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September 30, 2010

Do You Have House Rules

I attended curriculum night at my son’s school and I was looking around the room. One of the things that I found most interesting was the posted list of Class Rules. Each of the children had signed his or her name at the bottom, which meant that they understood the rules.

I started to think establishing some house rules – and writing them down – might be helpful.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Wake up time
  • TV, video and computer time
  • Chores
  • Rules about friends
  • Rules about kindness
  • Nap or rest time
  • Snacking
  • Bedtime

Make rules, post them and make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, we have a rule that homework must be completed as soon as you come home. No TV before chores. And lights are to be turned off when you leave a room.

What kind of rules do you have?

June 24, 2010

Private Video Sharing With Vidme

A smart kid (the Little Man) once told me that if you put it on the internet, it’s there forever and you can’t get it back.  So maybe you’re a bit hesitant to post photos or videos of your kids or with open access for the world to see.

If you do share some awesome moments, maybe you take steps to keep it a bit non-descript like posting only videos away from home without names like my semi-famous in my own mind “Over The Lake Man!” video of the Little Man.  Maybe you’re not worried at all and you’re like the iGeneration who wants to broadcast every photo, video and other detail of their lives.  If so, you can stop reading (but don’t).

Sites like YouTube or Vimeo have always been so “everyone” focused with people trying to gain fame and fortune.  Many of us would rather just share some of those classic kid moments with friends and family.  A new company wants to help.

Vidme a new site that instead focuses on private sharing with lots of easy controls to limit access so you might feel a little more comfortable uploading some classic moments and sharing with your preselected group (with no 25 person limit like YouTube).  So if you’d like to share some videos of the kids with friends and family, but not the world, you might check out Vidme, that for now is free.

Full Disclosure:  I have no relationship with Vidme and have received no compensation for this blog post.  Vidme doesn’t even know I exist.

June 3, 2010

Green Spring Cleaning – Still Time!

Yes, it is still spring and yes you still have time to do that spring cleaning you’ve been putting off since March 20 (the date spring officially started). Junk in your garage, crumbs under your refrigerator and dust bunnies everywhere else. As a parent, we want to give our children everything and that should include a clean and safe environment, both in their home and the planet we stick them with.

So take the opportunity to get ready for summer (which in New York feels like it’s already here) and get your home cleaned up. I recommend the giggle Better Basics line of natural, plant-based cleaning products (that I can honestly say I use everyone one of in my house) that are safe, nontoxic, biodegradable, and wonderfully effective you’ll be ready for a clean and healthy summer.

November 3, 2009

Little Man Big Decisions

Our Little Man participates in his school’s afterschool program a few days a week.  So for one day of the afterschool experience, we had thrown in a Spanish class.  As I mentioned in other posts before (see Màs?), we would love to give our son the gift of a second language.  Before the school year started there were many protests and “discussions” but we held fast thinking he gets to choose two days and we get one.  Fair enough, right? 

As the year has gone on, the protests had not stopped, but in fact had multiplied.  The entire walk home from that day was a recount of the atrocities he experience in his 50 minute Spanish class.  It was enough that we decided it might be best not to forever brand the second language option as a terrible forced experience.  We agreed to change that day to Soccer Club (with all his friends) with hopes of preserving another chance at language in the future. 

Little did we know what an impact this would have on the Little Man’s world.  It started this weekend and continued right into this morning.  He got up today literally singing and joking like he Emceeing a comedy roast or something.  If he wasn’t six, I might have checked his backpack for some kind of mood enhancing substance.  Laughing at everything, doing what we asked, telling us he loved us at every turn, who was this kid?

Thinking more about it, it’s not that surprising.  As little as it seemed to us, this was a major change in his world for the better (in his opinion).  Our little ones go from school to activities to homework to meals to bed, very little of which they have any control over or say in.  Perhaps the most important lesson was him teaching us “No Màs” might be the right call sometimes.

October 21, 2009

Our Little All-Stars


Soccer season has kicked off and now is in full swing.  As coach of my son’s U7 team I get to be in the front row for the amazing show that is youth sports.  As coaches, parents, relatives and friends, I’m sure we all wonder what is going through the kids’ heads sometimes.  Most of us were probably young athletes but don’t recall (or don’t care to) much beyond hopefully fond memories of running around the field or court and maybe even picking a flower or two out in center field. 

I am lucky enough to be friends with a very experienced, championship winning, long time NBA coach (now retired).  I recently asked “Coach” about coaching and he shared a youth sports story from personal experience, namely one of his granddaughters.

Coach’s granddaughter has recently started playing volleyball in middle school.  She is a gifted athlete, tall for her age and has coaches drooling at her prospects.  Her first game was a gem with her in the front line blocking, spiking and generally ruining her opponents’ day.  Coaches, parents, teammates were all excited and looking forward to a great season. 

