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Realizing Science

Motion: A change in the position of an object in relation to time.

Velocity: Speed in a given direction

Displacement: The shortest distance from the initial to the final position of a point. Or the volume or weight of fluid displaced by a floating body of equal weight.

Acceleration: The rate of change of velocity over time; or an increase in speed.

Time: A measuring system used to sequence events.

Consistency: A degree of density, firmness, viscosity.

Our life provides endless opportunities to learn about the way our world works. From the moment Ella/Agatha wakes up in the morning (time), until she goes to bed at night, she’s in constant motion. At times she merely wiggles while she sits and reads a book, or watches a show(velocity). At other times she jumps up and races around the house (acceleration), only to slow down (deceleration) long enough to grab a bite to eat. She might be sitting at the table and need a glass of water from the counter, but instead of taking the shortest possible route, she first runs to the living room, then passed the front door, throughout the pantry, and back in to the kitchen to get the water that had been only 3 feet away from her in the first place (displacement).

As she’s drinking her water, she drops an ice-cube into it. Then she might spy a strawberry and decide to drop that in as well. After each addition she tastes it and observes for changes in colour and consistency. With each addition she also makes note of the water level in the glass (Displacement).

Periodically she’ll make note of how dark it’s getting (Time) or reference some past or future event that has meaning to her.

Science is all a round us. We don’t need to force it on our children, but we can bring it to their attention. A few well asked questions can do more than hours of instruction in a school setting. Right now, I don’t usually mention definitions, unless it really does help the understanding or discussion, those can come with time. Once she’s explored a subject and understands it, then a definition would broaden her perspective without offering more confusion.

During the day, I may point out something to see if the girls noticed it – for instance  the water level rising with each addition to the glass. But other times I won’t bother. A lot has to do with how many times an experiment’s taken place. The first few times I won’t interfere – after all, they need to test, test, and re-test to see if they get the same result each time. However, there comes a point where I like to see if they’re actually getting anything from the mess they’re making.

“What do you think will happen when you drop the potatoes in to the glass?” Depending on the answer, I may encourage them to consider other alternatives. “Will there still be the same amount of water in the glass? Will it still be the same colour?”

“What happened when you dropped the potatoes into your milk?”

“Was that what you expected?”

“Wow, what caused your water to turn grey?”

“I filled your cup half full, that means there was as much water in the glass as empty space, so how did it get so full?”

“How did the carrots get on the ceiling?”

I don’t need to drill my children to make the lessons ‘stick’. But a few questions here and there can help broaden their world as well as lead me in new directions for fun activities for us to do together. For instance, hmm they really like mixing things together – and throwing what they mix. I can find all kinds of things to mix together cornstarch, food colouring and water – then bring them to the park and let them fling it all over – the snow will cover it up soon enough. And hopefully the carrots will remain on their plates next time.

Science is all around us. Sometimes we just need to realize it.

 

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Sibling Bonding

Everywhere I turn I hear parents lamenting sibling rivalry. I hear them asking how to get one child to leave the other alone. I hear them saying they don’t want the four year old to touch the baby, but then in two years they get upset when the six year old doesn’t want the two year old around.

When Agatha was born, we had our fair share of ‘problems’ as we navigated from one child to two. Our poor little Agatha was bumped and bruised, cut and scraped so many times. But she was so in love with her big sister (when she wasn’t afraid). We eventually figured things out and the relationship improved.

Now that Cordelia’s here things could be very difficult, but instead we find things even better than before. Our two big girls are so excited to help and share, and Cordelia is so in love with her sisters. She can’t get enough of them. There is no fear, there are no cuts or bruises, just love.

How did this happen?

First, the girls were involved with the pregnancy. They came to appointments, they helped us choose names, they touched my belly, they talked to the baby, they hugged and kissed her while she was still inside. They were present at her birth, and were invited to hold her as soon as I was willing to let my baby out of my arms for the first time.

When Cordelia came home with us, we encouraged the girls to hold her as much as they wanted. We’d sit them at the couch and hover. After all a newborn baby is rather floppy. As Cordelia became stronger, we hovered less. Now Agatha holds Cordelia on her own all the time, Ella carries Cordelia around the house. Whenever they want to do something with each other, or the baby, we try to find a way to help them play together, to accomplish their goals.

Some ways we do that include: playing tag with the girls, and tackle games. I carry Cordelia and chase the girls around the house. I’m sure to give all of them plenty of chance to see each others faces. In the beginning, I’d point out the huge smile, the look of intense pleasure, on Cordelia’s face, now we just play. They all have so much fun together. They all get a chance to be on an even playing field. As Cordelia gets bigger I’ll add in soccer. I carry her (when she’s bigger I’ll hold her hands) while she runs and kicks the ball, and the big girls try to get the ball away, or Cordelia tries to get the ball from them. They aren’t competition games because there is no win or lose. The whole entire point is to have fun. It doesn’t matter who has the ball because everyone’s playing together. As they get older these games could translate into competition, but for now it’s bonding.

