Ask the grumpies: Tv for toddlers

Dana asks:

My son just turned two years old and had his first television experience watching the movie “Cars” on my laptop. He mostly watched in 5-7 minute chunks as his attention span isn’t very long and he is very active. We aren’t sure what to let him watch next.  I think his attention span might be up to 15 minute TV shows and was wondering if you had advice for shows your kids liked as toddlers that aren’t too painful for parents to watch too.  Obviously not looking for violence and educational is a plus but not required.

Well, this is going to vary a lot, so check the comments for what other two year olds are watching!

DC1 was really really into frogs, so the LeapFrog dvds (particularly the early ones on phonics) were super popular at Casa Grumpy.  Dora the Explorer, also popular.  Closer to 3 ze picked up Caillou (one of DC2’s current picks) and Kipper and Blues Clues and Word World (though many parents dislike Caillou because in the earlier episodes he’s kind of a brat).

In addition to PBS Kids, where DC2 prefers Curious George, DC2 has just discovered Youtube, which has many kids tv shows uploaded to it.  Ze is currently a big fan of:  Dora the Explorer, Pocoyo (these are nice because they’re short!), Peppa the Pig, and a bunch of seriously annoying children’s shows made for Youtube.  The best of these (from the not annoying the parent perspective) is Miss Tracey singing nursery rhymes.  The worst of these is Mr. Mike doing the same thing but with his own twist.  (Licking up the baby bumblebee?  Seriously Mr. Mike?)  In between are: Mother Goose Club and Busy Beavers.  Actually Busy Beavers will annoy the heck out of you with its repetition while the Mother Goose Club isn’t so bad.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your recommendations and opposite-of-recommendations for two year old tv watching?

My big summer plan for DC1

DC1 is 7.  Seven is a wonderful year and a wonderful height.

DC1 will be going to museum camp, and doing hir workbooks, and swimming lessons and piano lessons, and no doubt reading lots of great novels and playing all sorts of games (card, computer, video, board, etc.).  There will be a week being spoiled by the in-laws, and no doubt a weekend or two with my sister.

But I, too, have a nefarious plan in store for DC1.

This summer DC1 will learn how to cook.  In fact, this summer DC1 will cook for us with minimal help at least once a week and will be a sous chef for us on a regular basis.

Ze already makes excellent scrambled eggs, and fantastic macaroni and cheese (from a box with extra cheese added, and also tuna and peas).  This summer we will add more to hir repertoire.

I hope this will be an investment that pays out many-fold.  :)

We made a list.  It says:  chocolate chip cookies (chewy), pizza, ice cream, split pea soup, Japanese rice (for sushi), spaghetti, pancakes, waffles, muffins (blueberry), tacos, queso, shrimp, shakes.  It’s a little different than what I learned to cook first (eggs, crepes, chili, spaghetti with meat sauce, macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, box brownies, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, spaghetti carbonara, regular rice), though with some overlap.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are in the kitchen.  When did you learn how to cook?  What did you first learn how to cook?  When did your kids learn (if appropriate)?  Any exciting summer plans?

Ask the grumpies: gifted schools

jlp asks:

We’re on the cusp of being able to send our older child to public school (free! school!) and are debating what to do. We believe that our kids are HG/PG, and we are fortunate, as we have some potential school choice. In our area there are multiple private and magnet public schools (both of which require testing to attend) geared specifically for gifted kids .

As we comb through schools, public and private, I’ve been looking for a variety of characteristics, but the two most important ones seem to be: a) will our child(ren) have like-minded peers of a similar age?* and b) will the school be able to provide sufficient challenge for our child(ren)?

My question is: is there another characteristic that we should prize more highly? If so, what?

Oh, also, because the public schools are magnets, and require testing to attend, this, ostensibly, means we can live anywhere in the city and reap the benefits of a great school. It seems like a no-brainer to go public (assuming DC1 gets in!), since we don’t have to pay for a great school district, nor do we have to pay for private school. However, the student:teacher ratio is 28:1 in K, going up to…I forget, 30:1 or 31:1 in 3rd or 4th. There are no teacher’s aides. Are these class sizes as ridiculously huge as they sound to me?

