Give a little bit

The holidays aren’t the only time to think about charitable giving!  It’s summer and that means your local animal shelters are probably overrun with too many kittens.  If you can’t give money or be a foster house, try cleaning out your closets.  Humane societies often love donations of cat food, old clean towels, sheets, rags, paper towels, maybe office equipment, etc.

Does your local library need help with its book sale, its summer reading programs, or donations?  If you want to encourage a love of reading, try Literacy Volunteers of America.  They help with adult literacy throughout the country.  Toys for Tots takes books, in case you were wondering if it had to be toys only.  Other organizations for summer giving (time, money) include Reach Out And Read (ROAR), which promotes literacy at young ages and where you can donate a book online.  There’s also Reading is Fundamental, which gives new books to kids (some in Spanish).  Child’s Play also runs year-round, though their fundraising focus is the holidays.  They bring toys to kids in hospitals, and many hospitals have wishlists on amazon.  Even a box or two of crayons is a nice treat.

#2 gives to her alma mater in the summer.  :)  She’s also been giving to political campaigns, but perhaps that shouldn’t count.

Got more summer givin’ ideas?  Tell us in the comments.

 

 

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

Ask the grumpies: Kids and screen time

Bogart asks:

What is the actual evidence on kids and screen time? Preferably broken down by age and screen-time type. Most of what I can find that seems of any quality is about childhood obesity and/or physical activity, neither of which is high on my list of concerns about my own kid.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed their recommendation.  (According to my uncle the doctor because I’m too lazy to look it up.)  They used to say NO screen time at all for kids under 2 yrs, but that was when screen time was passive, like watching a video.  Now that touchscreens, iPads, etc., have made screens much more interactive even for babies, they have said that they just don’t know how much screen time is good for little kids.  They don’t even know.

#2 (the one with the kids) doesn’t know and doesn’t particularly care (this, she suspects, is what happens if you have a second kid– it changes from, “what does the research say” to “the hell with it, mommy needs a break”).  (She does vaguely think the APA is still recommending little screen-time for babies, but they don’t even know anything about introducing food, so how would they know anything about screen time?)  She does point out the interesting work by Jesse Shapiro that finds no negative effects of tv exposure, and perhaps some positive effects for some groups.  She’s willing to go with that because Jesse Shapiro and his coauthor (who she believes just won the Clark medal) on that paper are good economists.   (A related paper on obesity points out that tv seems to be replacing sleep and other passive activities rather than more active activities in time-use studies.  They blame the rise in obesity on food intake, not energy output.)

She also notes that many for many kids, the tv stops being entertaining after a certain amount of time.  It is quite possible that these kids have an internal turn-off switch and can self-regulate.  A good reason to limit screen time if you can — so that you can save it for when you really need it.

Any members of our readership have a better answer?

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.

Books for 3 year olds

CPP asks:

Can you two suggest some good books for two-three year-olds? Want to buy some for our twin nieces. And if you have a blogge post on this topic, link would be great!

Three is a fun age– three year olds understand things and they can talk and they have great senses of humor.  That means you can break away from books that are just animal sounds and opposites etc. and into things that parents enjoy as well.

Probably our favorite author for this age is Mo Willems.  We especially like Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and all the others in the Pigeon series!Knuffle Bunny, while not as much fun for the parents to read, is also enjoyed by the children.

Sandra Boynton is more popular at this age, and is always popular among parents.  Blue Hat, Green Hat is always good for a laugh.  And there’s cute little boxed sets you can get of her stuff.

If You Give the Mouse a Cookie– quite popular among the pre-school set, a bit less fun for the parents.  There’s a big series of these as well.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama is a fun one.  Again, there are others in the Llama Llama series.  Some of these others seemed a bit out of touch for kids with a working mom, but whatever.

As we mentioned in our email to you, 3-4 year olds tend to be dinosaur mad.  You can get any book about dinosaurs, fiction or non- and it will be devoured.  How do dinosaurs do X? is a cute series– even though it’s not really about dinosaurs (real dinosaurs presumably didn’t clean their rooms), it does have drawings and the names of real dinosaurs in it.  Some kids are really into Thomas the Train Engine or Dora the Explorer or construction trucks at this age, but that would be something to ask your relatives about as some kids never really get hooked by these.

