Saturday, July 30, 2011

Parenting Month 9 - We're going to Thailand and we're so happy we just want to sing

The big event of the month. The family trip to Thailand so that T could meet his grandfather and his great-grandmother for the first time. It was deft scheduled to thread the narrow window between the end of colic (because there is no point bringing a baby who is screaming around the clock anywhere) and when T starts crawling. Some notes:

  1. Exploring the seat T was a good flyer. He did not fuss beyond what is normal for going to bed at night. Actually, he spent a lot of the flights smiling at our neighbors and the flight attendants. One of the flight attendants wanted to hold him while we were on the ORD-NRT leg of the trip. (no, we did not let her try)

  2. Playing with the elephant at Narita Airport, Tokyo We loved Narita Airport (Tokyo). They have great family bathrooms with very large changing tables and a seat for a baby in the bathrooms. They also have these fun play areas everywhere.

  3. Buying breakfast Every day I took T to the market to get breakfast. Sometimes with someone, sometimes not. By the end of the trip, lots of people on the street in the morning were used to seeing him. Many regularly said hello. I think that one of the biggest things from this trip was exposing T to a new environment, new people, new sights, new sounds, new smells.

  4. Grandpa showing grandson fishOne comment we got everywhere we went was how big his eyes were. Because everywhere I took him, he would be looking around at things and looking at people. Highly attentive.

  5. Getting pineapple and papaya on Petchburi Soi 5 I carried him everywhere in a baby carrier, specifically a Maya Wrap Ring Sling. I could not imagine using a stroller on Thai streets with the pollution and various bugs and animals on the ground. We also noticed that in the sling, T could look at what he choose, which could mean looking ahead or behind. And he could choose to look at people (or not). Those he rewarded with his attention were obvious because of their happy smiles (and his too). It made it real easy to just talk to people who T spotted first.

  6. Meeting Great grandma Of course, the other major reason was so he could see great-grandma. And we were not the only ones. There was another cousin coming in from Chicago whose daughter had never been to Thailand either. And another family from Singapore with two more children. A big family reunion.

  7. Oh yeah, lots of cousins to play with. This is actually pretty important because T does not get much exposure to playing with other kids. So this was a good way of doing it.
    Listening to older cousin reading Monster FacesCousins piano duet

One of the big questions about traveling with a baby is if it is worth it compared to the difficulty. Some thoughts:

  1. Traveling with children is easier in Asia than in the U.S., because the U.S. culturally makes it unnecessarily difficult. One writer describes it as "not socially acceptible to be human." There are a number of practices in the U.S. that are a based on a desire NOT to make it easier on parents (because the attitude is that conveniences and services must be paid for) that have the effect of making things worse for everyone. In Asia, babies and small children are pretty much welcomed everywhere we went. Granted, I also never saw out of control children in Asia, but part of that is because there is space for them that is not as controlled as in the U.S.

  2. While the purpose was for the benefit of the grandparents/great-grandparents, I think that T benefited from the trip (even if he does not remember it). He was exposed to many new people, new sights, new sounds, and new experiences. Before he had significant stranger anxiety and was easily scared. So being exposed to so many new things while in the safety of us (parents) holding him may help in this respect.

  3. T does not get many opportunities for playing with other kids. So being in repeated contact with his cousins in Thailand was a growing experience.

  4. T really likes being with mom and dad. Dr. Sears describes this as a characteristic of high-need babies (see for what this means). This trip means he had pretty much 24/7 contact with us for the two weeks. So he was a very happy baby pretty much all the time. And development is supposedly faster when a baby is not wasting effort fussing.

We are very glad we did this trip. In the few days we have been back, T has started crawling in earnest (he started while in Thailand). Everyone tells us that traveling becomes much harder from now until he learns how to read, so it may be a while before we do something this involved again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Things guaranteed to make my son laugh

1. Playing peek a boo with mommy, while daddy is holding him
2. Singing Bad Romance by Lady Gaga (we're trying to figure this one out. Of course, if anything describes him, Little Monster is pretty good).
3. Mommy and daddy kissing
4. Rum-tum-riddle-rum-tum-tum​ (from Winnie-the-Pooh)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A back of the envelope modeling of daycare operations

We have what Dr. Sears refers to as a high-needs child. They define high-need as a contrast to fussy or colicky in that fussy babies quickly outgrow their fussiness and colicky babies tend to be incolable and in pain. Dr. Sears describes high-needs children as "supersensitive, intense, craving physical contact, have difficulty self-soothing . . . however, generally happy when their needs, as they see them, are met" Which is a good description of our son. Dr. Sears also describes this as something that continues for a while. While there are future benefits, such as good attachment to responsive parents, there are some problems. One of which is difficulty with alternate care-givers, such as day care. In our case, we have started T with half day at day care, and he pretty much cries the entire time, only taking a break to eat. So we have to consider the possibility of a mis-match of child and day care center.