As the second game begins, she immediately seems more hesitant.  Unenthusiastically moving around the court without her previous fire in the belly and nothing like the tornado of arms at the net like the last game.  The game ends and her supporters are puzzled.  Her mom approaches her after the game to see if she is feeling alright.  She gives that distant “yes” that we are all familiar with from kids.  Her mom beautifully explains that she shouldn’t feel any pressure to play and that everyone just wants her to be happy.  If she decides, though, that she does want to play, she should give her all every time.  Her coaches, friends and teammates deserve that from her. 

As the discussion moves along, she explains she does want to play, today was just a unique day.  When moms gently probes deeper, she answers, “I forgot to shave my armpits today and didn’t want everyone to see.”  Enough said.

So to all your youth sports coaches, parents and friends out there, cheer those kids with all your heart.  But remember, we all have days where we forget to shave our armpits.

October 8, 2009

Parenting 2.0- Principle #3: Master the art of playpartnering

So we’re exploring some part of the baby’s world (Principle #1, posted 9/21)- –  classic open-ended materials like water, sand, blocks, pots& pans; we’re tuning into what our baby is experiencing, seeing the wonder through their eyes (Principle #2 posted 10/1).  Now what do we actually do? How do we best get involved with our child’s play and exploration?

First and foremost, if we are fully present on the floor and having fun with our little ones, that is the heart of it. To go further and fully master the art of playpartnering, we are supposed to do what childhood educators call “scaffolding.”

Think of it as supporting the construction of your child’s knowledge, skills and character. The goal is to place your support at the right spot where you give the learner just the minimal level of support so that he can do it on his own. Your job is to either raise the bar– increase the challenge right at the edge of his competence so he does not get bored but continues to learn—or to lower the bar– decrease the challenge to reduce anxiety because it is too hard.

Easier said then done. The trick is to naturally bridge the play and exploration to richer more meaningful experiences and learning by embedding your agenda for learning into your child’s.  When I can relax and realize that it is about her and not about me and my anxieties about what she needs to learn, I become a much better partner to her.  What I am learning to do is to find  “teachable moments” where I can bridge to some learning objectives, building off of whatever she was doing instead of trying to force her to do something on my agenda and schedule.  I could keep my objectives in mind and then slip them in as the opportunities naturally arise. Based on my trials and errors, I culled together three notions that I think work:
1. Block out some time: Frequently I tried to multitask squeezing interactions in as I was leaving for work or unpacking when I got home or even during mini breaks when working from my home office. These moments are fine but I have come to realize I am cheating Whitney and myself if I do not carve out a real block of time just for the two of us. So I now combine a block of dedicated time with my more spontaneous interactions. The balance is great: I get a chunk of time just to focus on Whitney, our one on one time; and I still am on the lookout for those spontaneous moments where I can see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

*         Minimum of 20 to 30 minutes for a Whit session-

*         No distractions — turn off cell phone, forget about computer and checking emails

*         Slow down, clear mind, open heart. Let go of the usual daily scripts that run around in the head (eg What I need to do at work. Who I need to call).  Just be there with her, fully present. Pay attention to what she is doing and what makes her happy. When I catch myself off thinking about something, bring my attention back to her.

2.   Be the Provocateur & Partner: Our role is to expose our babies to lots of stuff and certainly invite them into explorations of their world (balls, blocks, water, sand) but they might decline our invitations. Don’t force things but certainly be creative about how to peak their interest. And once they dig in, we are their partner or scientific assistant and follow them extending as far as the exploration can go.
3.    Forget about “instructing” and think “cultivating”: As the parent, it is tempting to want to give your child some competence or character trait. However, at least from 0 to 5 years, that is not the way it works. Your child needs to construct her abilities herself; you can certainly help her build her competencies but only when she is interested and at her pace. You cultivate like a good gardener; you don’t preach or teach.

October 1, 2009

Parenting 2.0 — Principle #2: Keep it about your baby

Principle #2:  Keep it about your baby. Make a fun goal or even game of observing and making sense of what your baby is doing– tune into their agenda, enter their world, and see through their eyes as if them.  Child development research provides us lots of lenses to view our child’s behavior from what skills they’re developing, to what knowledge they are acquiring to what character traits they are revealing (more on this– the 3 Cs– in future posts).

As a child development guy, I noticed I had lots of ideas about what I wanted Whitney to be working on. I wanted our time to be packed with high quality learning experiences. These expectations and ideas were getting in the way. I needed to just relax, slow down and enjoy whatever Whitney was doing. I grew to appreciate her point of view and what she was trying to figure out or accomplish. I learned to better speculate about her goals, better notice what strategies she was trying out and what ideas or theories she held based on what she was trying. Here are a few things I found helpful:

a)   Learn to speak “baby”- without words or even with limited words, it is quite a challenge to comprehend what is going on inside that cute little head of our little ones. We have to observe their behaviors; see what they are looking at, see what they do; speculate about what they are feeling based on facial expressions and body language; speculate what they are thinking based on their choices for actions taken. Infer what they are learning from the experience and how it could be extended. Like any new language is does not happen overnight but takes lots of practice as you get better along the way.

b)  Have faith that your baby is wired to learn: Although the experts tell you that babies arrive ready and are motivated to construct their own competences, I found it really hard to slow down, let go of my objectives, and follow the interests and pace of my baby. We should marvel at their natural curiosity, their desire to master the world. It is amazing how skills beget skills. The more opportunities afforded to exercise the skills and abilities they demonstrate now; the more new ones grow from there.

c)  Take these small baby experiences seriously — The importance of these foundational first few years cannot be underestimated. Your child’s brain grows from 20% of adult size at birth to 80% before year five. More than 80 trillion connections are being formed among your child’s one billion neurons. These connections are being made with each experience of your baby’s life — as your child actively sets & meets goals, solves problems and sees the effects she can have. During these formative years, your child is shaping the set of mental tools that she will rely on throughout life.