And, of course, there is always Dr. Seuss.

If you dislike your relatives (the parents, not the children), you can go a bit more grim.  DC1 loved the Gruffalo, but it creeps me out.  Laura Vanderkam’s kid thinks that I Want My Hat Back is great, but my DC2 certainly does not need permission to use violence against people who take hir stuff (as that is already hir natural inclination).

Beginning readers may enjoy Step Into Reading Step 1 books.  Hot Dog was a favorite of DC1.    Cat Traps was another.  There are a whole bunch of these.

If the kids are wunderkinds, 3 is a good time to start The Magic Treehouse.  But this series is of chapter books, and most kids aren’t reading, much less reading third grade level.  We do have a post on what books a three year old who is reading chapter books would enjoy, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for.  The Magic School Bus is another fun series for the more advanced reader.

You may be thinking of chapter books that parents can read to their children at this age.  The Wizard of Oz is a good one.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle another good one.  Frog and Toad is another good one (who doesn’t love Arnold Lobel?)

What recommendations do you have for CPP?

Strong women make things happen

My aunts are amazing and strong women.  They are at or near the top of their respective fields– one of them runs a hospital system, the other is a high-level bureaucrat.  They both drop names of politicians that the rest of us just read about.

They’re not necessarily universally liked.  They, like most of the women in my family, have very strong personalities (and well-deserved egos almost commensurate with their abilities).  They tend to be right about things.  They tend to make decisions and to boss people around.  They don’t mince words, and they don’t worry about how other people feel about them.  They worry about results.  I’m sure many people refer to them as bitches behind their backs, even though that characterization would be “leaders” were they born my uncles instead of my aunts.  (My actual uncles are all pretty milquetoast.  Nice guys, except the jerk, but not so much with the ambition.)

It turns out that people like to be told what to do.  It’s hard to make decisions and nobody wants to be held responsible if the wrong decision is made.  A person with a take-charge attitude, some ambition, and enough confidence can go pretty far in life.  Especially if she’s usually right.  (But even if he’s not!)

My partner was wonderful recently at a party.    It was a vegan Canadian Thanksgiving in one of the blue coastal cities.  Full of upper-middle class folk.

There was a little girl there who was bossing around all the other kids.  She was telling them what to do and making up stories and games that they were characters in and telling them what their parts were and so on.  But they didn’t mind.  Most kids seem to like to be told what to do too, contrary to what children’s literature might suggest.

Unfortunately her mom was fretting and fussing and apologizing to anybody who would listen about her little girl’s behavior.  “She always does this,” her mom told DH.

And DH told her that her daughter would grow up to be a strong woman.  And she would change the world for the better.

It’s not always the most likeable people who make changes.  Conformists don’t tend to become leaders– they tend to be the led.

We can push people into quiet, feminine boxes.  We can force them to go against their nature.  We can add doubts and uncertainty.  We can marginalize them and take away any threat of them ever making more than small ripples.  Indoctrinate them into the patriarchy’s whispering campaigns where they reinforce the idea that no woman can do everything, or anything really.  We can break them.

Or we can train them up.  Teach them math and science and medicine and politics and economics and programming and communication and management and everything else under the sun.  Give them the education they need so that they first do no harm, and then can do some good.  Let them know about the problems in the world.  Give them the tools they need to protect themselves, and do our best to change society so they have less to be protected from.  Tell them that the haters are fools, though sometimes fools must be suffered (and ultimately educated, deflected, or manipulated for the greater good).

Let’s stop apologizing for our daughters.  Let’s  encourage them instead.  Let’s help them change the world for the better.

Because strong women make things happen.

The art of learning not to take things seriously: A deliberately controversial post

First a disclaimer:  We are totally AP parents.  If that infant cries, we pick hir up immediately.  We’re also not heartless– if a student’s grandma dies, ze can take time off and turn in assignments late.  And so on.  This post is not about big deals, but about moderating moderate upsets.  End disclaimer.

Sometimes kids get heart-broken over things that really aren’t that big a deal.  Falling down (but not damaging anything).  Dropping a candy (when they have more that haven’t fallen).  Another kid accidentally pushing them (again with no injury).  And so on, with age appropriate examples.

