Monday, August 10, 2009

BOOTS - The Story

These are my son's boots.They have been sitting outside my front door for 8 weeks.
My son was coerced into leaving them out there to "air" after the smell in the house overcame us all.
Six weeks ago today, my son went off to camp. His boots were outside the door when he left for camp despite several "suggestions" to move them.
He is due home the day after tomorrow.
The question is: How long will it take him to move his boots from outside the front door?
I am going to keep track of the boots.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

You Pay For It Mum....

My youngest son had clearly outgrown his bicycle. This was strikingly obvious as his knees hit his chin with each revolution of the wheel.

It was time for a new bike.

Times being what they are, I suggested to my son that he buy a bike with his own pocket money. He agreed and scoured the internet until he had found the bike of his 7 year old dreams.

Pocket money in hand, he headed for the door. With one foot out the door, he stopped abruptly and turned to me with a thoughtful gaze...
He suggested to me that I should pay for his bike. He went on to explain that he had taken 7 years to save his $47 worth of pocket money and he didn't want to spend it all on a bike that he would probably outgrow in a year. What's more, he added, once he spent his pocket money, it would be gone whereas I get money every week from my job. Therefore, using his 7 year old logic, I should pay for the bike!

Oh life through the eyes of a child...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now That's What I Call Summer Fun...

Now this is one fun summer activity! All it took was one wet, rainy day and some imagination...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lunch Puzzle

Today at lunch I gave my children and their friends a puzzle. I put 3 seeds from 3 different fruits on a sheet of paper and labled them 1, 2 and 3. I asked the children to identify the fruits...

We had an avocado, an apple and an apricot seed.

Which ones do you think they got right?

P.S. All of the fuits were on our lunch table as part of our meal.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's The Point in Summer?

What summer plans do you have for your children? Summer is a great opportunity for unstructured time. I try to use it as a chance to live life from my children's perspective. We can be bored together, explore together and plan together. Summer is the time that I really get to know my little gang of 3. What's on your agenda?

Right now we are home in Scotland. Life here moves at a much slower pace. We are going up to feed the horses in about an hour - that is the big plan for today!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terra Nova Tears

My 7 year old is about to take his Terra Nova exam. He is in 1st grade and, as you probably know, this is the requisite standardized tests for first grade. We were discussing it in the car on the way home from school this afternoon. To ease his apparent anxiety, I told him not to worry about it because I would love him just the same if he got all the answers right or if he got them all wrong. He seemed surprised by this and asked me why he had to take the test at all if that was the case. I tried to explain to him that the test was really to make sure that the teacher was doing her job - that the State was testing the teacher. He looked at me in all his innocence and asked "Then why doesn't my teacher take the test tomorrow then mummy?" It's certainly worth considering...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Idiot Words and Fruit Loops!

Recently, my youngest invented a game that's probably been invented at kitchen tables across the country since breakfast cereal was born way back when... We had more fun playing (and eating) this game than we've had in years, and trust me, we've had plenty of fun! The goal was to make words with "oo" in them and use the cereal in place of the "oo" but we just kept eating them!! Eventually we had a list:

We did, however, encounter some problems along the way:

In our house we call them "idiot words" because they don't spell the way they sound. We say that some idiot who invented the English language couldn't spell very well so some of the words are spelled incorrectly...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Timing Is Everything....

So there I was at the ballpark with my 7 year old, for practice, and it wasn't even close to 6pm yet. We were uncharacteristically early but I had that uneasy feeling as no one looked so familiar...

I tried to make the adults at the far end of the field look like our team coach but I couldn't squeeze any of them into my vague recollection. There was a smattering of children practicing but they were just far enough away that my 45 year old eyes couldn't quite make them out.

As we trudged across the park my son informed me that one group were girls and he most certainly did not have them on his team. The other children on the field just kept growing as we approached them until I could no longer convince myself that they were just rather tall, very overweight 7 year olds. Finally I conceded that they were indeed around 10 or 11 years old and clearly not my son's team, so we wandered back to the car to wait, in hope, for some familiar strangers who were now our teammates for the season.

