Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?

Melva asks:

For Halloween candy, do you let your kids eat as much as they want or do you put limits on how much they can eat at a time?

My colleagues and I were just discussing this before a meeting earlier this week.  The answers ranged from one person only allowing hir kids to have one piece a day and a couple of us (including me) without any rules on how much can be consumed Halloween night.

The conversation included whether it was better to have a little sugar every day for most of the year or to have a couple/few heavy sugary days and then have entirely candy-free days (we’re social scientists, not nutritionists, so this was solely speculative).  Candy quality over time was also discussed.  But the main argument seemed to be that if you let kids eat as much candy as they want, they’ll get sick.

To which I replied, quite truthfully, “Oh, that only happens once.”

Which I guess illustrates how DH and I are very much natural consequences parents.  It’s not like we didn’t tell them that too much candy will give them a tummy ache, but sometimes one doesn’t know what too much is until one has experienced it.  (My learning experience was Easter, First Grade, in case you’re wondering.)

We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have, so the only way they get candy is via Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and what they spend their own money on (also the occasional school/party treat and the weekly dumdum from the piano teacher).  They almost never spend their own money on candy (though that’s where all my money went when I was growing up).  So unless they decide to ration out holiday candy themselves, most days will be candy-free.

There are rules on *when* candy can be consumed in my house, but not how much. They can generally only eat it after meals, mostly after dinner.  That’s because they’re still growing and allowing natural consequences doesn’t extend to missing important vitamins that could contribute to their growth because they’re overfull on sugar.

Is this the right thing to do?  Who knows.  It’s the lazy thing to do, which basically means it’s what works for us.  (We also let our kids nap whenever they were sleepy, while the one piece a day colleague had rigid nap schedules– I don’t think it actually matters.)  Last night our kids only ate a few pieces right after they got back, then noted they were full and put their remaining candy back in their bags.  I would like to say they then moved their bags to the kitchen pantry to their candy shelf, but in truth they left them on the dining room floor.  (Because all their bad habits come from me and I leave my bag on the floor whenever I’m not using it.)

Did you have rules growing up about how much Halloween candy you could eat at a time?  If applicable, do you have rules for your kids?

Simple meals for kids to cook

We feel like it is important for our kids to be able to cook a few meals on their own before they leave our house for good.  Ideally they will also know how to follow a cookbook, but being able to do a few simple meals from scratch (or with a box) without needing access to the internet or an actual cookbook is a helpful skill that should be useful in all sorts of situations.

What are some of these meals they can and should be able to do?

Our kids can both do:
1. scrambled eggs
2. quesadillas/tacos
3. grilled cheese
4. macaroni and cheese from a box with tuna and peas
5. cold cereal
6. salad

I really ought to teach them how to do spaghetti with meat sauce and onions sometime soon.  If either of them liked chili, that would also be on my list.

My memorized repertoire when I left home also included (along with all of the above): fry-ups, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, salad dressing baked chicken, and leek and potato soup.  I could also do random things with lipton onions soup packets and cans of various campbells soups.  I haven’t made most of these in years either because they’re not healthy with my PCOS or because the children aren’t crazy about them.

DC1 has been preferring to make desserts from cookbooks.  Along with that, most kids seem to like making cookies.  Although I have some desserts memorized (ex. dump cake), I don’t really have any worth making memorized, so we use recipes.

What simple meals did you make as a kid?  What do your kids make, if applicable?  What other meals do you recommend kids learn how to do before they leave home?

 

Ask the grumpies: Can kids have too many books? (Spoiler: so long as they’re not in danger of being crushed, no)

Leah asks:

How many kids’ books are too many?

Does not compute.

Ask the grumpies: Do you read the books your kids read?

Leah asks:

Do you read the books your kids are reading? At what age seems good to stop doing so? It feels weird to me (since I have little kids) to imagine a day when they’re reading books that I haven’t read.

… Are the books in question interesting?  If so, yes.  If not, no.  I don’t think we’ve ever screened books for our kids other than to warn DC1/2 that the third Harry Potter might be too scary and the fourth one definitely is.  (DC2 turned out to be fine with Harry Potter #3, unlike DC1.  DC2 was also able to watch Star Wars at a much younger age without freaking out about it.)

I guess this goes back to our lazy parenting philosophy!

Ask the grumpies: anything you wish you’d done before marriage and/or kids?

yet another pf blog asks:

Is there anything you wish you had done before you were married? How about before you had kids?