Yeah yeah, some parenting philosophies say you’re supposed to tell kids how they’re feeling.  And some say that you’re supposed to empathize no matter what.  Sometimes we’ve seen this in action and instead of soothing like it’s supposed to, it lengthens the amount of crying and angst.  (Possibly a misapplication of the philosophy.)

We sympathize with disappointment, to the appropriate degree.  Kiss the owie to make it better and go off to play.  (Occasionally a crying jag can be broken if you exaggerate for effect, OH NOOOOO, the world is going to end… that usually gets a giggle.)

It’s important to fix problems (had to take a break from typing this because DC1 got soap in hir eye), but once they’re fixed, they don’t necessarily need the post-game analysis.

Kids pick up on our cues.  If they’re not sure how bad something is, they look to us.  How upset are we?  How upset do we seem to think they should be?  Is this a quick peck and then you run off to play, or is this something that requires lots of sympathy (even if the kid has forgotten which leg got hurt by this point)?

When we make a big deal out of something that isn’t such a big deal, we may be prolonging the angst and the pain that might quickly have been forgotten otherwise.  When we provide too many cushions, we may be denying our children the chance to grow and to find inner-strength.  Bending over backwards as if to keep a delicate flower from being crushed over a small thing may keep that flower from being able to move with the wind.  Our reaction should be appropriate for the upset.

My mom liked to tell me that I was building my character whenever something didn’t go my way.  I remember telling my mom once that my character was buff enough already, thank you.  She said, and I quote, “Oh ho ho ho.  Very funny.”  Ah mom.

But the lesson is a good one.  Yes, we can recover from life’s little setbacks.  We can regulate our emotions.  We don’t always need to be rescued.  We can grow and find our own inner strength, and build that strength.

Spoiler Alert:  I’m currently rereading Foundling by Georgette Heyer, about a little duke who has been coddled much of his life and yearns to break free.  One day he sneaks out, just to see what it’s like.  He spends an uncomfortable time out on his own, but he also grows a lot too.  He comes back with a greater appreciation for the people who love him, but also with his own inner strength.  Life isn’t always about being protected from any potential upset.

So what brings this up?  Mother’s in Medicine had a post discussing whether or not it was ok to keep your kid at daycare if you yourself are on vacation from work.  The original commenter clarified:

This incident stuck with me because the child was very, very upset each morning, much more so than at a regular drop off. The conversation was about making sure you forge a good relationship with your kids while they are little. Perhaps this mother did need a break; however it seemed that perhaps her child needed a bit of vacation then, too.

Assuming that the reason for the kid’s increased upsetness was mom’s being on vacation and not say, staying up too late the night before (because of mom’s vacation) or something completely unrelated like teething, this kind of thing can be a learning experience for the child.

Mom may take a vacation without you.  She may drop you off at daycare and you may imagine that she’ll spend the entire day eating ice cream and going to the zoo without you (more likely she’s going to do boring adult things).  But she’ll pick you up at the end of the day just like always (or maybe daddy will get you like always) and maybe she’ll be relaxed enough that you can do something fun that evening.  It is highly unlikely that a kid is going to be scarred for life by not taking a vacation when he’s supposed to be going to school.  So buck up.  Mom’ll be back and you’ll have plenty of time to have fun again in the future.

And that’s a good thing.

What isn’t good is mom freaking out and feeling guilty.  Because that teaches the kid that this kind of thing is a big deal, which really it isn’t.  Everyone is much happier when we give reactions that are proportionate to events and don’t make a big deal out of nothing.

Ok, Grumpeteers.  Your turn.

Good jobs

Good jobs provide decent wages, decent working conditions, and good benefits.  Bad jobs don’t.  These things tend to be correlated– you don’t get a job that provides great benefits and terrible wages and terrible working conditions.  Minimum wage jobs are generally not great along any dimension.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about minimum wage jobs and income inequality.  What is our responsibility towards the poor?  What is McDonald’s responsibility?  Should taxpayers subsidize low wage jobs so people can live on what they’re making?  Why are people working at low wage jobs for decades and not being promoted to a living wage?  Why is the median age of a fast food worker in the late 20s, and for women in the early 30s?

