Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reading for four

Yesterday, when my parents drove in to town just before bedtime, we snuck in some quality toegether time around a bedtime story, so that the boys could go to bed fairly on-time but still feel grandparent-fulfilled. They loved listening to my parents take turns reading pages and commenting on the story, and it made me think that now and then Rob and I need to sit down and take parts in a story for a whole-family read-along. That would be a nice memory-making ritual.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blue brains here

This Salon interview with Lise Eliot, a neuroscience professor at Rosalind Franklin University and author of "Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- and What We Can Do About It" is worth a read.

Eliot apparently did a fairly exhaustive review of all the research about neurological differences and similarities between boys and girls. And while the interview alone doesn’t go too far in helping us think about how to bridge gender gaps, it does provide some interesting insights into how nature and nurture interact to influence gender roles.

In our house, Owen still has a weak spot for baby dolls and play strollers, and Will loves to do motherly tasks like cook and vacuum, especially if it’s a real project and not just pretend. But in general my boys prefer balls and trucks to dolls and tea sets. And when it’s make believe time – “boy stuff,” as Will calls it, is the seed for play

As I was reading, I began thinking again about the fact that Will almost never has play dates with girls, largely because most of my friends who have kids Will’s age have boys and because at preschool Will’s of an age where boys stick with boys and girls with girls, so his play-date requests come up mostly male. He has managed to make one good friend of the fairer sex at preschool, though, and I am eagerly awaiting the day when we have her over to play so that I can eavesdrop on their conversations and see where all the superhero-pirate-monster-gun-dog talk goes when Will plays with girls – or whether he sticks to his standard topics.

Either way, Eliot says that in general, you can count on girls to talk to each other more as they play while boys focus a bit more on physical communication (including the kind that makes Owen cry when it goes too far). So mixing it up in the preschool classroom, and elsewhere, is a good idea.

As Eliot says, “Girls, there's no question, talk more to each other even in preschool and toddler years. There are more words exchanged than between two boys. Magnify that over a couple years and you have more girls going to school with more verbal skills. With boys, you see the same thing with spatial skills, throwing things, building things and playing video games. Being aware of these different cognitive domains can help us as parents and teachers provide each child with more of a rounded experience early in life. It's important to not give preschool children too much choice about what activity they do, because then you have kids separating by gender and only reinforcing their strengths.”

(Good advice perhaps to try to organize play opportunities that push kids across those gender boundaries, just so long as we’re not organizing things so much that we’re taking away opportunities for the kind of fantasy play that makes for some of the richest verbal and creative experiences for kids. )

Here’s a picture of Will vacuuming this weekend. I’ve never cleared the floors quite as thoroughly as Will did when he got the good news that I was going to let him have his first go at vacuuming an entire room. Luckily Owen still likes his toy vacuum (which I nabbed from Goodwill for a dollar or so).

I also broke out our little china tea set for the first time in a while today and Will and Owen promptly filled the teapot and cups AND saucers with water at the bathroom faucet and made a royal mess. They hardly spoke while they did it. How's that for a tea party?

How do you nudge your kids to think/play outside the box when it comes to gender roles -- or do you not even bother?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another reason not to spank

Here's a quick HealthDay article worth reading about research indicating that spanking may lower children's IQs. Another reminder that every time we discipline children, if we treat it as a learning opportunity, we are growing their minds and ultimately helping them develop better self-control. I have to remind myself of this often, since discipline using talking, gentle reminders, love and logical consequences can be a long, messy, frustrating process. But the payoffs are great.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Library picks for two

Some of my favorite moments reading to the kids lately have come when I’m reading to both boys at once. Owen, at 2, and Will, at 5, can both enjoy a longer picture book, each at their own level. I’m aware of Will hanging on every word, taking in the details of the verbal story, while Owen sinks himself into the picture and imagines himself in the book. Often he’ll interrupt us and insert himself into the story --- “I like that horse. Maybe that horse want kiss me.” Or “I want to ride that fish. I like go under.” Will and I sneak smiles at each other and continue on with the tale.

Of course I have to remember to return to very simple books with Owen too, who also delights in trying to recite words along with me. But there’s something special about reading together as a threesome.