#1:  One of us doesn’t have kids so the point is moot over here. (#2, got anything?) What would I have done differently before I got married? I can’t think of anything. Being with my partner has made the rest of my life easier and more fun.

#2:  Hm, I got married young.  I can’t really imagine single life before marriage.  I mean, I did date some losers in college, mainly because I didn’t know how to say no and a small amount because of the novelty of guys thinking I was amazing.  Those are not good reasons, so it was a huge relief in grad school to be able to stick my hand up and point to the ring when loser guys hit on me.  So definitely not dating other guys (or other people, more generally– I used to think I was DH-sexual, but now I’m fairly sure I’m… what was that word I discovered on captain awkward?  I can’t remember but it’s the one where you have to really get invested in a person before you find them physically attractive, so it seems like asexuality, but it really isn’t.  That’s what I am.  Except younger Pierce Brosnan– he’s still hot, but who knows, maybe I just liked Remmington Steele.).  Everything else I can do while married, I think.

Before kids we didn’t have money.  Now we have money.  Perhaps I wish we had money before kids?  Though getting money at the same time as kids was pretty useful and caused our standard of living to go up instead of down, so maybe not that.  Yeah, I got nuthin’.  I’m not big into regret… maybe it’s time spent in LA with the constant message that everything happens for a reason.  Or maybe it’s just the sunk cost moving forward training in economics.  I guess I wish I’d published more!  But I wish I’d published more after kids too… it’s sort of a never-ending thing with an academic career.

Grumpy nation, is there any day seizing you wish you’d done in the past?

Ask the grumpies: How to teach a kid to code?

Sandy L asks:

How to teach a kid to code when you don’t know how? (And I don’t live in a big city and I also don’t want to spend $1000 on coding camp. There has got to be a better way.)

We don’t know the answer to this question.  Here’s what we had tried on this subject back in 2015.  DC2 did really enjoy the Python for Kids book and enjoyed modifying the programs in the book, but hasn’t really come up with any programs of hir own.  We did not try Teach your kids to code.

Last summer DC1 did a week long video game design daycamp.  That used a program called Unity.  Zie fiddled around on it for about a month after the camp and then accidentally deleted or broke hir game in a way that locked it and lost interest.  Next year there’s a middle-school class that *might* teach programming but it also might not.  If it’s taught by the same teacher as the gifted-only version of the class we’re definitely not interested [update:  because DC1 is gifted, zie is only allowed to take the gifted-only version].  But there will be programming classes once zie gets to high school which is pretty exciting.  (We don’t live in a big city either, but having the university here adds a lot.)

DC1 and DC2 have both done Hour of Code in school and have links to practicing outside of school.  There’s also Khan Academy.

I dunno, does your local community college offer an intro programming class?  If so, it will probably be in Java or Python.

Any better suggestions for Sandy L?

Ask the grumpies: Things to help a kid get into the college of hir choice

Sandy L. asks

If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?

We truly don’t know.  Take everything we say with a HUGE grain of salt.  I mean, we know people who got into Stanford but not Harvard and vice versa.  It really seems to be a crapshoot at a certain level, even if you’re your state’s math champion and have straight As, etc.  I don’t actually think it’s that hard to get into MIT if your grades and testscores are good and you have a true love of math and science compared to getting into Harvard (at least, I know a lot of people who got into MIT as undergrads who didn’t get into any ivies to which they applied).  It’s more difficult than getting into your state’s flagship, but there’s a lot less competition for those slots.  So I wouldn’t think that the science camps would be necessary.  Whether or not they help, I don’t know.

Back when it was called the Westinghouse science award, it helped to have won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

It helps to have top scores and grades at a known-name school and to have come from nothing.  If you’re first gen, low income, and have fought your way to the top, that makes it easier for colleges to decide.  Particularly if you’re a scholarship kid at Eaton or at one of the state public boarding schools for GT kids.

One of my colleagues’ kids got in to our (state flagship) school (for engineering/CS) late admissions despite being low on grades and testscores because he did an after school club with a professor in the computer science department and did a very good job at said club, and the professor was able to pull strings.  I don’t know how universal that is– certainly I have never had any contact with undergraduate admissions– but some professors at some schools might have some pull.

If Caltech has the same application it had 15 years ago, you’re more likely to get in if you take it seriously.  Fill out that page that says, “put something interesting here” with something interesting!  I filled the entire thing in very tiny writing with math jokes.  My ex-boyfriend drew a comic showing the path of his life complete with adorable stick figures interacting with the line representing the timeline of his life.  I forget what my sister put in there but I’m sure it was interesting and entertaining.  We all got in.