Some of the problem is structural.  The United States is rapidly becoming polarized.  Income inequality is growing.  It really is true that the middle class is vanishing.  Instead of a good amount of medium-skill middle-income jobs, the country is being divided into low-wage low-skill jobs and high-wage high-skill jobs.

I present for you a fascinating and depressing article on the topic:

The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market
David H. Autor and David Dorn
We offer a unified analysis of the growth of low-skill service occupations between 1980 and 2005 and the concurrent polarization of US employment and wages. We hypothesize that polarization stems from the interaction between consumer preferences, which favor variety over specialization, and the falling cost of automating routine, codifiable job tasks. Applying a spatial equilibrium model, we corroborate four implications of this hypothesis. Local labor markets that specialized in routine tasks differentially adopted information technology, reallocated low-skill labor into service occupations (employment polarization), experienced earnings growth at the tails of the distribution (wage polarization), and received inflows of skilled labor.

We also hear a lot about job creation and how important it is to support small businesses and small entrepreneurs.  But what kinds of jobs are these small businesses creating?

Quality over Quantity: Reexamining the Link between Entrepreneurship and Job Creation

By Adam Seth Litwin and Phillip H. Phan

Although much has been written on the quantity of jobs created by entrepreneurs, scholars have yet to examine the quality of these jobs. In this article, the authors begin to address this important issue by examining nearly 5,000 businesses that began operations in 2004. They investigate the extent to which nascent employers provide what many think of as quality jobs—those offering health care coverage and a retirement plan. The authors find that because of small scale, constrained resources, and protection from institutional pressures, start-up companies do not provide their employees with either of these proxies for job quality, and their likelihood of offering health or retirement benefits increases only marginally over their first six years of operation. The finding that entrepreneurs’ impressive record of job creation is not matched by a similarly impressive outcome with respect to job quality challenges policymakers to ensure that entrepreneurs are encouraged to create quality employment opportunities in the course of creating new businesses.

On the whole, not very good ones.

But it isn’t the invisible hand that’s creating this income inequality all by itself.  The government can subsidize poor people directly, allowing companies to continue to exploit cheap labor (or it can let those people and their children starve, as Fox News seems to be encouraging–something that will eventually lead to riots in the short term and lower productivity in the long term).  Or the government can change its policies to stop promoting income inequality.  It can go back to many of the big Nixon- and Johnson- era policies that helped promote a growing middle-class.  So that people don’t work at McDonald’s at minimum wage for decades unless that is truly all that they’re capable of doing.

Prepayment discounts

When I started this post a couple years ago, it was going to be talking about how awesome pre-payment discounts were.

I was going to talk about how you get 5-10% off just by paying everything in advance, but the real benefit was that you didn’t have to remember to write a check every month.  An additional benefit (for some people) was that you tended to feel a little poorer when you paid out one lump sum and that helps moderate spending.

Since then, I’ve discovered the main danger of pre-payment.

DC2’s daycare, which DC1 went to for many years, suddenly and without warning disintegrated.  A former worker emptied out the bank account prior to the electric bill or payroll being paid out.  The management handled it terribly, waiting until the lack of funds became dire and unfixable.  All but 3 daycare workers quit.  Mass exodus from the students.

We prepaid $8000 for the year.  We’re out around $4500.  The director swears she’ll get us the money back once the bank refills the account (since they weren’t supposed to let that person take the money out), but it looks exceedingly less likely that that’s going to happen.  It looks more likely that the school is going to declare bankruptcy, and people with unfilled orders come last in the repaying of debts in bankruptcy cases.

Was that worth saving 5%?  No.  We’re wishing we’d just paid monthly.  But in May when we signed up, everything still looked fine.  The school has been around for a couple of decades.  We had no reason to believe that something like this could happen, and could happen so suddenly and without warning.  We thought that if we left the school it would be because we didn’t like a teacher or something (unlikely, because they have great training and we’ve always been able to work with the director in the past), and it would at least be our choice.