*Based both on Miraca Gross’ work and also my kid’s passing comments about the kids at his current preschool who “just scribble.”

#1 says:  If you can possibly get your kids in a gifted school, for gods’ sake do it! (One of us is very grumpy about her years in the regular schools.  The other one is still scarred from middle school and doesn’t want to talk about it.)

#2 says:  Golly, these choices are just so hard.  I can’t say what you should do.  What we’ve done has always been to play it by ear every year.  We figure out what our options are, check out the teachers and the school environment, and are willing to change mid-stream if necessary.

One of the reasons we’ve been so keen on acceleration for DC1 is exactly because ze is kind of a jerk about lesser performing kids (generally innocently, first asking questions about why they can’t read, and such, but it seems like something we have to revisit every year).  It does hir a lot of good to not be leaps and bounds in front of everybody else in the same class.  In terms of acceleration, the friends the same age thing is over-rated, at least so far for DC1 (and according to A Nation Deceived, as well as our own childhoods– we always got along better with older kids/adults until we went to boarding school)– DC1 gets along great with kids a couple years older.

The sufficient challenge was also really important to us.  DC1 is *usually* really well-behaved (update:  at the last school function, Easter, all the teachers commented on how much hir behavior had improved.  The Spanish teacher noted that her child had gone through the same phase at that age, which is why she hadn’t commented on it earlier), but when ze isn’t sufficiently challenged ze can be a bit of a pill.  That’s one reason ze does workbooks on weekends.

In our geographic area there are two options that are geared towards “gifted” or “math and science”… one is a public within a school in the low income town next to ours.  We would have to move to attend, but despite being called a gifted magnet, we haven’t really heard anything good about it and suspect it may be a slightly above average little white island in a minority district.  We didn’t investigate further though because we decided the private school would be a better option than selling our house.  It may be great… but, none of the university parents we know are moving to send their kids there.  The other option, also in that town, is a math and science charter.  We know much more about this option because a lot of people in our town have tried it out because there isn’t a residency requirement for it. It has enormous class sizes K-4, larger than state law allows for public schools.  A K teacher quit mid-year because she was so frazzled, according to one parent who pulled her kids out to attend another private school.  I don’t think we know anybody who stayed for elementary.  We hear it’s great for high school and know parents whose kids do high school there.  Of course, the publics here are also supposed to be great for high school.

Continuing… yes, if you believe the TN STAR experiment results, 28:1 in K is too big of a student teacher ratio.  It would be very difficult to do differentiation with a class of that size without an aide or student teacher.  Depending on the teacher and the other students, it might even be difficult to keep order in the class.

Is there something you should prize more highly than classmates and challenge?  That’s hard to say.

We visited the two schools that were willing to talk with us and talked with every parent we knew about our options, and even a public school teacher we knew socially.  We learned a lot from talking and visiting about what was important to us.  One thing that was important was the school and the teachers having an understanding of gifted children and an ability to differentiate.  Another was having a school environment that was pro-gifted kids rather than anti-gifted kids that was willing to work with us.  You can read our saga in our archives.

So, sorry for the [delayed] long non-answer.   When you have a special snowflake for a kid, there’s special snowflake answers, which is to say, really no answer at all.  Talk, visit, and you’ll figure out what is important to you and your kid.  And if things don’t work out, you can always change.

Do any of our readers have better advice for jlp?  How did you decide on a school for your kids, if applicable?  What do you wish your parents had done for you at that age?

The toddler and the ipad

The shu box was recently talking about how she lets her two year old watch limited tv these days.

Even with our first baby (as opposed to our second whatever keeps hir from destroying things baby), screen time has been a part of our kids’ lives.  DC1 used to nurse to Comedy Central and showed a distinct preference for Stephen Colbert over Jon Stewart.

We just give the IPad to our 20 month old and have been doing this for quite some time. We have a little box that ze can press to get all the apps we’ve downloaded specifically for hir, though ze also plays in the main section with some of daddy’s games (we just deleted Pitfall because ze kept getting irritated when it would ask hir to buy diamonds since ze doesn’t have the password to do that) and also the photo center.