We investigated an alternative of a family day care, meaning a day care that is run within a home. So it is smaller, as there are limits to the number of unrelated children that can be in a daycare (ratio of 1:4 staff to infants, 1:6 for older children).

The one thing that does seem to work is for the day care worker to spend individual time with T, such as when eating, but also one-on-one play time. Dr. Sears also consols that high-need babies are carried for some length of time per day. So, as we do not think by observation that the skills of care givers in either the current day care or the family day care are much different (although we think that the senior staff at the current day care have a broader breadth of experience in terms of how different the kids are), we decided to work out the numbers. Our day care center reports seem to indicate that they spend time with him either carrying him or taking him for a walk in a stroller. While there is no statement to that effect, that seems to mean that he gets regular individual time. So our question is if this can possibly be true.

Current large day care center summer months is a little slow, so let's say two care givers and 8 infants over a day (justified as they seem to have a number of part-timers on call that allow them to flex staff based on daily demands. If > 8, they bring in more staff. For < 8, the numbers only get better, especially since they have some staff dedicated to lunch/feeding). For an 8 hour day, that gives 16 staff hours split across 8 infants. Figure 2 hours per staff for feeding time (1/2 hour per child), that leaves 12 hours of care time. So do we believe that they can use these 12 hours to provide one-on-one time for each child (with the other staff worker essentially keeping an eye on all the others) If you count feeding time, you can state that the limit is 8 hours of one-on-one time to avoid having both staff engaged in one-on-one time simultaneously, so that allows for each child to get 1/2 hour feeding time and 1/2 hour of individual play time. Note that I did not allow for staggered child schedules, which actually would lead to increased potential individual time.

Then we thought about the family day care center we looked at. There is one worker for 6 children (some are older, so she is working under that ratio.) While older kids can somewhat entertain themselves, we realized that she cannot afford to provide individualized attention, because that would leave the other children with no supervision.

Conclusion: we think that we are doing the best we could given that we have a high-need baby and we are staying with the current daycaree center (there are other reasons then presented here)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Review: Sage: Beginner's Guide by Craig Finch

Sage Beginner's GuideSage Beginner's Guide by Craig Finch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like to use Python for modeling and data analysis, and I tell my students that I consider Matlab, R and Python moral equivalents, made in kind by their wrapping of various numerical Fortran libraries, data structures for matrices and vectors, and numerous specialized libraries. But while there are Matlab books for every combination of field and level, and R books for every branch of statistics under the sun, Python books for data analysis are rare. Most introduction books are aimed at computer administrators or web programmers. Material on the web for scientists tended to be reference material that explained the functions available. The few in depth books seemed to assume that you were already a competent scientific programmer who was adding a new language to the toolkit. Sage: Beginner's Guide is meant for the person who is learning scientific programming, and doing so using Sage. As such it is highly useful for those who are being introduced to scientific computing in Python world.

While I use Sage and Python in technical programming myself, I have not been able to successfully teach someone else to do the same. What Finch does is to introduce someone not only to tools available for Python programmers, but instructions on setting up the environment, the practice of technical programming, but also the idea that each of these steps sets up something else.

Sage is a large and highly capable program, so any book has to focus somewhere. So the chapters can be thought of as covering the following (Note: this is NOT a chapter listing):

  • Introduction and installation of Sage

  • Use of Sage as an interactive environment

  • Python programming: Introductory and advanced programming

  • Numerical methods: Linear algebra, solving equations, numeric integration, ODE

  • Symbolic math: algebra and calculus

  • Plotting: 2D and 3D

In each substantive chapter, topics are covered in a standard pattern. A brief narrative description, a short sample program that uses the concept, a description of what program does and why the output looks like it does, then sometimes there are exercises that you can use to confirm you understand the concept or build your intuitive understanding.

What is missing? These are probably additional topics for "Where do we go from here" chapter. First, they do not take advantage of the Python ecosystem. Because of the basics of Numpy, Scipy and Matplotlib, numerous other scientific libraries exist that are not in Sage. I would include some notes on installing packages for use in Sage (which requires some modifications to the standard procedures). Also, an explicit mention of Scipy, since it is the basis for a number of other scientific packages in Python.

Sage: Beginner's Guide is a great addition to the library. It fills the role of the introduction to technical programming in Python that for Matlab is filled by professors who teach computational science/engineering courses. I envision that my copy of the book will be loaned out to one student after another for some time to come.

View all my reviews

Note: I received a free copy of Sage Beginner's Guide for review from Packt Publishing.