Friday, May 29, 2009

Patient Children

I wanted to share an interesting New Yorker article about research into being patient. An experiment allowed kids either to have one marshmallow, or to be patient and get two. Kids were filmed and the researcher found that the ones who managed to wait often adopted a specific technique to put the marshmallow out of their mind: covering their eyes, looking away, and so on. Ones who tried will-power -- even staring at it with determined resolution -- did not do as well. And then, there were some who did not even try.

Then, years later, the researcher did a follow-up survey. Parents of the "patient" kids reported significantly less problems at school (not surprising). However, he also found the "patient" group had SAT scores that averages 200 points higher than the group that could not wait.

Of course, this does not mean the "patient" group is somehow better off, nor that they will be more successful. I think this is one of those areas where neither stereotype is ideal, and that choosing between one or the other is most likely a false dichotomy.

The article has other interesting details: for instance, research into whether the ability to wait is "environmental" or "genetic". It's a long 6-pages, but thought-provoking for a parent.

HT: Carpe Diem

Thursday, May 28, 2009

TV Censorship

Z watches many of his TV shows over the internet these days. It is the modern way to"time shift". Channels like Cartoon network and Nickelodeon serve up videos on demand, with ads included.

Occasionally, he will go to some international site and watch a Japanese version. Sometimes this is because a Japanese (original) episode does not make it to the U.S. version. At other times because they're slightly different, and he wants to see the original.

He tells me about some of the differences.
  • In one Yu-Gi-Oh show, they mentioned that some guy had died. In the Japanese version, they actually showed him being smacked by a car.
  • Blood goes away in some U.S. episodes where it is gory in the Japanese ones (I guess cartoon violence is allowed for most TV rating categories if there's no blood and death; but if you have those two evil things you may not get the lower "Y7" ratings)
  • In one Japanese episode some evil scientist creates some pill to give him powers, but this was changed to something else in the U.S. version, and the wikis say it is because of the "drug reference"
Mostly silly changes like that!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Santa Claus

Kim posted about Santa, and followed it up with another great post.

Some parents say Santa adds excitement to a child's Xmas. I think this is a cultural myth that people repeat without having introspected about their own growing up. I find no truth to this. I look back to my childhood and the only time mystery was associated with Santa was the time I suspected he didn't exist, asked my parents, was told he did, but smelt a rat in the way I was told it. This resulted in some excitement the next year as I tried to stay awake -- not to see Santa -- but to confirm that my parents were he.

So, yes, there was mystery once I suspected Santa was make-believe; but I remember no magic before that. I can look back at my discovery and relate to what Kim says about Hanover, using her logic and observation to figure out Santa does not exist.

It's unreasonable to expect a child to feel something special about Santa bringing gifts down the chimney if the child actually and completely believes that Santa is for real. To such a child, this is just like saying that dad comes down the chimney and places the gifts there. Obviously a child will be excited about presents. However, young children know so little about the world that Santa flying around is not magical at all, unless you tell them that it is.

In summary, the real fun and mystery don't come from the myth, but from the realization that that story is a yarn.

I would encourage parents to use the Santa myth in this fun way. On the other hand, I would strongly discourage parents from playing the game so well that the child has no clue that Santa is make-believe. The couple of stories I know of this kind have not ended well. Typically, another kid will reveal the truth, and your child will be left with a feeling of being let-down, and a feeling of being stupid. They will blame you, and you will be worthy of blame. It's a game: so, play it that way, and it'll be interesting; make it real, and it won't be as much fun. Ironical, but true.

In my own son, I've seen him be excited -- over the years -- about Thomas, and Spidey, and Batman, and Harry Potter. When a local fun-railroad did an annual Thomas event, with a blue-painted engine, my son always wanted to visit. When Spidey was posing outside the IMAX show of one of his movies, my son wanted to have his photo taken with Spidey. He, and the other kids attending the event were all excited. Yet, I doubt anyone of them believed that Thomas or Spidey was real.