Hope began to fade as carload after carload of unfamiliar faces piled onto the field. I tried to visualize the team list that was posted on my bulletin board but to no avail.

You'd think I'd know better, this being my third child 'n all. It's always something - wrong time, wrong baseball park, wrong child... Why do they have to have so many variables? Why can't they practice in the same park, on the same day, at the same time each week?

Then the inevitable happened; just as we got to the right park, with the right team at close to the right time, it began to rain...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Can Lead A Horse To Water....

When children have a need to communicate, they find a way to accomplish their goal:

The same is true of reading. Create a need to read and you'll generate that intrinsic motivation that serves as a driving force for success...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

You are welcome to post any issue or question here:

Are you frustrated with the way that your child is behaving? Is school becoming a problem?

Would you like to discuss discipline issues, cell phones, video games or your children's friends?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Don't Mean To Seem Ungrateful but....

My 7 year old brought home a note from school - he needed $5 for a mother's day gift. Nought for nothing but should I really have to pay for my own gift? What happened to recycled gifts made from discarded toilet roll tubes and washed out yogurt pots?
Worse yet, how much of his creativity and artistic ability are really in this present? I don't mean to seem ungrateful but I prefer anything that my son thought of by himself. I love paintings that he creates even if I have no idea what they are really meant to be and I love the good old fashioned potrait for Mother's day that looks nothing like a human never mind me. I dont mean to seem ungrateful but...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Do You Drop Your Children Off At The Side of The Road When You Get Mad?

Did you read about the highly intellegent mom who kicked her two children out of her car and drove off?

I wrote the article below for Texas Family Magazine last year. It discusses discipline. How do you discipline your children and what do they learn from it...

Discipline in a Hurry
Texas Family Magazine Posted by admin On February - 2 - 2009
Oct/Nov 2009 Issue
by Dr. Claire N. Rubman
His room is a mess… She doesn’t clear the table… They won’t do their homework or go to bed at bedtime. You’ve tried asking, screaming, begging and bribing but to no avail, so what’s next? You’ve grounded them for the rest of their lives, taken away every last meaningful possession that you’ve ever bought them and still the dirty clothes and dishes remain untouched. What now - do you give in and take care of it all yourself, turn a blind eye as they take their cell phone to bed with them like a security blanket? Is that what discipline has come to? Do you tell yourself that as long as they do well in school and don’t do drugs then maybe you shouldn’t sweat the little stuff…

As your alarm clock rings to signal the onset of a new day, the familiarity of those old battlegrounds looms. The monotony of the day can easily overwhelm us as parents. In homes all across the country parents are waging the same battle cries over unbrushed teeth, forgotten homework, uneaten breakfasts or cell phones at the breakfast table. Not to mention the failed campaigns and battle scars that have barely healed from broken curfews, forgotten chores and the previous night’s parenting endeavors. Bus time diminishes the importance of it all and you savor your impending respite before the next onslaught around 3 o’clock.

We know we can do better. We plan, discuss and organize more effective disciplinary techniques with friends as we compare combat stories and lick our proverbial battle wounds. We scour through parenting magazines in search of that holy disciplinary grail. Well, the search is over! You’ve found it my friends…

Try looking at life though your child’s eyes. Consider the possibility that your expectations might be unrealistic given the frenetic pace of your child’s life. Is there really time to follow through on a chore or are our collective children too busy rushing to school, cramming in homework, grabbing dinner on the go between the afterschool world of sports, music, dance and text messaging friends? Is life so over scheduled that even the best intentions get lost in the shuffle? Let’s create time in our children’s lives so that they can slow down long enough to tidy their rooms, wash the dishes or sort the laundry. Let’s set them up to be successful. As important as each individual activity seems, perhaps the overall goal of family stability is more crucial.

