Friday, August 26, 2005

The Power of Lazy Mothering

by Anne Zelenka
Two-year-old Laura is mostly potty-trained, even through the night, but that hasn't come without some pain. She's so in tune with her body that she wakes up around 4 or 5 am each morning ready to show off her new toileting skills. Once she's up, five-year-old Anna soon follows. That's fine when Rick's in town--he gets up early to check email or go running, so he mostly takes care of them while I train for the Sleep Olympics. He traveled to LA this week so I'm left handling my early birds.

This morning I was just too groggy to deal at 4:30 am. I made sure Laura had access to a healthy breakfast: a Pop Tart--you know that the human body is especially sensitive to insulin in the morning so that's the optimum time to flood it with sugar, right? I left the box out for any other child that might wander into the kitchen in need of breakfast/sugar/artificial flavors. And then I wrapped myself in a soft blanket and dozed on the couch.

It's amazing to me how independent my kids can be when left alone. Anna and Laura worked together quietly on a Strawberry Shortcake sticker storybook I'd bought at Borders Books yesterday. Laura took a shower by herself and Anna helped her get dressed. Then Anna showered and got dressed. They didn't fight; they didn't disturb me. I got almost two extra hours of sleep. By 6:30 am, I was ready to get up and they were in good moods.

After I was awake here's what happened: Yelling. Pulling hair. Peeing on the chair. "Mom, Laura got pee-pee on my skirt!" Changing clothes. Bickering. "You a baby!" "I'm not a baby! Mom, Laura called me a baby!" Peeing on the couch. "Mom, Laura pee-peed on the couch!" Changing clothes. "More food, mommy!" "My plate's bigger than yours!" "Mom, Laura said her plate is bigger than mine!" "More kineapple, mommy!" "My plate bigger!"

They behaved better when I was asleep. What's up with that? Makes me think I am probably reinforcing their misbehavior somehow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hang Loose, Dude, It's Only a Sleepover

by Anne Zelenka
We hosted Henry's first sleepover last week. I was a bit nervous, because I get a little crazy with extra kids in the house, but I wanted to reciprocate for the nice sleepover that Henry had at his friend D.'s house a couple weeks prior.

We ordered pizza and cheesy-bread. Afterwards, the boys played video games and the Game of Life. They stayed up until 9 pm and then I put them to bed: Henry in his room and D. using the bed in the au pair's room, since she was spending the night elsewhere. D. read for a while since he usually stays up later and Henry tried to go right to sleep. D. had trouble sleeping but eventually was able to. In the morning, we took everyone out to breakfast at Denny's. It seemed to have been a successful event. Not perfect, since D. had trouble sleeping and kept going to Henry's room to wake him up, but it seemed good enough.

Then, last night at karate class, Rick was cornered by D.'s dad. "Hey, I was really pissed off that D. and Henry didn't sleep in the same room. What kind of sleepover is that? Is my son not good enough to sleep with your son? They're supposed to be able to talk. That's what a sleepover is about." And so forth.

I felt shamed when Rick told me. I had tried hard to do a good job. My gut instinct said to have them sleep in separate rooms--the choice was either sleeping in the same bed in the au pair's room (it's a queen) or sleeping in separate rooms because I don't have two beds in one room. Henry has had many troubles sleeping and although my friends and I used to share a bed during sleepovers in my youth, we were older, maybe 12 or 14. I don't think nine-year-old boys need to stay up late talking. Also, Henry's not a big socializer anyway so I didn't see the benefit to having them in the same room. This father has a 14-year-old daughter, so I think he might be coming from a different perspective than I am, with Henry being my eldest, and a slow-to-socialize child at that. I take a gradual approach and figure if he and his friends want different (like to sleep in the same room), they'll bring it to me to consider.