Santa myths (think "Polar Express") project a certain type of benevolent world, where the people with the magical power can always fix things that go wrong, and will. I think this is what parents mean when they say "kids need a little magic". On this I agree with Kim 100%, when she says: "I think it mostly means that kids need to know that wonderful things are possible. What I really don't get is why wonderful things have to be unattainable without magic." (emphasis added)

In her follow-up post, Kim elaborates that parents who speak of magic want their kids to retain their innocence. I think this describes the underlying philosophy. Unfortunately, Santa and so on are pretty poor ways to achieve a benevolent world-view.

There is only one way to bring up a kid believing in a benevolent world: first, you have to believe it; second, you have to project it. I don't think you can project it convincingly if you fake it: not to your kid, who is with you so much. So, you have to think it is true. The second step is not fully automatic; it is distinct. You have to consciously explain your view to your child, and never abstractly; always implicitly via other concretes. [This raises so many more points: "what is benevolent world view", "how to project it?", but this post too long already.]

Imagine parents who are bitching about their "friends" in the hearing of their children, constantly being cynical about the world, and imputing evil motives too easily. Can Santa and the Easter bunny show their kids that benevolence is possible? I think it's like spraying room-freshener over a stink. And, what happens when the kid grows up and realizes that the myth is myth and the rest is real? At worst the grown-up kid is left with the lesson that benevolence is only possible in magic. What better ground-work can we lay for cynicism!

Finally, my proof is in my (10-year old) pudding. He has an extremely benevolent world-view. Among his his class-mates, there are some like him, but there are others who are very jaded and cynical. I know others among the benevolent group that found out about Santa early, as our son did. So, I rest my case!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Ask a 9 year old: "who tidies up XXX in your classroom?". You might get a response like: "Mrs. Thomas makes us do it". A 5 year old's reply will be more like: "Mrs. Thomas lets us help". And, every parent knows how a "helpful" young kid can slow down the easiest of tasks.

Ironically, kids are most motivated to help with things where they cannot really very much. I think, it is in the nature of learning. If they know they can do something, there's no sense of acheivement left. If they've been there and done that, they lose interest, Instead, kids want to try their hand at tasks where they can achieve something.

With familiar things, there are some thing that Z still likes to do, only because he does them rarely: like making his own grilled-cheese sandwiches. Every now and then, he will remember that he can do that himself, and will get enthusiastic about it.

Today, he's making dinner for the whole family. I'm going to take a picture a little later and add it here. Okay... added. sorry it has a big chomp, but the cook insisted on tasting it, and wasn't patient enough to wait for the snap to be taken.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Constrained writing

Z loves creative writing. He sometimes has English assignments to write a story, while using all words from a list of 10 or 15 words. Typically, the first couple of paragraphs are slightly artificial, as he tries to use all words from his list. Then, all used up, it is almost as if the little author gave a big sigh of relief and the story gets smooth and breezy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The kid has a blog

Yesterday, I allowed Z to create a blog of his own on Blogger, but asked him to mark it "by invite only" for now. With his permission, I'm cross-posting his first post here. The style may seem not unfamiliar, but parents know that imitation with minor variation is the root of creativity. Without further ado, I present "phantaKid's" first blog post:

Title: Badminton
Today, I was playing badminton. I was having a conversation with dad:

Me: Remember that overly optimistic guy from The Series of Unfortunate Events? I think his name was Lenny or something.
Dad:Yup. He reminds me of Black Knight from Monty Python
Me: Oh yeah.
"Look, your arm's cut off!" says King Arthur.
"It's just a flesh wound," says the Black Knight.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sponge Bob

Z: Mr. Krabs is so obsessed with money. He'd rather poison his customers than throw out an old krabby-patty.
Dad: Yeah. That's funny. You know what he doesn't think about?
Z: ???
Dad: Who'll give him money tomorrow if his customers stay away or die?

I won't block the stereotypes, but I can plant some vaccinating thoughts.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Montessori Bells

Someone has made a very simple, free online version of the "Montessori Bells" material. Thought I'd post the link here, in case any parents are interested. From the site:

"The purpose of the Montessori bells is to introduce children to
discrimination of musical sounds by pairing and ordering."