During the day I spend a lot of time interpreting for the big girls. They rush over and pick Cordelia up and she whimpers. I point out the sounds, and let them know she doesn’t like that. I then offer a suggestion for what they could do that’d she’d likely enjoy. As she gets bigger, I’ll also help her figure out words to use so she can let them know on her own that she’s unhappy with a particular turn of events.

Right now it seems as though the most important part of having a positive experience with their sisters is me helping them figure out what the other means. They don’t have the knowledge base to figure out on their own that certain faces or sounds mean someone else isn’t having fun. They also don’t have the ability to put someone else’s needs or desires above their own. It’s my job to advocate for each of my children.

It doesn’t matter, for the most part, what happened, who started it, why someone’s crying, or anything else that divides the children. What matters is figuring out how to find a solution that preserves respect. It matters that they learn new methods of communicating, and playing together.

One day they won’t need me to step in as often as I do, one day they won’t need me to point out when someone else cries. One day they’ll take these skills and use them on their own, in the ‘real’ world. But for now they’re little girls playing together, loving each other, and loving life.

Is there something your family did – or does – that helps promote bonding between children, particularly children of vastly different ages and abilities?

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The Hidden Danger of Toys

There’s nothing to do, but take it away. Someone gave Agatha a doll for her birthday, and she can’t have it. The head is disproportionately large, the eyes are huge, the one arm is stitched on a little crooked, and it has a cute little cupid bow mouth.

It has to go.

It’s nothing like a real baby and I’m concerned she’ll be upset because her eyes aren’t as large, or her mouth isn’t as small. I’m much too concerned for her mental well-being to allow her such a toy.

Everywhere you turn there’s another danger facing our children. One of the biggest, it would seem, are toys.

Don’t let your children play with a pretend phone, or their imagination will shrivel and die. Don’t let your child have a play sword, or a stick won’t be good enough. And what ever you do, don’t let your daughter play with Barbie, or she’ll forever feel inadequate and end up with an eating disorder.

I know what the studies say, but I think researchers are causing fear and panic where there needn’t be any.

No, I’m not taking any toys away from my children – unless you count the million and one bite size pieces Cordelia finds everyday.

Parents believe children are capable of turning a stick into a sword, a cane, a catapult, a bow and arrows, as well as a dog named Rover. Yet they can’t believe their children are capable of realizing a toy is nothing more than just a toy. For that matter they can’t believe their children will be capable of pretending a stick is anything, and everything, if they’re ever exposed to a real toy phone, or sword, or dog named Rover.

They use children from several generations ago as an example. “Our fore fathers never needed a toy, they just made do, and look at the fun they had.” But our Fore fathers only had stories about things they had experience with to some degree. A knight fighting a dragon was easy to imagine when they’d seen real fighting. Today’s children, thankfully, haven’t seen real fighting. There’s a lot today’s children haven’t experienced. Inherited memory only goes so far.

Through books we introduce our children to one idea or another. Mummies, pirates, kings & queens, as well as deep-sea diving and any other thought they care to explore. But sometimes they need an image in order to internalize it.

A toy sword is fabulous. They suddenly KNOW what the word ‘sword’ meant. From there any stick can become a sword, because they have the basic outline in their heads.

If we believe, have seen, that our children are capable of such a degree of imagination, then why are we concerned that a toy will interfere? To some extent a child may demand the specific toy in order to play, but I believe that’s more likely with older children, rather than younger children. A young child is still discovering the shape of the world. A hazy image can be anything. They have no basis on which to say it’s something specific because there experience ‘vocabulary’ is still so limited. But an older child knows that each item in the world has a true shape. And older children know that adults use the true shapes, not the hazy shadow children must settle for.  An older child insists on taking the first step into adulthood. A stick can no longer be a dog named Rover. A stick is just a stick, maybe a sword or a cane. In order to be a bow, it needs a string. As the child ages their awareness increases. Their willingness to remain blind to the true shape of the world diminishes.

Nothing can change that, not a million toys, and neither will the refusal to give toys. children are natural scientists, natural philosophers. The true shape emerges no matter what.

A Barbie is disproportionate. But a child knows that’s not the true shape of humans. I believe humans are more at fault for the poor self-image of children. A child told at five or six that’s she’s chubby may see a Barbie and wish she were thinner. But without the comments made by people, the thought wouldn’t occur to her that any shape other than her own is the true shape.

