Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Parenting Month 63: Reading is fun

This past month both kids have been progressing in reading. The little one now recognizes upper and lower case letters on a pretty reliable basis. The next thing in line are colors. At the beginning of the month she only identified "purple". Now she knows "blue" "yellow" "red" "green" (which are the colors of her blocks that I carry around whenever we go out).

One of her favorite things to do is to read. There are books mommy reads, and books daddy reads. (unfortunately, she does not have a category of books big brother reads, or this would get much easier on us, he is certainly willing to take part on part of the work). Then, there are books she reads.  This tends to be a lot of fun to watch, and I could watch for hours (mommy would say that she would happily babble for hours as well if we would let her).  She also recognizes that my Kindle holds books, and can identify a few of her favorites that are currently loaded on it.

Reading in a coffee shop
Reading in a coffeeshop. She can keep this up for a while, especially every night before bedtime.
The older one also reads regularly. For him, it is one of the things that he goes to for play. I remember being told that when kids learn to read, the parent workload drops tremendously because it means that kids can entertain themselves. This is the case with him as well (actually, once the little one gets going, she can be left for a while as well, until she decides she really needs an audience again).

One thing we are concerned about is that the reading is getting too easy, especially at school. There was a period where he was coming home saying that every class was too easy. Fortunately, they have been escalating the difficulty level for him and a couple of other kindergarten readers. And they have assigned staff time to do work with him (and the others) to check on comprehension (which has the effect of slowing them down). At the open house tonight, his teachers let us know that he has completed the first grade book series, and he is now on second grade reading material (at a school where the average second grader is a full year ahead of grade level).  He is probably aware that we are concerned that he is not being challenged by reading. This week he came home with a book from the school library (they have one book checked out each week) proclaiming to mommy "I got a difficult book for you." (and it turned out to be way too high level for him)

So, like other things, we are thinking about how mommy and daddy school will keep him progressing outside of school. Of course, daddy school looks a little fishy to mommy, as it involves reading graphic novels (Usagi Yojimbo) and talking about story lines (and activities that look suspiciously like playing LEGO and computer games). But we are in agreement that we don't want him to have the attitude of only doing things that are easy.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Parenting month 62: Culture, community, and raising children

The major milestone this month was the passing away of my father.  As the funeral was in Thailand, I had gone without the kids. We also had a small memorial service in the city where I grew up, so we took a week there.  It is probably the most intensive exposure to Thai culture that my kids have had to date. (My son had gone to Thailand as a infant, so he would have been too small to remember anything.)
Robes for gifts
Robes for an offering
One problem with living in Pittsburgh is a relative lack of diversity compared to other big cities. And one consequence is that there are not many Thai.  One estimate I heard at one gathering that there were about 40 Thai families in the Pittsburgh region. (Not counting students, who are considered transient) and only about half interacted on a regular basis. So we have been essentially raising our kids as Chinese, where we would have a reasonable number of other Chinese kids around for our kids to learn Chinese together.

To prepare for the service at the Thai temple, we subjected our kids to a crash course in Thai greetings and courtesy via YouTube. One thing my son (an introvert) can handle is curtesy, so he picked up on that and handled himself as well as can be expected for a Kindergartener who does not spend time in a Thai environment. He greeting people with a wai, and when it was time to perform his role in the service, he did his part (doing things alongside daddy is also something he can do). My daughter is also well behaved toddler in public, and performed admirably for a toddler girl, presenting a charming and well behaved face to the world.
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Wai before pouring out water
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Watering a tree

The main result of the trip was a lot of time spent with old friends, mostly a mix of Chinese-American and Thai-American families, now with children.  And we talked about the raising of children (and sometimes grandchildren). We talked about choices that we make, our kids personalities, and how they are different and lead to different challenges and opportunities. While I do have conversations about parenting in Pittsburgh with other parents at our kids school, day care, activities, and with others in community organizations I'm active in, the big difference with living in the place you grew up and being part of the mobile generation like I am is that those conversations are lacking in much of the context that comes from growing up in a community.

The conversations I have with other parents tend to be about immediate issues.  Getting in school, participating in activities, dealing with health issues. But the things that I talk with my wife, long term issues of guiding our children's growth in the context of their specific personalities, affinities, and strengths is done just with ourselves. But returning home, the conversations include how the personalities of the children compare to the personalities of the parent (current and past). And the conversations are more long term. How our children's personalities will help or hinder them in the future, and how it impacts how they deal with the world around them. And how to prepare them, not just what can be done now, but over the years to come.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One year of taekwondo

Our son started Taekwondo soon after he turned four. We have had the fortune to be able to spend a lot of time doing activities with him, and being fairly competent ourselves, but also realized that there were things missing that we (and daycare) were not filling. One, we wanted him to be engaged in something physical and two, we wanted him to be engaged in the world apart from us.  At this point, while he was a very happy, engaged, curious, and reasonably empathetic child, he also was an introvert (not terribly surprising as both parents are as well). In his case it showed as shyness in the presence of new people, and no assertiveness of will (although this may be attributed to lack of attachment in things,) So we were looking for something that engaged him physically and grew his confidence in interacting with others. There are two sales pitches for martial arts for yourg children,  one is that it installs discipline and an outlet for rowdy, physical kids. That was not our problem.  The second is that it installs confidence. That was our goal.