Ze finds PBS kids on hir own. Ze’s not much for watching complete episodes of anything (other than Curious George, oddly, which isn’t what I would have picked out as being attention keeping) but does enjoy theme songs. And the “How did I ever get into this mess” intro of one of the shows. My favorite new themesong is Peg + Cat. (Nah nah nah nah nah.) Sometimes at work I find it on Youtube because I have the earworm.

Fisher Price also has some good free interactive IPad stuff that you can go to their app store and download.  That’s probably the best of the free stuff.  Other apps that ze has liked include: The wheels on the bus by kids game club, Funny animals, G’night Safari, EduRoom, KidsDoodle, and Magic Piano.

With the Ipad ze isn’t, say, climbing up DC1’s closet shelves in an effort to get the crayons and markers we took away from hir the last time ze drew on the walls. It gives us a chance to clean up the last mess ze made without hir making a new one!

What are your favorite IPad apps (or what are the favorite apps of someone you love)?

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So… a hypothetical behavior problem

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you have an amazing wonderful DC1 who has been incredibly well-behaved for all 7 years of hir short life.  (Except during brief times when ze has been under-challenged, and occasionally when hanging out with hir favorite extended family relatives.) Hypothetically this 7 year old is in 3rd grade at a private school.

And during the first half of third grade at this private school, the then-6 year old was a complete and total angel.

But something about age 7 changed things.  DC1 tries really hard to be good, but is easily distracted.  Ze doesn’t always listen to hir teachers.  Ze tries to be silly in ways that are disruptive to the class.  Ze doesn’t show hir teachers the quiet respect that ze used to just last semester.  Ze starts forgetting to hand in hir homework.  It isn’t an every day problem, but it is becoming an every week problem.  DC1 also doesn’t always listen to hir parents and even occasionally talks back(!).

Third grade is a little difficult in this school– they start having more electives and different teachers early.  It isn’t like K-2 where there was one teacher for all subjects except art, music, PE, French, and Spanish.  There’s different teachers for the different subjects, with the maximum of two overlaps.  DC1 is really only having problems with two of the teachers (or rather, two of the teachers are having problems with hir– the other teachers probably deal with the misbehavior better).  Our first thought was that maybe ze was bored and has been acting out, but the class that gets the most notes home is the one that ze always talks about and is learning the most in (the teacher seems to be teaching the advanced students at middle or high school level, which is thrilling to DC1, and also mentos and coke are involved).

Our second thought is that this particular teacher punishes kids a lot because last semester DC1 was always talking about the other kids getting into trouble in class.  At a Christmas function, the teacher had remarked to us how well behaved DC1 was compared to most of the other students.  (Not anymore, apparently.)  The next thing we heard about it, a quarter later, DC1 got a negative report card with a lengthy list of infractions.  Another teacher also commented on the report card that DC1 had been disrupting hir class more than once.  We asked DC1 about each of the items, but ze couldn’t remember any details, but did mention that ze had gotten into time out after school that day but couldn’t remember why, or even which class.

So, in theory, we sat down with DC1 and brainstormed ways to address every single one of hir infractions.  For example, DC1 was to pretend that the teacher controlled an electro-magnet keeping hir rear end in the chair.  No touching other students except at recess and in PE.  Devoting a special folder to the problem class that ze took home and to class every single day.  And so on.  All of these got rewritten into an apology letter to the teacher.  We also sent a parent note apologizing, explaining DC1’s list, and asking to be notified as soon as any future disruption occurred.  Also we sent a book on classroom management that we’d both found helpful.  A smaller apology about class disruptions went to the other teacher.  In the mornings we went over the list on the drive to school every day for a week.

And things were fine for a little while.  Then ze started forgetting homework assignments again.  Specifically ze had cryptic assignments written in hir assignment notebook (ex.  “mentos and baking soda”) and could not remember what ze was supposed to do (watch videos?  bring mentos and baking soda to class?).  So DH called the school to set up an appointment.  Instead he got a phonecall back from the teacher.  She explained that those cryptic assignments had been extra credit (since DC1 always finishes hir homework in the class), and that DC1 wasn’t so bad that a conference was necessary.