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Someone Broke Her Funny Bone

The girl’s discovered a new game – thanks to Daddy. For the past several nights we’ve had to play doctor. Before you get concerned, it’s not that kind of doctor. First someone must be injured in some way (pretend), then Mommy or Daddy give an ambulance ride on our back (Eoo, Eooo) around the house a few times. Then we diagnose the injury.

“Oh, no. Someone broke her funny bone. There’s only one cure…Tickles.”

We then proceed to tickle from head to toe, briefly. We stop and ask if they’re okay. They dissolve into fits of giggles and declare their funny bone’s still broken. This goes on until Ryan’s completely tired out and ready for bed. By then the girls’ve received enough love to allow daddy some space.

When it’s time for bed, everything runs smoothly. They ask for their story, they fall sleep. Easy. They’re secure in our love – and that makes all the difference.

We have many variations on this type of game. Another one we play quite often has been around since Agatha was about 6 months old. I’d hold baby in front of me, facing out, and we’d chase Ella around the house. When we caught her, baby would tackle Ella and we’d tickle her. Then it’d be Ella’s turn to chase us. I’d periodically turn so baby could see Ella, then with a squeal we’d turn and flee. This game helped the girls bond in such a wonderful way. It also wore them out in such a wonderful way. We now play this with Cordelia chasing the big girls. It helps put them all on even footing. It’s a game that allows everyone to play, and there’s no competition because everyone WANTS to get caught. After all, that’s the fun part.

We have many fights during our days.  “She took my toy.” “I want her toy.” “She’s sitting on me!” the list goes on. But ultimately those dissolve into nothing when faced with the many ways our girls do play together. They’ve both had moments where they don’t like the other – and that’s okay – because they overwhelmingly love each other.

If children can move beyond conflict by playing with each other, don’t you think parents can move past conflict by playing with their children?

 

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Why Children Misbehave

About a month ago we went through a period where the girls were completely out of control. Someone was always being hurt, someone always being mean. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of tears, a lot of hurt feelings. The girls needed more attention , more love, more understanding, but the behaviours made it difficult to want to give them what they needed.

At some point, I believe, every parent gets to that point at least once. One night after a particularly rough evening, Ryan turns to me and says, “I just don’t get why she (Ella) does these things.”

The answer was painful. Obvious. We were responsible for her behaviours. Not directly of course, but in a lot of ways the things we did in response to her actions, caused more, bigger actions. At the time I wasn’t modeling calm behaviour. I didn’t model a gentle voice, I didn’t model patience, or a willingness to see someone else’s perspective. Her acting out directly mirrored my own acting out. Between Ella and I, Agatha also acted out. She no longer had comforting arms every time she needed them, she no longer had a soothing voice when scared, her sister no longer gave her the space she needed. With three people in the home angry and hurting, it only makes sense that Ryan felt the tension. It’s expected that he began to act out as well.

Use whatever analogy you choose. A family is a single unit, like the body, a car, or computer. When one part doesn’t functioning properly, the rest malfunction as well. As my hormones came back into balance and the quality of my sleep improved, my moods and level of patience improved. The difference was instantaneous and so beautiful. The girls calmed down, Ryan came home happier and better able to join the girls in their pursuits. Our family healed.

I believe, and please don’t take this as finger-pointing, that if a child is acting in a way that’s unacceptable to the family, then the parents need to look at their lives and see what the root cause is. Children, especially young children, pick up the stress and tension within the home and act on that. The moods in the home become substantial, palpable. A harsh word is as strong as a rough hand, a brick wall. When the people within the home are out of tune, then children aren’t capable of acting in a calm collected manner.

So what’s a parent to do? Sometimes situations are out of control. A person is sick, there isn’t enough money etc. Find out what you need in order to feel in control again. Or what can you do to make things better.

In my case it was a mental shift. I had to let go of needing certain things. I had to reaffirm my conviction that the parenting style we’ve chosen is the best for our family.  If it was a lack of money, we’ve been there, we’d find a way to make the money go farther, or decrease our wants. If a person was sick, we’ve been there too, we’d try to find ways to work around the illness without taxing the person. We’d try to find ways to focus on the rest of the family, rather than the sick person.

In all cases we find ways to have unstructured fun as a family. Before starting our fun we, the adults, talk and try to guess what behaviours we’re likely to see – running, climbing, jumping, screaming, grabbing, pushing, pulling, hitting…. and try to find ways to allow the behaviour without anyone else being hurt or afraid. From the “Playful Parenting” book we’ve taken the ‘love hit’ suggestion to heart a few times. If a child hits us, instead of getting upset, lecturing, saying ‘no’ we laugh and look goofy as we inform them it was a ‘love hit’ and now we’re so madly in love with them we must hug them and kiss them forever. They run away squealing – the hit and whatever caused it completely forgotten. The parents are now back ‘in control’ and everyone is enjoying their time together.