We’re still prepaying DC1’s private school.  That’s a non-profit and they can fund-raise through donations.  I guess since they survived the last drama, we didn’t learn any lessons there.  Also we sort of think of that prepayment as a donation itself.

So…. bottom line, think really hard about what you would lose if the company went out of business before you take advantage of a pre-payment discount.

Have you ever been burned by pre-paying?

Doing math multiple ways

On gifted forums, sometimes parents complain that the teacher says the kids have to do something X way, but DC gets the right answer doing it a different way.  So why should they have to do it X way when Y way is obviously working?

It’s kind of reminiscent of the argument that elementary schools no longer need to teach math because we have calculators now.

I disagree with that sentiment.  It’s important to do math multiple different ways.  There’s value in learning a different way to get the same answer.  You get a better understanding of how numbers (and later, symbols for numbers) are put together.  That leads to more accurate math, better estimates, faster calculations even without a calculator or pencil, and a greater knowledge of the possibilities of what can be done.

Even if we have computers that can do calculus, it’s still important to know how calculus works, because you know what is possible, you have ideas about what to try for things… and that’s even ignoring that math just makes you smarter.

DC1’s school just switched from Saxon math to Chicago math, but we’re doing Singapore math at home.  I’m glad ze’s learning the traditional computational methods at school (and we practice them in hir Brainquest workbook during summer and on the weekends), but I love love love that Singapore math looks at the same things in a different way.  For example, we just hit multiplication of 2 or 3 digits by a 1 digit number.  The traditional method ze’ll learn in school (and practice in brainquest) is to start with problems that don’t require any carrying.  Probably lots of x2 and x3 simple problems (23 x 2 = ?, 12 x 3 = ?), in order to cement the idea of multiplying the ones digit and then the 10s digit (and then the 100s digit another day).  Eventually they’ll introduce the concept of carrying (23 x 4 = ?).  (Then next year, the mechanics of double digit multiplication.)

The Singapore method, instead starts with some pictures.  It says, you remember when you learned multiplication how that was like having 3 rows of 4 balls?  And 3 * 4 = 12?  Well, what if, instead of each ball being worth one, that each ball is worth 10.  So you have 3 rows of 4 (10) balls.  (In pictures this is more obvious than in words.)  They’ve done the 10 ball representation previously with place value and with skip counting and x10s, so they’ve seen this idea before multiple times.  So 3 * 40 = 12 tens, and they know that 12 tens = 120.  Then they move on to 3 * 400 with the same pictorial representation.  Finally they finish up with 6 sample problems:  5*9, 5*90, 5*900, 9*5, 9*50, 9*500.  These last problems are set up in a way such that there’s pattern matching insights there for students who are good at getting insights from pattern matching, but it isn’t forced on kids who aren’t.  (At this point DC1 asked if 50*90 = 9*500 and 5*900.)  The next day moves on to 2 and 3 digit times 1 digit without carrying, but teaches it using these insights with the distributive property (13* 2 = 10*2 + 3*2), and this is not the first time they’ve seen the distributive property either– they’ve worked a lot with it with addition.  By the time Singapore math kids get to algebra a lot of tricky algebra concepts should seem pretty obvious.

I believe there’s value to being able to do math with both of these techniques.  They each provide different insights to how numbers are put together.  They each have different numerical problems for which they are the faster and easier method of solution.  In addition, the standard US method tends to be easiest when one has a pencil handy, whereas Singapore math is often best for mental math.  It isn’t that one technique is better than the other (though I confess that Singapore is more beautiful and I can see the sneaky ways it’s introducing higher level math while working with simple numeric problems, something beautiful in itself).

Being able to use multiple methods is even more valuable, however, than the sum of being able to use two individual methods.  Because of the insight given by seeing two different ways to solve the same problem, I would argue that the value of learning a second method isn’t even multiplicative, but instead exponential (or maybe factorial…)  Each new way provides a deeper insight into the magnificent world of numbers.

And, with that pattern matching turned on… if there are multiple ways to get to the right answer in math, maybe there’s multiple ways to get to a solution in other kinds of problems too.  If everyone had that particular insight, then maybe government policy wouldn’t be quite so messed up (a long shot, perhaps).

Do you think there’s a benefit to learning different ways to get the same answer?

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