Knife hand strike
Knife hand strike in Songham 2
We went to a relatively new school that was part of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) . The impact of being fairly new are that it was still fairly small and it had not generated any black belts yet, so the first benefit was he got a lot of individual attention.  The first times he went he looked but did not do anything, which was expected. The school staff spent a lot of individual time with him talking to him and getting him comfortable. In the meantime he observed what was happening.  Eventually, he got onto the floor and started participating.

The first benefit we saw was increased confidence. Taekwondo represented a set of skills that he could learn and be competent in, and his attention span helped greatly here. He dealt with the instructors and interacted more freely with the other kids than he did before.   A few months in, he had an interview with a prospective kindergarten, and he warmed up to the staff much easier than he had to any other adult (e.g. Day care staff) before. (He usually took 3 months to warm up to new day care staff, either new hires or for when he moved rooms). The curtesies of the school have helped him navigate everyday life in interacting with adults.
Bowing before forms
Bowing before testing
The second benefit was concentration and focus, T always had a good attention span, his day care noted that he was a child who stayed in place while the chaos of preschoolers moved around him from activity to activity. Taekwondo added a long term focus onto this, coupled with his natural attention span, meant that the forms and patterns were something he could develop competency in. So, in contrast to the usual criticism of youth Taekwondo as being merely moving limbs, he learned to put power in his moves. And having an object of focus has helped in his usual shyness and tendency to freeze in public view.

jump front kick in line sparring
Jump front kick while line sparring

The other thing we are looking at in the school is how the older kids are like. Once we figured out that T liked this, and we were in this for the long term, we wanted to know who would be influencing him. In a martial arts school, this would mean the kids who reach black belt and become assistant instructors themselves. We have had some interaction as some of the teens have started assisting with classes. But my real interaction has started when I started taking Taekwondo myself. The classes are small, as it is only  two years old, but you see the teens supporting one another, and also you see the older ones, who are approaching the black belt ranks, taking seriously the role of encouraging the others, it was a different experience to have a group of teens providing encouragement to an adult (me) in my first month.
Line sparring
Line sparring

One other thing that we are looking forward to is that as the years go on, he will know people in his life who have taken this path before, and unlike sports heroes, these are people he knows in the flesh. In addition to Masters level black belts he will meet in the course of his training, he knows people with black belts or equivalent in various disciplines, and people who compete at the highest levels. So the people he sees on YouTube or in other media are real people, and represent something that can be realistically aspired to.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

21 questions to ask a child about daddy

T (5 yr old) decided that it was wakeup time. Note that today is a Saturday, and this was his school day wake up time.  So I decided that if he was going to wake up, he would (1) eat breakfast and (2) play 21 questions (

1.  What is something daddy always says to you?
I don't want to play that game

2.  What makes daddy happy?
Not fighting with T. (Note: fighting refers to the morning routine of waking t up, eating breakfast and getting to school)

3.  What makes daddy sad?
Fighting with T.

4.  How does daddy make you laugh?
Tickling T

5.  What was daddy like as a child?
Crawl a lot. When you (daddy) was really little you did not know how to walk.

6.  How old is daddy?

7.  How tall is daddy?
51 inches (T is 40 inches)

8.  What is daddy's favorite thing to do?

9.  What does daddy do when you're not around?
Working or doing ATA (Note: taekwondo)

10.  If daddy becomes famous what will it be for?
I don't know

11. What is daddy really good at?
Pushing LEGOs together

12. What is daddy not very good at?
Playing piano

13. What does daddy do for his job?
Type letters

14. What is daddy's favorite food?
Turkey (Note: Thanksgiving was last week)

15. What makes you proud of daddy?
When daddy draws in the lines

16. If daddy was a cartoon character who would he be?

17. What do you and daddy do together?

18. How are you and daddy the same?
We are both boys

19. How are you and daddy different
I (T) am short and you (daddy) are tall

20. How do you know daddy loves you?
Daddy reads to T

21. Where is daddy's favorite place to go?
ATA (taekwondo school)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Parenting Month 61: Sibling relationships

There is a giraffe way up there
There is a giraffe up there

We've been fortunate that our kids get along well with each other. My son likes being a big brother and watching over her and showing her around places, and the little one adores her big brother. So they play with each other, they cheer each other on, and she has even started letting him read to her (she still has a strong preference for mommy or daddy).  About the closest thing we get to conflict is the fact that she is only 18 months old and at that age kids kinda hit each other without thinking about it.  And sometimes ge-ge (older brother) just isn't enough for what she wants.