A few favorite library picks lately that both Owen and Will have enjoyed:

"A Mama for Owen" by Marion Dane Bauer has an obvious draw in the title for our family. It’s also a sweet and fascinating tale since it’s based on the true story of a hippopotamus calf who, along with his family, was washed down the Sabaki River by a flood and then rescued by the Kenya Wildlife Service and local fisherman. According to the Author’s note, Owen was less than a year old and no one could find his mother. (Hippo moms normally stick by their babies for four years.) So Owen was brought to a nature preserve outside of Mombasa where he chose a 130-year-old male tortoise to be his mother – and the tortoise was perfectly willing to fill the role. A story good enough to be fiction.

"The Knight and the Dragon," written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is short on words and long on humor. A knight who has never before fought a dragon, and a dragon who has never before fought a knight study up in anticipation of battling one another. Turns out they are both bumbling battlers and so they decide to launch a barbecue joint together instead. Much of the tale is told through pictures for the kids to interpret. Perfectly silly.

"The Wreck of the Zephyr," written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, whose drawings are always captivating, is the wonderfully implausible story of a boy who learns for a fleeting moment to fly a sailboat after washing up on a mysterious island. This is a story perfect for Will, with pictures that keep Owen mesmerized through the telling.

"Annie and the Wild Animals" by Jan Brett tells the story of a girl who, after temporarily losing her cat, decides to lure in wild animals by placing corn cakes at the forest’s edge in hopes of taming one of the animals for a pet. Turns out her lost cat had just wandered away for a long spell to bring three kittens into the world. Owen asked for this one again and again, and Will liked it too.

Owen and Will also enjoy sitting down together for original tales of Curious George (the post-Rey spin-offs just aren't as good) and Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile.

What do your children enjoy reading together -- or are they on different planets?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Walking the dog and the school bus too

There are times when our exponentially growing puppy Harvey drives me nuts. As when he and I were trying to share the kitchen today while it was raining outside. I was making potato, onion and arugula soup; he was wanting to play. He was biting at my jeans legs, sandals and, yes, even my stomach one time as he “played” with me while I imposed stern but futile reprimands and time outs in the crate before giving up altogether and leaving him in his manmade den until the rain subsided.

But twice a day, Harvey brings me a little peace. This is because he has finally (with the help of a gentle leader) learned to walk beautifully on a loose leash for 20 minute intervals or more. So he and I are making a ritual of power walking our way down to the park and back – once in the morning while Rob finishes up breakfast with the kids and once after dinner. I love this excuse to take a brisk walk, just me and a happy dog who seems so well behaved for those moments when he’s getting to go full steam ahead like a little hyperactive spaniel-lab mix is apparently in need of doing. I’m getting more regular exercise than I have in months along with some quiet moments for myself.

Of course there are also the times when the boys want to accompany me for a Harvey walk when Rob isn’t around. This makes for the opposite of a Zen walk.

I’ll strap Owen into the stroller, suit Will up for a bike ride and get Harvey in his gentle leader. Then we make our way down the street like a little circus parade, Harvey growling at the stroller and trying to bite the wheels if I don’t hold him back, me barking orders at Will as he gets too far out in the road, Owen riding quietly in his stroller, stunned into silence by the spectacle of it all. Usually, at some point in the journey, I promise myself I’ll never try it again, but somehow we’ve done it multiple times anyway.

I thought of our slightly crazy dog-and-kid walks for some reason, when I heard this NPR story today about walking school buses today. I love the idea of promoting kids walking to school, but I have to admit that the walking school bus conjures up visions of minor chaos for me. Still, if I ever live in a neighborhood with a walking school bus, I’d love to send my kids on it and I’ll help "drive" it too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Painting marathon

Today I kept Will home after he caught Owen's fever and kept it for just 12 hours or so. So we were all feeling fine but keeping our potentially contagious selves away from the rest of the world. It was a nice excuse to hold a paint marathon. We started by doing birthday paintings for my grandma, who turns 92 next week. We titled our masterpieces. My "Sunset encounter between elephant and turtle" could rival any kindergartener in artistic sophistication and was intentionally placed where you can't quite make it out in this photo. Will's "Rainbow" was more beautiful. And Owen did his staple piece of art work "My House" using many thick layers of blended paint.