Lest you waver in your resolve, remember, these chores are not without a purpose. They don’t just help you out around the house, although that would be reason enough, but they develop self discipline, a sense of responsibility and family commitment. These are the character building moments in your child’s life. They form the foundations of our personal work ethic and our values system. Make chores a positive experience in your home and watch your children rise to the challenge. Respect the effort that’s involved and remember to thank your child. Never forget the power of role modeling.

Another possibility exists, however. We need to consider if our children are just too tired to function at their best. Perhaps they are just so overwhelmed by school work, hurt by a cruel or ambiguous text message or so stressed by their daily lifestyle that even when they go to bed on time sleep eludes them. Yes, children worry too and while they may not verbalize it to us, stress often keeps them awake at night. Lack of sleep can make our children short tempered, forgetful and lethargic – not the optimal conditions for a successful childhood. As they creep towards adolescents they require more sleep, not less, but they are being squeezed at both ends: They battle to stay up later now that they are older and school starts earlier in the morning as they shift to middle then high school, yet their growing brains and bodies demand more hours of sleep.

Even if our well rested children have slowed their pace there may be yet another reason why our attempts to discipline them may be unsuccessful. It is possible that we are unrealistic in our expectations. Perhaps they can’t tidy that bedroom because they have too many belongings and they lack the organizational skills to even start the process. Maybe their teeth go unbrushed because they want you there to supervise them or they’re not yet ready for that level of responsibility. Maybe your child just doesn’t like the toothpaste. Maybe your parenting is sporadic so they are testing you to see what they can get away with today.

Instead of looking for that disciplinary panacea, the next ‘quick fix’, look through your child’s eyes at the lifestyle, pace and expectations that you set and ask yourself, honestly, which changes you could make to benefit your child.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gifted, Eh?

Did you read the New York Times today? Apparently giftedness in New York City is up by 45%. How? Is it something in the drinking water? More to the point, why are we testing 4 and 5 year old children? What could we possibly gain as a society by testing little people who can’t even tie their own shoelaces yet?

Imagine the neurosis that this must be creating among parents. What is gifted and how can we tell? Where does it all begin –in prek, in the womb?

How do you know, for example, if your 2-year-old child is gifted?

Is your prodigy toilet trained? Well, many are, nowadays isn’t it a prerequisite for preschool, not a mark of giftedness. Can the gifted toddler eat ice cream in a cone without ruining his or her shoes?

Or is it a cognitive requirement - does a gifted 3 year old think more like a 4 year old? Can they read? Do they prefer calculus to play dough, or can they name all the banks that have gone out of business during this dreadful financial depression?

How do they test for giftedness?

Do they enroll children based on parental testimony or does the preschool administer some type of entrance test? Is it a written test?

What would you ask a 3-year-old if you were trying to differentiate between a run-of-the-mill child and a future Einstein? Wasn’t he acutely dysfunctional as a child?

At any rate, I read that between 3-5% of the entire population is gifted. That would make for a very small circle of preschool friends. Perhaps those statistics are out of date – either that or they all live in New York City!

Look on the bright side, taking turns wouldn’t be so hard and sharing the glue would be a breeze.

But seriously, where do our preschoolers go from here? Does the State kindergarten curriculum meet the needs of these gifted children? How does that curriculum differ from the one for our average Joe? Have we now dispensed with circle time, share and tell and recess for our nation’s brightest or do they still enjoy cup cakes, balloons and an occasional trip to the treasure chest…

Do these gifted children remain gifted at 5? What about 10? If you are gifted at 3, are you gifted for life? Which brings me back to my original thought; what is “gifted” and how can we tell?

Once again, just because you can doesn't mean you should...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kindergarten Didn't Go As Planned

Is your child approaching kindergarten age?
Have you prepared your child for the prekindergarten screening?
Here is some insight into the process:

My oldest is now almost 15 years old but it seems like just yesterday that we were walking in to that “Prescreening Testing Center”…

I’m still not sure whether it was because I was a foreigner or because I was a first-time mum or a working mum, it is also possible that it was because I was foreign and a first-timer and a working mum! Whatever the reason, kindergarten didn’t go as planned not, I hasten to add,
that there ever was a plan...