Carnegie Science Center
Siblings running at the Carnegie Science Center Sportsworks

Let me show you something in the art gallery
How do you like the art museum?

The other major issue of development is courage. A is an 18 month old who does not know fear. T, has always been the careful one. He was among the slow ones to interact with others in day care, and he was slow to socialize at his new school. And we note that things that he is quite competent in around us, he freezes when others are observing him. While Taekwondo is a big help in this area (competence does help in this), with testing and tournaments, this does not get all of the way there. Using the curtesies of TKD and catholic school has been one tool he can sometimes use to get over his general nervousness, and I'm teaching him some techniques from Red Cross Pillowcase Project training as well. There are a few opportunities coming for him to practice engaging the world in public, but this will a be something to deal with for a long time (both of us parents are naturally introverts, and we expect the same is true with him)

Jumping on trampoline at the Carnegie Science Center Sportsworks
Trampoline at Carnegie Science Center

In other notes, T saw his first movie in a theater, The Martian.  A now knows a fair number of letters and numbers. While slightly behind where her brother was at this point, this is without putting in any work (we think she is picking it up from two alphabet books that are on her chosen rotation).

T's first movie
Tickets to The Martian

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Parenting Month 60: Confidence and public performance

Some lists for the elder one.
  1. Favorite book: The Martian.  Runner up: Rosie Revere, Engineer
  2. Wake up song: Level Up by Vienna Teng
  3. Favorite color: Yellow, Green, and Red are the current rotation. (The concept of favorite needs some work)
  4. Favorite toy: LEGO
  5. Favorite taekwondo move: round kick
  6. Programming environment: Kodable Runner up: Scratch Jr.
  7. Museum: Carnegie Science Center
Stretching before testing
Stretching before belt testing

We are starting to get some feedback from his first year in school (Kindergarten).  The first month, there was some concern that he was not really socializing (which we expected), but that has largely ended. He is still relatively quiet, but he does interact with the other kids and all of the other teachers more. We have noticed that it seems like all of the other students (K-8) at his school seem to know who he is. We think it is a combination of being the smallest one in the school, and that he now has an identity as the kindergartener who practices piano during the after school programming.

One of the effects of school is socialization and comparison. And it seems that he has figured out that he is ahead in most areas. His reading is at least a grade level ahead. Math is actually unmeasured, but in what they are doing he has pretty down (at least if he is paying attention). Robotics and art he is ahead (basically this means he is very good at interpreting and following instructions, he really is not that good in art, no creativity. But robotics (LEGO and Scratch) is probably justified. That is called the effects of daddy school.) not sure so about Spanish or gym, but I suspect he is just fine there. The real problem right now is that he knows he is ahead.

Punching pads
Reverse punch with pads
The big issue with kids who are ahead in school is that they start to put worth in succeeding at something. And it makes struggling at something doubly problematic. In the past, he was not paying close enough attention to the other kids to matter, and mommy and daddy school was pretty challenging. So success in the past was valued in part as a reward for the effort it took. And he developed the focus and value of work to make things happen. But what we have started to notice is that he no longer can keep focused on task, and we think it is because at school, nothing he is doing requires extended effort on his part. Daddy school (museums and LEGO, woodworking, and games), is somewhat rare nowadays. But where we really see the effect is in piano. He actually does not have the endurance he used to for practicing. And he responds much worse to difficult passages. So this is a danger that we have heard about, but now we have to think about what to do about it.  On the other hand, we are really glad we accelerated him and put him in Catholic school.  Another year of Pre-K would have made things worse, and we think that in a public school, they probably would not even have noticed he was ahead at everything (he is neither behind, nor does he act up or talk a lot, so he would go right under the radar of a Kindergarten teacher with 20 kids for 2 hours the whole day.)