September 21, 2009

Parenting 2.0 — Principle #1: Keep it real, everyday world

Conventional wisdom used to be that to really give our children the best possible start or a learning advantage, we had to buckle down and become an “Education Mom” (or Dad) where we were supposed to have an arsenal of flash cards for drill and kill memorization games among a host of parent-directed educational activities. There was even a popular Better Baby Institute championing this. We had to take on the mantle of first and most important teacher and sacrifice for our child. Today there is the realization that there is a different approach that is much more effective and actually a lot more enjoyable — Parenting 2.0 — 21st Century playpartnering & learning through open-ended exploration. Yup, you can have your cake (enjoy your baby and yourself) and eat it too (provide the best possible start). Decades of research tell us that just getting down on the floor and mixing it up having fun with your baby is actually the best way for them to learn and develop. There are a few key principles to make this approach as rich as possible:

1.         Keep it real- Explore simple everyday stuff your little one shows an interest in-

We have figured out that we do not need an elaborate plan or some “amazing curriculum”. The world provides all the stuff we need to explore and play with. While playing with the objects, animals and people of the world, our little ones are figuring out how the world works, mastering the skills emerging at the time, and setting the foundations and dispositions useful for life. Play really is a child’s work.

a.         You are your child’s favorite toy–  Try to give your baby heavy doses of your own time; for the first several months almost all you need is just you and your baby.

b.         Stuff around the house (everyday objects)— as babies begin to sit up around 6 months, they begin to free up there hands to explore any object they can get them on. We can now use bathtime to experiment with water; use trips to grocery store to explore fruits, vegetables, foods; playtime with lots of basic materials such as balls, blocks, light & shadow games, etc. for her to figure out how her world works

c.         Life is the curriculum- The best way to learn about the world is to pay explicit attention to the everyday scripts of your life —kitchen and eating experiences, errand/travel experiences, even the youngest babies pick up on the various roles and scripts of life.

August 28, 2009

End of Summer Already?

We say it each year as Labor Day closes in on us, but how in the world is it August 28 already? Where did the summer go and how did I miss it? For some, the end of summer is a very sad time. No more vacations for foreseeable future, our winter clothes are peeking out of the top shelves of closets and generally we all just get busier. For others, it is a time to rejoice. Kids back to school, the weather may finally cool off and our routines return to normal.

I’m not sure which I feel. I miss the routine that school brings and I sure am looking to cool evenings of autumn in New York (arguably our best season). That being said, enjoying the freedom of summer with my son is amazing – especially for the fleeting time he still is young enough to think it’s cool to hang out with Dad. In a few years it will all be homework, friends and sports and hanging with parents will be a fate worse than teenage acne.

I guess that leaves me with the reminder that I’ve learned over the first six years of his life and that is that as soon as you get used to one stage of your kids’ development – it changes. Don’t look too far forward and certainly don’t check the rear view mirror. I, of course, am terrible at this and need to take my own advice. So for now, I’m going to enjoy the waning days of summer with the little man and then be just as excited for the first day of school.

July 28, 2009

Head First In The Deep End

Today was a big day and I didn’t even know it was coming. My son has been taking swimming lessons at the local community center this summer. Having progressed from Level 2 to Level 3 they are now working on the freestyle or “crawl” stroke. I figured the two weeks would be filled with lessons on swimming with big arms, kicking, breathing and probably some work on the backstroke. But today, the kids were told they were heading to the deep end of the pool. The deep end?!? Are you kidding me? We just started the crawl four days ago. Who’s running this show?

I was sure I could hear the thoughts running through my son’s head a million miles a minute. “The Deep End? Nobody warned us about this! I’m not ready. Dad?”

All I could do was nervously sit and watch as the kids swam one by one into the deep end. Unphased, my son just swam right in and climbed up the ladder ready for more.

Next they were told they were going to learn how to dive. Diving? What’s next? Navy seal training? Night drops from helicopters into heavy seas? Man, this is getting hairy and fast.

Low and behold, those five kids just lined up and learned how to dive into the deep end. Sure there were belly flops but no one cared. It was all good, belly flop or tentative dive, these kids were jazzed even with nervous parents staring wide-eyed from behind the pool fence. And when it was time to end the lesson, kids with big smiles came out to get wrapped in brightly colored beach towels by proud parents.

As I sit back and think about it, my son may have learned to swim in the deep end and dive today, but I’m the one who got the lesson.