DH took DC1 in to the pedi to get hir hearing checked.  Just in case.  It was fine.

Then, a week later, a note requiring a parent signature came home.  DC1 had caused another class disruption.  After some memory prodding, ze recalled that there had been a fan on in the classroom and it was so cool talking into the fan that ze had ignored the teacher’s instructions, hadn’t gotten in hir seat, and hadn’t stopped when asked.  The teacher wanted a p/t conference and left an email address.   We signed the sheet and sent it back with DC1, but not in the special folder because ze has forgotten to bring it home.  Several days later, I noticed that the signed sheet was still in DC1’s backpack and the special folder had still not been brought home.

We also noted that, despite REPEATED reminders and warnings from us, and multiple picking out special sesame sticks treats at the grocery store for the express purpose of being brought to snack, DC1 had stopped bringing/eating afternoon snack.  The problem class in question turns out to be the last class of the day.  So more brainstorming about how to remember to pack and bring a snack (this week:  strawberries).  Because DC1 really is a pill when ze has low blood sugar.

The last note home was a week ago.  The teacher hasn’t emailed back with a time for a conference.  DC1 did hand in the paper.  Ze hasn’t gotten in trouble again, yet.

I ordered How to talk so kids will listen from the library, and it was not helpful, as apparently DH and I are already perfect parents.  (We already do what it says to do except the parts where their codicil warnings note that some kids may be super irritated by those specific suggestions.  Interestingly, I felt super irritated by their first chapter that was telling me that we did things that we do not do and felt things that I do not feel.   Ironic!)  In their illustrations of how to behave, we’re already the “Gallant” side.  (There must be parents who are more the “Goofus” side, but just reading those depictions made me cringe.)  So yay us, but completely and totally not useful for our current situation.

[Side-note:  My mother says she's a bit relieved that DC1 is getting in trouble, as ze has been preternaturally good.  She was a little worried there was something wrong.]

So, for the tl;dr set….

When your 7 year old starts acting like a 7 year old and is in a situation where the teacher can’t really handle 7 year olds acting like 7 year olds, and the 7 year old really wants to behave more like a 10 year old… How do you help that 7 year old listen more, respect hir teachers more, get distracted less, and remember to bring hir stuff places?

Any ideas?  Because we’re out of them.  Right now the best we’ve got is, “This too shall pass.”  But it would be nice to be able to do more than just wait it out.

We (satisficed and) bought a digital piano

We finally got around to signing DC1 up for piano lessons this past fall, about a year after we meant to.

Ze really really likes it.  The first things ze does when ze gets home is hir piano practicing, and sometimes if ze gets up early enough, ze’ll practice piano before going to school.

Unfortunately, the $100 keyboard hir grandparents got hir doesn’t have weighted keys, so you can’t do piano or forte, just one volume.  And there’s no pedals for sustained sound.  Since it seems like DC1 is going to stick with it, we really need to get hir a real piano to practice on.

Well, almost a real piano.

Looking up how to buy a used piano online is terrifying.  Page after page talking about how you need to have a trusted professional with you at point of purchase or you may end up with something that’s only good for hauling to the dump (something you will, of course, have to pay for yourself).  New pianos are confusing as well, though the only terrifying thing about them is the price point.

So… on the advice of one our readers (I think chacha, but maybe it was Ms. PoP), we looked into digital pianos.  They’re new and under warranty.  They don’t have to be tuned every year.  They cost a fraction of what a low grade real piano costs.  And… they don’t sound too bad.

After reading tons of reviews and scouring the piano forum, we decided to get a low-mid-level Casio for $1099. Specifically the Casio PX850 BK 88-Key Touch Sensitive Privia Digital Piano. This piano is on all of the top 10 digital piano lists that I found.  Although it was only #1 on one of those lists, the #1s on the other lists weren’t even listed on many of the lists (if that makes sense).  The only detracting thing on the Amazon reviews is that some people find that after several weeks of intense playing, the keys start to clack a little because the pads wear thin (they should be wool, complains one reviewer), but that seems to be a potential problem across our price range, and probably isn’t one our 7 year old will encounter for a few years.    The piano forums recommend this one as a good learning piano, and while some people have preferred digital pianos, nobody really says anything bad about this piano (while those “preferred” pianos all have detractors).  Everyone seems to agree that this piano is pretty good and is a good value.