And then the boys kept wanting to keep painting. Will produced "Zoo" and "Pretty in the Forest" and Owen produced "My House," the sequel. Then we cut and bent eight legs into toilet paper tubes and the boys painted spiders to hang for Halloween.
Their creations still need eyes and look generally less spiderish than I envisioned when I found these tube spider instructions online (Will decided it would be fun to patterns and multi-colors instead of going for all black). But we'll hang them anyway after we've spent a month amassing other vaguely ghoulish art.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Bird and other spooky puppets

I've observed a very loose no-TV-before-you're-2 rule with Will and Owen, which I violated all the time by letting Owen watch a few minutes of a PBS cartoon I've turned on for Will right before Owen's naptime or some Georgia football or tennis with dad. And occasionally, on days like today when Owen is sick, I've let him rest and watch an entire show.

Now, even though, he's been 2 since July, I haven't been pushing TV on Owen. And apparently I haven't spent enough time desensitizing little Owen to the horrors of Sesame Street. He loves to read books with illustrated Sesame Street Characters, but show him those big live puppets in action and he is certifiably spooked. And yet curious. This is how Owen watched Sesame Street today -- from a very sideways sneak-a-peek kind of angle and from about 15 feet away. After about 5 minutes he abandoned the show entirely and retreated to a non-TV room. (See if you can make out Owen in this first photo. He kind of blends in with the far-off bookshelf.)

If you live near Columbus and have children who love Big Bird more than fear him and who wouldn't mind seeing him in even bigger proportions, check out the "Sesame Street: One World, One Sky" show at the Coca Cola Space Science Center Omnisphere Theater. Show times are here. Last month, we made it through about 4 minutes of the show before Will and Owen both agreed they were too spooked by the dark and the oversized Big Bird who was giving them a tour of the starry sky, and we had to flee to well lit areas of the building. It would have been a great show though for less skittish kids.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Flu on you

Both Owen and Will have classmates in preschool who are currently suffering from the flu, so we’re crossing our fingers and waiting to get sick. We got flu shots last Thursday for the seasonal flu, in accordance with our pediatrician’s recommendations, but that may do us little good for the swine flu which seems to be hitting Georgia in pretty full force right now (even if the cases are milder than the normal flu). According to the CDC, 97 percent of influenza A cases being reported now are H1N1 (or swine flu) viruses.

On Friday I reminded Will about the importance of sneezing into your elbow and I told him one of the main ways people give the flu to someone else is by sneezing on them. Then Will had an utterly selfish moment of flawed ingenuity. “Well,” he said. “If I get the flu I’m just going to sneeze on somebody else and give it to them.”

I explained that giving the flu to someone doesn’t cure you of it yourself, not to mention the fact that it’s not nice to intentionally infect your friends and family. But I have to admit I kind of liked the idea of just getting the flu for a moment and then sneezing it right back out of your body for good.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Leisure potty training

Several months ago, Owen showed his first interest in using the potty. We brought Will’s old potty down from the attic and Owen used it sporadically when he was feeling magically inspired. Now, at 26 months, he’s a bit more regular about using the potty – probably deposits something in it one to three times a day, but I keep him in diapers rather than pouring money into pull-ups and I don’t harass him too much about going.

I learned from Will that in my family at least, sticker charts and other artifical rewards are sort of silly when it comes to potty training and in the end not very effective. I also learned that pull-ups get soiled just as often as diapers and don’t inspire potty use in my kids. So with Owen we’ve stuck with cheap diapers and real and logical rewards, and these seem to keep him semi-inspired. When Owen goes on the potty, every member of the household comes to witness the evidence (this fascinates Will so it’s no problem to draw him to the scene) and we commend Owen on his work as a big boy. Then, if Owen has gone number 2, he gets to use some toilet paper after I’ve wiped him first and throw it in the toilet. And then there's the joy of flushing the toilet and pumping his own hand soap while washing hands. As I’m putting on a diaper afterward I’ll point out that I don’t even have to use any wipes on him. (Owen hates being wiped after he’s fouled a diaper and is happy to enjoy a diaper change without wiping.) Who knew how naturally rewarded a two-year-old can feel by going potty?