In order to fix hurt hearts and down feelings we don’t need a ton of time, but we do need to prove that we’re there for our children. We don’t need to give them everything, we can still offer guidelines and boundaries, but we must do so gently and respectfully. If we model it, they will follow it.

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How to Foster Good Friendships in Our Children

Ella is…exuberant. Her motto is why walk, when you can run, and why run, when you can do cartwheels? Everything is a mile a minute when she’s happy…and when she’s upset, overwhelmed, tired, hungry or has any other external stimulus.

The more excited she gets, the faster she goes. She can’t calm down. She doesn’t know how, and to date we haven’t figured out how to help her. But recently we did find a solution when she was playing with her new best friend, J, the boy next-door.

He wanted to sit in the boat (box) and drive it, she wanted to crash into the boat and sink it. He wasn’t having fun, she was. Her laughter danced across the sunlit backyard, warming us. He kept looking to me. I suspect he wanted me to tell Ella to stop. But I didn’t. I also don’t think I should have. I believe it would make the immediate situation worse (due to her reaction) and I believe the long-term friendship would suffer.

Did I just let her continue? No.

I walked over and squatted down to their level. I inquired if they were having fun.

J said in a small voice, “No.” Ella very enthusiastically said, “Yes.”

Then told them what I saw.

“I see a little girl with a smile on her face. She’s jumping around. I see a little boy with a sad face, he’s sitting down.”

I continued, “I think Ella wants to play something where she can jump around.” She nodded. “I think J wants to play something where he can sit down, but not have someone hitting his boat.”

He smiled really big and said, “Yes.”

“Hmm. It seems we have a problem. Let’s think of a solution. How can we play where you’ll both have fun playing together?”

J stared at me a moment, then a smile tugged at his lips and said, “I’ll think of one.”

In the end I offered a solution they both liked: J would drive a boat and feed the dolphins fish. Ella would be the dolphin jumping for fish. It took a few moments talking to them both before they figured out, together, what the rules would be while playing together. I never dictated to them, they were involved in the decision making from the start. Also no one got in trouble.

They continued playing for the next twenty minutes without needing anyone to help them. They had the tools they needed to figure things out for the rest of their playdate.

I’m sure other situations will arise, but a similar approach will help the two friends learn how to play together respectfully.

 

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Probability, Fractions, Addition, Subtraction

At what age should a child know how to count? To 10, 20, 100? At what age should a child be able to add basic numbers? Subtract them? At what age should fractions be introduced, or probabilities?

According to the school district each skill should happen at a certain time – for all students. For this reason I believe many parents don’t ‘allow’ their children to learn the skills earlier. Not purposefully mind you, but rather because it doesn’t occur to the parents that their child is capable of learning them.

Ella at close to 4.5yrs can count to twenty on her own, possibly farther. But that is nothing remarkable the majority of three year old I know can count to twenty. She also adds and subtracts number 0-12 easily, sometimes she uses finger, dots, or some other item to assist, other times she does it in her head. She has a basic understanding of fractions, and is beginning to learn probability.

She enjoys eating sandwiches for lunch. She can practice adding and subtracting as she eats piece by piece. When I cut the sandwiches into different proportions she can practice fractions. As well as adding and subtracting fractions. If you had 8/8 and ate 3/8s, how many are left? If you had five, and have eaten three, how many were there when you started? She’s interested in the ideas, so she plays along. If she weren’t interested we wouldn’t continue, but she is, so we do.

Most recently we introduced her to one of our favorite board games, “Settlers Of Catan”, the board is made up of hexagonal tiles and each tile has a number placed on top. Under the number are dots. The number of dots represent the probability that each number may be rolled, based on the number of different combinations possible with two dice, with 8 and 6 being the most likely to be rolled. We explained the dots to her and took turns placing settlements with her going last so she could place both her houses at once. She choose well. The next time we played she wanted to place first so she could choose the best settlement placement.

We could take the basics a step farther and write down the numbers as we roll them, then at the end of the game see which numbers were actually rolled most often. We could keep that tally and see after 3 games, 5 games, 10 games which numbers really had the highest probability. If 6 and 8 weren’t rolled most often we could discuss possible reasons why.

Next we’ll work on geography. We’ll play “Ticket to Ride” – a game where you build train routes from one city to another. Besides geography it’ll also reinforce colours, numbers, and introduce some complexities of risk taking: taking more time to get lots of points at once, or taking less time and getting several smaller points.

Besides the skills mentioned, the games also teach other skills, but most importantly it provides a fun way for our family to spend time together doing something we all enjoy.

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