So what do I do now? Call up this guy and defend myself? Ignore it? Here we are in this supposedly relaxed social environment and I get slammed instead of thanked for my hospitality. It wasn't very aloha, that's for sure.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Brainy Blogging

by Anne Zelenka
Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide propose that blogging is good for the brain (via Kevin Drum). The Eides are neurolearning experts who focus mainly on children with learning difficulties. Their blog makes for tremendously interesting reading. For example, check out this recent post discussing Bill Gates' ideas about revamping education and offering their own research-based prescriptions for change which include dispensing with the age/grade-based approach that fails to meet different children's needs.

The Eides offer that blogs exercise the brain by:
  • Promoting critical and analytical thinking
  • Requiring creative, intuitive, and associational thinking
  • Encouraging thinking by analogy
  • Offering access to quality information
  • Combing solitary reflection with social interaction
Well, I'm convinced. Based on this and my recent revival as a blogger, I'm revamping my own blogging. I'm going to keep up my four blogs as follows:
  • EconoMom -- money, shopping, economics, career issues, balancing work and family, and maybe a little bit of politics
  • Chocolate and Peanut Butter -- playgroup conversation. Parenting, kids, education, and family life.
  • Barely Attentive -- personal growth and goals, Buddhism, yoga, anything new agey, personal whining.
  • The Everyday Cafe -- recipes, cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping.
If I keep up with all that, my brain should stay in fine shape!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Montessori Math Manipulatives

by Anne Zelenka
Another school year is about to start and I'm again thinking how much I love the Montessori approach. I like that classrooms are multi-age. Older kids can act as leaders and younger kids can learn from them. Cliques are less likely to develop than in a single grade classroom. Age is less important than developmental stage in determining what the kids work on. The Montessori approach allows for kids to go as fast or as slow as they need. I love it.

I am not, however, a huge fan of the Montessori equipment. It seems too fussy somehow. Now an article in Scientific American has given shape to my doubts. Judy DeLoache, a specialist in early cognitive development at the University of Virginia, writes about how children develop symbolic thinking. In her research, she's found that children learn to think symbolically over several years and that they make many errors during that development. Thinking symbolically requires understanding dual reprentation: seeing an object "both as itself and as depicting something else."

DeLoache discusses the educational ramifications:

Using blocks designed to help teach math to young children, we taught six- and seven-year-olds to do subtraction problems that require borrowing (a form of problem that often gives young children difficulty). We taught a comparison group to do the same but using pencil and paper. Both groups learned to solve the problems equally well--but the group using the blocks took three times as long to do so. A girl who used the blocks offered us some advice after the study: "Have you ever thought of teaching kids to do these with paper and pencil? It's a lot easier."
At the primary level (preschool through kindergarten, roughly ages 3 to 6), math manipulatives are used with great enthusiasm in Montessori classrooms. In elementary (ages 7 to 12) Montessori, manipulatives are used less often while paper and pencil work increases.

Here's a couple examples of disconnects I've seen between the materials and the math they represent:

Example 1. The binomial cube. This cube is intended to represent the equation (a+b)^3. My husband and I were introduced to it at parents' night last year at the elementary school. The linkage between the wooden cube and the algebraic equation is a huge leap, one the elementary teacher wasn't prepared to take. To me, it was much more complicated to understand the algebra with the manipulative than with written mathematical symbols. [If you're interested, here's an explanation of the binomial cube.]

Example 2. Square root with a peg board. Henry and I did a square root together using a board and pegs one day at school. While I understood immediately how to physically manipulate the material, the connection between the material and the math behind it was not easy for me to grasp. This may be because I have spent my entire mathematical education using symbols and not using manipulatives, other than a stint at age three with the Montessori chains for skip-counting. But I wonder how many kids quickly learn to manipulate the materials but don't make any sort of leap to the math behind it.