This link goes straight to the online demo (main site has instructions and downloadable version).

Update (Aug 13): Fixed URL

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Z reads Anthem

Z's fourth grade teacher is reading Anthem to the class -- out loud. He started by saying that Ayn Rand wrote against socialism, and that the book was relevant today because of the direction in which the country was headed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kids judging adults

Mariposario has an interesting post about her child's encounter with an obnoxious teacher. I think it must be a bit of a let down for kids to encounter adults who are like that. Still, it's an important thing for them to learn about the world.

To very young kids, adults can seem omniscient. How can adults be wrong? When our son was around 5, we had to explain how we differed from his teacher about God. We never made a big deal about it. When they're that young, I think it's important to break it to them without contradicting their "benevolent universe" view.

A few years later, he began to understand that adults differ on a wider variety of issues. As kids move up from one class to the next, they learn that their teachers can be quite different. We would chat with him about the differences in his teachers, talking about their pros and cons. We also began to throw into the mix the fact that there would be times when he knows better than an adult, even if the situation demands he do as the adult says.

All in all it is a good way for kids to start learning about judging people, and about acting on that judgement. Judging people is not about classifying them along a single axis, but a little more textured that that. That's something kids need to learn. They also need this practice in becoming confident about judging others.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Science fair

Z's school had a "science fair". Students perform an experiment at home, and present their findings at the fair.

He had a truck roll down a ramp. Steeper inclines made the truck roll longer distances.

Making the truck heavier, with a roll of quarters, also made it roll longer.

We even had one unanticipated result: when we did the experiment on carpet, the heavier truck actually rolled less. I suppose the surface of the carpet resists heavier trucks more than it does lighter ones.

At first, I was sceptical of the idea of a science fair, but it ended up being a good exercise in the process of experimenting. As the lab-director, I insisted that my scientist repeat each experiment three times, and use only the median result, to leave out errors, e.g. a shaken hand, or an incorrect reading. After over 100 separate observations, Galileo needed some chocolate milk.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

28N / 77E

Z is learning about latitude and longitude. So, I gave him an idea for a game. He liked it, and we played it yesterday.

First, we have a reference card with the names of 5 cities, from all over the world, with their latitude and longitude written down.
  • One person takes up an atlas (Goode's is good), finds a fairly well known city, and says it's latitude and longitude.
  • The other person has to guess the city. They can consult the reference card.
  • If you guess wrong, you're told "Go East", or "Go North-West", etc.
  • You get three guesses. Three points for getting it on the first guess, 1 for the third guess.

Running out of dreams

Sometimes (rarely) Z will have a nightmare and require a few minutes of comforting. The other night, a call from the son, and a prod from the wife and I stumbled to his room, trying to move from irritated woken sleeper to comforting father.

Me: Hey sweetie, had a nightmare?
Z: No, I had three good dreams, but they woke me up.
Me: Why did you call out, then?
Z: I didn't have any more dreams to go to sleep with.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bulbasaur for President!

Z: George Washington was a bit like Bulbasaur.

Me: Really? Why is that?
Z: When others wanted to quarrel and fight, he was good at peace-making.

(This was after he heard about how Washington tried to walk a line between Hamilton etc. and Jefferson etc.)

Talk about integration!

I say: "Bulbasaur for President!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Economics for 9 year olds

Z's teachers does one lecture on economics every week.

The other day, he had to study some material for a review test, and asked me to quiz him. To my surprise the first question was something like: "How does rent-control cause shortages of housing". I'd say he simply does not have the context, and this is a hierarchy-breaking lesson. Anyhow, I'll take comfort that he's not being asked "Why should the proletariat own all means of production?" or "In what parts of the economy can the government be most helpful?"

In a little chat, I found out that his teacher had told them that the government can become like "Big Brother" (in the usual negative sense), and had also told them that when the government sets out to do something, it usually does it inefficiently.

I suppose there's some advantage to living in the mid-west, where people are skeptical of government.