Joshua, my pride and joy was approaching the ripe old age of 5! Both he and I were excited about kindergarten and the prospect of this new, previously uncharted territory. Joshua stared up me, wide-eyed and innocent about this new adventure! I was excited, too, about the idea of my boy starting school. I think most new mums are excited about this major milestone. I was also excited about learning more about American schools after all, I’d only seen them in the movies for 20+ years, now I was going to see a real one!

We’d done preschool. Since the tender age of 2, Joshua had been enrolled in a wonderful preschool program, you know the type, no sugar, no guns, no hitting. Our philosophy at home matched the philosophy at preschool, use your words, play fair and share… And of course, don’t talk to strangers… Not forgetting don’t go out of the house by yourself and don’t ever, ever eat anything that a stranger gives you and never, ever go with a stranger for any reason even if he says he’s lost his doggie (we all saw the Oprah special). I assumed that kindergarten would run as smoothly…

Now I, as you know, am a developmental psychologist and not unfamiliar with the requirements for kindergarten or the screening process thereof. This, as it turns out, was of no help whatsoever. We put on our cleanest clothes and, one morning in May, we wandered up to our local school for this “pre kindergarten screening” blissfully ignorant of what we were in store for…

We registered at the desk then sat in the waiting area for our turn. A woman, a little older than myself, came over to Joshua and asked him to follow her. She offered him her hand. Well, at the tender age of 4 Joshua had memorized the rules, no hitting, no fighting (so far so good) and don’t go with strangers… Joshua looked up at this woman as if she were half mad and told her in no uncertain terms that he was 4 years old and that she was a stranger and that he, Joshua the 4 year old, did not go anywhere with strangers, ever! Good point son. We all agreed that it would be ok for Joshua to go with this “friend of Mum’s” and that mum would walk into the testing hall behind Joshua. So in we went, my rule bound son, the stranger and myself… I waited unnobtrusively by the door as Joshua sat down at the testing table. I was, I must admit, just a little bit proud of my son for following his rules and questioning a stranger and somewhere, under all the embarrassment of the day, I felt like I had parented well for the first 4 years.

Meanwhile, another storm was brewing. As I turned to leave the testing area something caught my eye, in the center of the testing table was a bowl of candy, a large round bowl overflowing with M&M’s. I see, as only a mother can, the pained look on my son’s face. It was certainly not test anxiety but rather the determination of a highly conscientious 4 year old trying to resist this chocolate temptation. Joshua knew the rules, and this was most certainly candy and these
were, without doubt, strangers. I watched in quiet desperation as my son failed to answer question after question. Now we hadn’t “studied” for the test but I was reasonably confident that even at the tender age of 4, he knew his name and could count to 10. I stood frozen at the door watching his index and middle fingers twitch towards the bowl. I think I saw beads of sweat forming on his 4 year old brow. I couldn’t watch. I prized myself away from the testing area and returned to the waiting room. What kind of parent was I? What had I done to my son? If he had just eaten the candy and bounced off the walls like a normal child…

My mind was racing, would he begin his public school career in remediation? If he had just eaten the candy then he would have heard the questions that were being asked. At least then I would be sure that he failed because he didn’t know the answers not because he was preoccupied. Should I have prepared him better for the test? As I sat in that lonely waiting room I realized that he didn’t even know his own phone number. He’d never really needed to. It had never come up. He was 4 years old, he’d never had to call home from the mall or from a friend’s house. He couldn’t read either. I thought that was the purpose of Kindergarten, to teach them to read. My mind was racing. Had I parented all wrong? I made up my mind to go home and teach him to read and count the second that we left the testing center. Maybe the M&Ms didn’t matter so much because how many questions could he answer anyway…

When he finally came out of the testing center I was a mess. In the car I “squeezed” him for information. Who’s kidding who, on the walk to the car I began the inquisition. He couldn’t write his name... He couldn’t spell “cat”. .. He didn’t know which number came after 10. He couldn’t differentiate between the letters “P” and “F”… Perhaps he belonged in remediation. What, realistically, should a 4 year old be able to do? What should I have taught him to do? Tears were streaming down my face. I didn’t need an exceptional child, I just wanted a normal child. I was wracked with guilt. What had I done, or not done for my son?