We tried to find a place in town that carried it that we could listen and then buy from, but the place in town that said they had it turned out to be out of stock.  They did have the $1699 Yamaha that some people prefer to the Casio (and many people do not), and we weren’t that impressed with it.  We talked about trying to find a place in the city that has a bunch of pianos we could listen to, but it seems like all the shops in the city have a monopoly of one brand– they just carry Yamaha or just Roland etc.  And we didn’t really want to go into the city this weekend anyway.

So we ended up getting it without listening to it from Amazon.  I splurged and got the recommended bench for $44 instead of a slightly less expensive one because someone in the reviews said that one of the settings fit hir 4 year old.

The Casio came in less than a week.  DH spent the evening putting it together, mostly after DC1 slept.  At 10-something, he got DC2 and me to look at and listen to the finished product.  It’s beautiful.  It looks like a real piano, but it’s slimmer.  It feels like a real piano.  It sounds like a real piano.  Plus, unlike that $1700 Yamaha, it didn’t have tons of confusing controls.  Its controls are even more intuitive than the controls on DC1’s old $100 keyboard.  It probably has fewer features, but we don’t need a keyboard that can bark like a dog, we need a keyboard that mimics a regular piano.

We congratulated ourselves on doing a good job picking a piano out (and thanked our lucky stars), even if we weren’t able to check out the piano in person first.  It’s exactly what we need and it’s much nicer than the ones we saw at the local store, even the equally and more expensive ones.  So we’re very happy with our purchase.  DC1 loves it too.  It’s scary spending $1000+ on something you’re not sure about.  Getting it wrong is an expensive and/or annoying proposition (depending on if you return the purchase or not).

So yay for top 10 lists and yay for piano forums and amazon and satisficing.

Have you ever made a big purchase partly-blind like this?  How did it work out?  How do you decide on big purchases?

RBOC

  • True art is not bounded by paper.
  • In related news, DC2 has had hir marker and crayon privileges revoked.
  • Also in related news, we caught hir at DC1’s desk on hir stool grabbing for the forbidden crayon box.  Ze’d carried the stool in from the kitchen.  Suddenly it became clear how ze’d been getting all those things we’d thought we’d placed out of hir reach.
  • The (somewhat) terrifying thing is that ze knows to put the stool *back* (or at least not someplace incriminating) after ze’s used it for nefarious purposes.
  • Ze also drew on my monitor with a pencil.  Twice.  Once after we’d removed the pencils and cleaned the first drawing off.  DH caught hir the second time mid-draw.  It’s amazing how much havoc ze can wreak in (literally) less than two minutes.
  • I had a weird dream the other night that I accidentally sent a (small) can of catfood with DC2’s lunch.  They sent it back in the dream and suggested I meant to send tuna or something.
  • Dear democrats, wanting something to be true does not make it true.  If you think that, you are as bad as the republicans.  You may be better intentioned but you are going to do just as much damage to the country and to the people you care about.
  • Why is it that people set the a/c at 65 and the heat at 80?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  (Or just like 76 degrees all year.)
  • St. Andre is like if boursin and brie had a love child.  A very fat love child.  A delicious fat love child.
  • Is it just me, or do stories by SAHM about SAHP (in blogs or the media) always start out with how difficult and terrible their lives are, and then end up with but it’s totally worth it because I got to see my child’s first X, I need to savor every precious moment etc.  [Similar stories by WOHM seem more varied-- either I'm so stressed out without a "but it's totally worth it" punchline... I guess the punchline is generally, "and I wish I were a SAHM," or "but I'm not actually stressed out, I love work and family."  Sometimes with a, "but the only thing I sometimes feel guilty about is how I don't feel guilty for not following the SAHM narrative."]  And yet IRL, the SAHM I know don’t seem to have particularly difficult or terrible lives, other than the occasional financial worries.
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