Disclaimer. I'm no expert! Just reporting on what I've seen of math manipulatives in Montessori. I'm also not arguing for doing pencil-and-paper work in preschool. The kids have fun with the Montessori materials. I'm skeptical about how much they really prepare them to do symbolic math but I'm in favor of the approach as a whole.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ending, Beginning, Spiraling

by Anne Zelenka
Ending: our dedicated and hard-working Thai au pair, Rose, will complete her two-year stint with us in September. I'm ready to move forward, given my last child has mostly passed through toddlerhood and is ready to become a preschooler. I'm terrible at babies and toddlers, but okay (I think) with preschoolers and older.

Best wishes to you, Rose; I hope you get everything you want and deserve.

Beginning: Another school year on Maui, this time with all three kids at the same Montessori school that I love so well.

Ending: I quit the online master's program I was pursuing in health education. It was pretty interesting but I've closed the door on doing anything in the health arena or on moving on to doctoral training. I had thought of nursing (was even about to begin a second-degree nursing program before we relocated to Maui). Then I thought about health education and behavior. That made me consider a Ph.D. in psychology or health economics or education, but finally, the blogosphere as well as my sister's own experiences making an academic career suggested to me that the payoff from a Ph.D. would not compensate for the investment required.

Spiraling: Back to software--I've decided that I'll refresh my technical skills and return to my first career in software development. There are jobs in software development in virtually every city we'd like to live in and I want to set an example for my girls of how a woman can succeed doing technical work.

Beginning: Blogging again, after a little hiatus.

Ending: Chocolate and Peanut Butter? Is it going to be just Chocolate or just Peanut Butter for now? I know that chocolate isn't the same without peanut butter and peanut butter is nothing on its own. However, I've not been motivated to blog lately and neither has Marjorie. But I'm not going to call an end to it yet. I'll just post less frequently and see what happens. It's been a great way to keep up with friends and family.

Spiraling: Maybe back to the Barely Attentive Mother, my first blog? I'm not going to have built-in childcare anymore so when the kids aren't in school I'll be seriously inattentive, as I polish my technical skills with some online programming skills. Plus, a summer without Buddhism has left me wanting, wanting, wanting instead of being, being, being.

Spiraling: My thighs, in yoga class, in less than twenty minutes. Aloha!

UPDATE 10:40 am. Woops. Yoga class starts at 11 am, not 10:45 am. So I can fit in one more very important spiraling.

Spiraling: Double-digit anniversary celebration at a fancy inn, this Saturday night. This time, for our eleventh, we're going to the Hotel Hana Maui. Last year, for our tenth, we went to the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia. How great to be able to take an island vacation without even hopping a plane!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Potty Blogging, Again

by Anne Zelenka
If you couldn't already figure out that I have nothing to say based on my lack of recent posts, now you will be convinced. I am going to write about potty training again. This is what gives mom-blogging a bad name, but I know there are many bloggers out there with twoish and threeish and fourish kids who might be interested.

We started two-year-old Laura in undies a few weeks back. She sat on the big toilet (with a little kids' toilet seat on top) a few times but then started refusing to try, even when I offered m&ms. This is the child who wakes up and says, "more food, mommy!" as though her life is just one unending cycle of eating punctuated by other less important activities. I guess she was getting a little scared of the big, bad toilet. Somehow she got in her mind that she needed a little potty--a "purper potty." Her favorite color is purple. Her second favorite color is orange.

KMart didn't have a purple and orange potty. But they did have a pink and purple one, a Disney Princess one, of course. I paid my twenty bucks and she immediately began using it regularly. In fact, she has switched almost entirely to undies now. She refuses to wear diapers even at night. I pleaded with her a couple nights ago because I didn't want to get woken up in the middle of the night to change sheets but this only hardened her resolve. Maybe that's part of the key to potty-training a two-year-old--make her think you don't want her out of diapers. I guess she knew better than I did how ready she was: she slept through last night and the night before without an accident. Unfortunately, Laura doesn't yet realize that she needs to hit that purper potty immediately upon getting up.

My diaper days are virtually over! So no more potty blogging.