Watching others go through testing
Watching the others test
The other area that we are looking at is performance anxiety. While shyness is not overwhelming (he has started to learn to fall on the courtesies of taekwondo or Catholic school during regular interaction), he still freezes when he becomes the focus of attention.  We were hoping that had largely gone after a successful taekwondo tournament experience, but it is definitely still there. While he will never be the loudest or among the talkative kids in the group, we would like him to learn how to comport himself in the public eye, or at least learn methods of focusing on the task and ignoring a crowd around him.
For the younger, she now babbles with purpose. I'm convinced she is telling stories. Most fun is when she babbles while paging through a book, now we know what we sound like when we read to her :-D. Her favorite books are A Baby's First Book of Zombies and Hands, Hands, Finger, Thumb. And with those two she can do appropriate sounds effects for most of the page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Parenting 59: First steps out into the world

One thing that makes Kindergarten such a major milestone is the fact that the kids start being comparable.  Now that they are in a setting where there are actual goals at the end of the year, we see the results of parenting and the time spent in play and exploring the world. And there is an outsider making assessments (as the Kindergarten teacher establishes where each child is and how to nurture them to be ready for first grade).

Watching a drawing robot
Two Kindergarteners watching a robot.

Some things are easy to establish because they are skills. Can the child count, read letters, read books, draw? But some things are harder to figure out by the parent, does the child show empathy, care for others, handle adversity, is the child eager to learn? These are harder to see because you cannot tell the difference between the child interacting with the parent and the child interacting with the outside world. In our case, we have to start off by admitting we think highly of our 4-yr old, seeing as we have accelerated him into an early start in Kindergarten. (specifically, a catholic full-day Kindergarten) But having the outside assessment is helpful.

Our Kindergarten teacher opened the parent orientation by telling us that they were going to be taking it slow the first two months so she could assess their levels. At that point, we knew we were in good shape because in two months in a fairly small environment (20 total Kindergarteners in two classes), we were pretty sure that T will have adjusted to give a proper accounting of himself.  At one month, they are still looking for his reading level (we note that the library books that he brings from school are gradually increasing in difficulty), math is focused on sorting and shape (no challenge yet). His robotics teacher stating that he is doing well (essentially, at this point it means he can follow instructions to put together LEGO Technic and introduction to Scratch, both of which daddy school has covered.) His writing and drawing skills are noticably better (yeah!).  He practices piano on his own (for some definition of practice), he has started playing with other kids, and his gym teacher states he is a joy to have in class.  And more interesting, since we are not Catholic, is him talking about being 'provident' (attitude derived from the name of the order that sponsors the school).

He is still an introvert, and we do not expect that to change (after all, so are we). But we want him to develop the skills of interacting with the outside world. And the small class that he is provides him a safe place to do that. And we see it in how he carries himself around us, and in public. We like watching him try to take care of others, teaching other kids how to do things at museums, being polite to adults, he has even started holding doors open for people. And we note that one thing that being taught curtesy does, it provides a framework for approaching the world. A child showing curtesy is not at a loss in how to act and removing uncertainty makes everything more comfortable.

Another major milestone is T's first taekwondo tournament.  T is in a American Taekwondo Association (ATA) class as a Tiny Tiger (4-6 yrs old). And our main concern was if he would completely freeze. I had even taught him the breathing technique for dealing with emergency that we teach in the Red Cross Pillowcase Project.  But what got him started was the fact the he had to deal with the judges, and judges were just like instructors. And T knew how to treat instructors with respect and follow instructions.

Starting his Ssang jeol baang form
junbee! Ready to start his ssang joel baang (nunchucku) form at the tournament

What makes the tournament useful was not the prize (at this age, there are enough potential classifications of awards than there are participants, so everyone gets a prize, but some sound more 'real' than others), but the opportunity for him to be in an environment of strangers and perform. And for us to see how he is compared to the other 4-6 year olds.  Just like every other environment he is in, he is clearly one of the smallest. But he is also self controlled. I found it amusing that as they were waiting (having 4-6 year old boys wait without anything to hold their attention is a loosing proposition). He would go between the standard figiting and moving to almost an exaggerated version of attention when he remembered where he was.  We also saw him around kids from the various other area schools, and we realize that our school is just like all the others, and he gets compared in the same light. His memory (in the ATA, 4-6 yr olds are not expected to have memorized their poomsae, but he was clearly doing his with the leader instead of following as most of the kids did), focus (kicks and punches with snaps) and general lack of hesitation. Given that he was among the youngest of the bunch (the others were 5 1/2-6) he compares well. And doing well in his first tournament was a great confidence booster.
Bowing out
Bowing out after his form

Tiny Tiger with Medals
Medals for "Best power" in forms, one-steps, and weapons
The other one is turning into a toddler.  She has always had a will, now she is trying to enforce it.  And for a toddler, this means being greedy, grabbing things (especially something that someone else has), toddler tantrums, and yelling. On top of that, she seems to be quite smart, able to precisely specify her desires, demonstrating a good memory, so she is very good at causing trouble.  This one is going to be a fighter, and we see ourselves having much more trouble with the little one than we did with T.