That little rule bound 4 year old will be turning 15 next month and let me reassure you that he is just fine. In hindsight, he had the best preparation possible for kindergarten, middle school and high school…

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Planning Ahead - What's The Point in Summer?

Why don't children go to school during the summer months? We no longer live in an agrarian culture where our children have to help in the fields or toil on the farm. Why then, don’t children attend school year round? Is it not financially viable to pay our teachers to work for 12 months in the year? Let’s be honest, for many working parents summer means scrambling to find extended supervision and a sharp spike in “working parents’ guilt”. To a child, however, summer is unquestioningly playtime!

Self Directed and Self Initiated

Summer affords children the opportunity to engage in self directed, self initiated play and discovery. Without the pressure of homework or tests they can experiment, explore and question. They can wander, cognitively speaking, wherever their thoughts take them. The entire process of learning is inverted as our children take charge. Instead of imposing knowledge upon our children or asking them to learn material that may be of little interest to them, summer creates a unique moment in time for children to learn from their own exceptional perspective. This is in stark contrast to the regular school year where the constraints of formal education, the need for accountability and testable outcomes render learning linear in form with a fixed starting and end point. To that end, textbooks have a preset order and teachers design work that has a predetermined structure. Children’s thinking, however, has a more frenetic constitution. If we could look inside a child’s mind, we would see a neural network of knowledge, beliefs and expectations that is as individual as each child. Imagine your child’s mind as a spider’s web linking ideas, memories and facts together with neural strands that are individually crafted from life’s experiences. Children learn when those webs are expanded and enhanced. Summer recess offers children the freedom to choose their own areas of interest and follow their existing neural networks in whichever direction they lead. The breadth and depth of this thought is enhanced by each interaction that a child experiences because that link is created from within an existing knowledge structure that is then linked to new information.

Sparking Interest

Lacking insight into our child’s thoughts, we do not know which activities will spark great interest or motivate our children at any given moment. We do not know ahead of time which memories they will store and which will be forgotten. Is coaxing a bored child around a museum more educationally sound than building sandcastles on the beach? Will make believe dragons make a better memory than s’mores around the campfire? In our highly pressured, fast paced society we have grown accustomed to results and end products. Try to avoid looking for a quantifiable outcome and focus on the actual event.

Neural Networks

As your child’s ice cream is melting down his or her arm and soiling a new, overpriced tee shirt on a hot summer’s day remember that your child will internalize this experience within that neural network from the unique perspective of childhood. Similarly, letting your child plan day trips to museums and historical sites turns these activities into child directed events with greater potential for significant cognitive growth. Because they are the architects of their neural networks this information is stored in a more meaningful context that can be utilized and retrieved with greater flexibility. It is not the activity itself that holds the potential, it is the execution of the act as a child centered, child directed process with no preset goal that determines its long term value.

Follow Their Lead

To maximize the benefits of summer, our charge is to listen to our children and follow their lead. Use the luxury of summer time to encourage your child to pursue his or her own ideas. Be spontaneous. Trust your child. Focus on creating a risk free environment where your child can hypothesize, plan and think as an individual.

The Illusion of Knowledge

Ironically, this type of discovery or constructivist learning that is the ideal tool for cognitive growth is often suppressed during the school year in favor of facts can be learned by rote and that give the illusion of knowledge. They tend to create superficial learning since they are not connected to the child’s existing body of knowledge in a meaningful way robbing a child of the depth of knowledge that is associated with expertise in any given field. That “ah-ha” moment of realization that Archimedes experienced when he discovered displacement while sitting in his bathtub exemplifies the complexity of thought and the distinctiveness of each person’s neural network.