Now it’s just a matter of deciding whether to start hounding Owen more frequently with “Do you need to go potty?” inquiries or even breaking out some thick cotton training pants if he’s interested. Since he’s still pretty young, it may be best to just stick with our low-key approach that’s at least cutting down a little bit on our diaper consumption. I’m wary of killing the joy of going potty.

Any ideas for love-and-logic approaches to potty training that might speed the process up for us without derailing it in the long run?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'Working' on Labor Day

Yesterday, in celebration of Labor Day (and because he's got several deadlines looming at the end of the month) Rob decided to do a little unofficial take-your-family-to-work day. We spent the morning poking around The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office on Fort Benning where Rob works (which includes kid attractions like a stuffed Canada goose and a stuffed hawk) and then riding out to a field site in his work truck. We passed firing ranges and a small group of soldiers enacting a hillside firefight on the way and I was kind of relieved that the boys didn't notice one soldier sprawled out on his back, playing dead.
Soon we were off in the woods on our own and Rob actually managed to do a little field work while the boys and I bushwacked around and played with sticks. Whether or not they'd been inspired by the firing ranges we passed on the way, Will and Owen quickly turned many of the sticks to weapons as they shouted "boom boom" in chorus.
Will stopped to smell lots of flowers, and he helped daddy reel in some measuring tape.
We saw a live rattle snake from the truck and enjoyed a picnic by a pond before heading for home. Maybe we'll make working with daddy on labor day an annual tradition -- as long as he's still got some field work in his job description.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bargain shopping in September

Last night, I made it to the first night of the Altrusa book sale and came out with a nice stack of chapter books for Will and picture books to share between Owen and my preschool kids, all for $5. I like a sale where the kindly volunteers eyeball your hefty stack and then quote you a bargain price. For my five bucks, I scored these sporadically illustrated chapter books for Will:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois; Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater; Abel’s Island by William Steig; A Bear called Paddington by Michael Bond; The Cat Who Went to Heaven By Elizabeth Coatsworth; and Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse by George Selden – plus a couple Boxcar Children and Junie B. Jones books that I will tolerate and Will will enjoy.

Owen’s already loving his little picture book collection too.

In Columbus, September is my favorite thrift shopping month of the year. After the book sale, there’s the fall Just 4 Kidz Consignments sale (Sept. 15-19) and then the Junior League’s Attic Sale on Sept. 26. Besides the fact that you can buy recycled and get lots for little, the Altrusa and Attic sales proceeds go to good causes. And even with the Just 4 Kidz sale, you’re supporting other budget-strapped moms who are selling their kids' clothes in order that they can buy bargain-priced clothes from other moms. I’m all in favor of clothes swapping like this.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weird animal safari

It has always struck me as supremely unnatural that there is a wild animal safari park in Pine Mountain that boasts everything from lions and tigers to zebras, giraffes and water buffalo. Last Sunday while I prepped for Will's birthday party, Rob and his dad took the boys to see the park, which I’ve still never visited. The photos confirm that the park inspires rather bizarre encounters between animals and the safari-goers who feed them from their jeeps.

I think a zoo is more my speed but I’d still kind of like to do the safari sometime, mostly to watch Will react. He reportedly laughed through the entire tour (most loudly when a giraffe drooled on Papa).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Teams of two

Turns out you can have a football party for four- and five-year-olds where an actual football game takes place even if it only lasts five minutes and only half of the handful of party guests opt to participate. (Water balloon tosses and pin-the-football-on-the-football player were more universally popular, but Will loved playing some real football with Rob’s dad as coach.)

Papa’s main role though, as ordered by Will, was to “do the halftime show.” One time last week Will even began to worry about whether Papa would flake: “I’m worried Papa’s not a good rememberer,” he said. “I’m worried he’s going to forget to do the halftime show.”

Papa declined to twirl batons or dance with pom poms but he did bring a boom-box and rally some moms for a ragged version of the “Cupid Shuffle” while their sons looked on in bewilderment. Out of respect for those of us involved, we’ll omit photos on that one.

But here are some some highlights from the football action.