietly through the whole thing (an hour and a half) and asked for more after each song was done. I think he has an ear for music because whenever I start to sing (with my out of tune voice), he looks at me with a pained expression and says, "No singing, Mama." He fell in love with the violin around the same time as the concert, then added the piano and the guitar as his favorite instruments. Right now, we listen to Baby Einstein CDs in the car and I just got some Suzuki violin CDs which he likes. "I like. This no weird music," was how he put it the first time he listened to the Suzuki CDs and he sat right down to play his imaginary piano. I'm currently looking for ways to expand this part of our program.

*Art - we used to take an art class at Gymboree, but his last one was just before his birthday and I decided not to re-enroll him. We did Gymboree from 7 months until he was 23 months old and we mostly enjoyed it (Play and Learn, then Music, then Art). But for now I feel like he really needs more time at home and less time out-and-about, so I plan to do more art things at home. We periodically do painting, glue and glitter, play dough, and scribbling with crayons, marker, or a pen.

*Reading Aloud - Raccoon takes a nap after lunch. I used to let him fall asleep watching a video, but after reading about how television actually disrupts sleep (we've had a lot of sleep troubles), I decided to change this habit. Now I read to him until he falls asleep. The only book I had handy the first day was the Fellowship of the Ring, and he seemed to like it so we've continued. Now he asks for Frodo and Elbow (Bilbo). I usually read about 4 pages before he's nodded off. We also read his books together, usually about 4-5 a day.

*TV - for several months we fell into the trap of watching too much TV. Raccoon has a lot of food sensitivities and struggles with stomach issues, so he was still nursing heavily up until recently. Every time we nursed, I would turn on a video for him and use it for computer time for me, but by 22 months or so, it felt like all we were doing all day was nursing and watching TV. I decided we needed a radical change, so we rearranged the bedroom, taking out the nursing chair and the TV. Now if he wants to nurse, we lie down on the bed (a victory for me since before that he would only nurse in his chair, even at night). It didn't take long for him to cut back to nursing just twice a day, naptime and nighttime, since it was pretty boring if he wasn't falling asleep. I have to admit that I missed my computer time, but overall it's better for us. I tried to cut out TV altogether, but he tolerates sitting and eating better if he's distracted, so we compromised and he gets to watch 30 minutes at mealtimes, and sometimes more if I really need/want to get something done. Right now he watches children's movies (we started with Baby Einstein and moved on to other things like A Bug's Life, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc). My goal is to eventually switch most of his TV time over to documentaries or educational DVDs, but it depends a lot on having money to purchase new ones.

*Bible Verses & Memorization - I hope to start this soon but am waiting until I can purchase a color cartridge for my printer. I made up pages to put in plastic covers in a binder.

Looking it all written down it may seem like a lot, but not everything happens every day, although I wish I was that organized. We usually have one or two really good days a week where everything goes really well and we do almost all of the activities, another three days where we do about half, and the rest are often busy with other things.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


photo by J.M. Garg (Wikipedia)
Celosia School for the Spirited

Say what?! I picked the first letters from the 9 words that most describe my son (curious, energetic, likable/loving, observant, strong-willed/spirited, intense, active, bright) and using my handy anagram solver, came up with "sociable" or "celosia." Turns out that a celosia is a pretty amazing plant.

This fits us in so many ways:
* The name is derived from the Greek word κηλος (kelos), meaning "burned." As a follower of Jesus, I am being "refined by fire."
* It is versatile (medicine, nutrition, beauty), well-travelled, very productive, resistant to disease, thrives wherever it's planted, and it has the potential to change the world.

I also like that "celosia" looks a bit like "celestial." I'll probably say it see-LOW-sha to avoid sounding like "celoso" (jealous) in Spanish.

My son turned two years old today, but I have some questions about whether traditional school will ever be a good fit for him. So I added "For the Spirited" to our school's name, since any learning we do is going to be done on the go!

The picture behind the blog banner is by Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams (Wikipedia).