The Point

The point of summer, then, is to offer our children the intellectual, social and emotional freedom to experience their own “ah-ha” moments. They may not be as grandiose as displacement theory but the potential for creativity and genius none-the-less exists within those long, hot lazy days of summer.

Can Your Infant Read Yet?

Before you know it your precious bundle of joy will be running off to kindergarten. You may still measure her age in months but in no time at all the government will be measuring her test scores in hard, fast, quantifiable statistics so there’s no time like the present to get started…

Don’t panic if you didn’t read to your child in utero – although research clearly shows that this is advantageous you can catch up! The effects were, after all, short lived and only applied to recognition not comprehension anyway.

If you forgot to play classical music to you infant to capitalize on the much publicized “Mozart Effect” rest assured that it wasn’t a real phenomenon anyway. As appealing as it sounds, to think that playing classical music will make your prodigy smarter, there is no data to support this myth. Do however play music to your infants and toddlers because it is soothing and great to listen to…

Before you plop your precious bundle of joy in front of the television for some neural enhancement courtesy of Einstein or the like remember the words of the great developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, who said that children learn by doing – not watching. I know, I know he seems to love the stimulation but any interaction between you and your child is worth far more than any program on television. You provide vital feedback and hands on interactions that are both key components of the learning process. Remember that children think and learn differently than adults. You have to think as a child thinks.

Forget the computer too. She won’t learn to read with all the latest software, gyzmos and gadgets. Sorry to burst that technological bubble but there are no pixel tricks to ease the process.

Reading takes time, human interaction, patience and trust. Read to your infants and toddlers. Read to them at breakfast, read to them at playtime and recite poetry to them while you are out walking. Expose them to print and introduce them to the joy of reading. Be a good role model. Let your children see you reading. Snuggle up close and make it an enjoyable experience that your child will eagerly anticipate. Turn reading into an adventure. Solve mysteries together and anticipate what characters will do next. Discuss the people and the events that you are reading about. Read about events and people that your infant and toddler has experience with – create a shared imaginary world together.

Reread stories and poems so that your child gains familiarity with the words. Let her predict the next word by pausing – remember, long before she speaks, she can comprehend. Ask her questions even if she is too little to respond verbally. Act out the stories and bring them to life.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verse” is a great place to start for poetry. Odgen Nash has some fun and nonsense rhymes that children love. Sandra Boynton’s books are an ideal introduction to print. They are fun, lively stories with bright, colorful and inviting illustrations. Dr. Seuss is another great source. His nonsense words and ridiculous themes turn reading into adventure, mayhem and madness – the good kind! Look out for Horton, the Sneeches and Sam-I-am to name but a few.

Talking also nurtures that vocabulary growth that is essential to reading and learning. Remember, your infant will utter one or two words by her first birthday and within a year you should hear over 400 utterances. You are charged with the responsibility of exposing your child to a rich vocabulary filled environment. Don’t forget, those words are experience long before you hear her utter them and there is no time like the present to get started.

Laying the foundations for reading can be an exciting journey. Focus on stories, plots and characters and avoid the urge to teach letters and sounds. The brain is not mature enough yet. Consider instead, how you can spend those quality interactions.

You may feel pressure to spend those toddler and preschool years on drill and practice that is narrowly focused on letters and sounds. The decoding process needs to wait until 2 key elements are in place. Firstly, your child’s eye sight needs to mature – this can take until around 5 years of age. Remember, you can discern a “p” from a “q” or a “d” from a “b” but to the immature eye they are all so very similar that it is not a good use of your time to focus on those minor differences. If you rush this process then you risk a sense of frustration and failure that may show itself in behavior problems or a reluctance to learn. Secondly, the brain has to develop.

Let’s not forget, your child has to have a need to read. What, after all, should toddlers do with print; follow a recipe? Read the newspaper? Your goal during these formative years is to develop a “need to read” within the risk free and nurturing environment of your home. Unlock the magic of literature and the rest will fall into place …