On the application, if there’s a place for it, have an interesting story to tell that illustrates your interests and your academic path.  One of my college ex-boyfriends got in everywhere (he picked our SLAC over Stanford) partly because his admissions essay was a delightful story about how he built a trebuchet.  My sister got in everywhere she applied (including ivies) probably partly because she talked about how physics informed her dancing.  It probably also helps to be focused and to pretend you know what you’re going to do with your life and why and you have a path mapped out to get there.  Extra points if you are unusual– a young woman in an award winning Poms squad and an all-girls math team who has taken as much math and hard science as she can who really wants to design more energy efficient engines.  (Again, that was my sister.)

Many schools will make their final waitlist/admit decisions for people on that margin based on who has visited the campus/had an alumni interview.  I think this is unfair to low income kids who CAN’T just hop on a plane or spend two weeks in the summer driving up and down the East Coast from the Midwest, but it’s policy at many schools.

Applying early action, particularly the kind where you swear to go if you get in helps, though it decreases your financial aid offer many places.

Playing (and being really good at) the right instrument/sport can help.  But it is hard to predict what the school of your choice will need the year you’re applying.  (And this probably doesn’t matter at MIT, but I don’t actually know.)

Not needing financial aid can help at some schools.  I don’t know if MIT is one of them, but MIT is notoriously stingy when it comes to financial aid.  (Harvard is exceedingly generous!)

Being a member of an Olympic team or the child of a celebrity or owning your own profitable business or app or nonprofit that you started as a teen can make you more attractive.   So can having published a scholarly paper in an academic journal.  Or having a patent.  Or a parent who gives a multi-million dollar donation.

Passing the AMC 10 or 12 and doing well on the AIME can help.  Taking college classes and doing well in them doesn’t hurt (though as this becomes more common, it may no longer be as strong a signal as it once was).

We’re told that leadership experience, state and national awards, and volunteering can help, but I’m skeptical.  I don’t know if these are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient.  There’s just too many people each year who have these things.

Some people swear by college coaches.  I don’t know how to find a good one or what kind of value they add to someone who is already doing well.

I don’t know what we’re going to encourage our kids to do.  This is more timely for DC1 who starts high school in a year and a half.  Zie is really into math, but not competitions.  Zie like robotics, but not competitions.  Zie loves computers and games and likes programming but needs more formal training in programming.  Zie loves music but although better than I was at that age, is not at competition level either in piano or violin (the piano teacher is pretty lax and zie just started violin a year ago), and again, is not crazy about competition.  We might be able to get hir an unpaid summer internship with a professor at my school, or zie can do more work for me, possibly even something publishable.  Zie could take summer classes at the community college or the university (I still haven’t figured out how to do summer student-at-large classes, though it’s pretty easy for high school students to take college classes during the school year).  It is hard to say what’s best.  Most likely we’ll just let hir interests guide hir and focus on learning rather than on getting into a specific school.  Because for high income kids of educated parents, the specific school isn’t that important for earnings.

Anybody know more about what undergraduate admissions offices are looking for?

Ask the grumpies: Math for ages 0-5 for kids who love math

Leah asks:

How did DC2 learn so much math? And when did you start? We’ve started discussing addition using finger counting or counting treats, but I’m not sure my little gal is picking it up yet. I sometimes wonder if I should be doing something more formal (or trying more) or if it’s fine to just chill. I do fractions and percentages when we cut nails (1 nail done, that’s one out of ten, or 1/10th, or 10%, etc).

So, this is based on a comment from a post about how my DC2 is age 5 in kindergarten and is doing multiple digit addition and subtraction with carrying and borrowing as well as some simple multiplication (no times tables memorization yet).

First off– I can’t take much credit for the multiplication.  DC2’s Montessori taught all the “big” kids multiplication.  This is pretty standard in a lot of Montessoris and I think it is part of the curriculum, though I do not actually know how it is taught.

Here’s some suggestions from people in the comments:

Becca says:

If you don’t know about Bedtime Math yet, get the app or the books :-)

A big part of very early math is pattern recognition. Grouping items according to different criteria, making designs with blocks or beads are good things to do.
The vocabulary of positions (over/under) and sizes (bigger/littler) and so on can also be good to get down early.
Other stuff, from a pretty evidenced-based group: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/299-help-your-child-develop-early-math-skills

I’m also a firm believer in counting during swing pushing at the park. It gave me something to do, and gave Roo exposure to numbers bigger than 100 (ok, so we may have both had an inordinate patience for swinging).

I have to admit that we own the first Bedtime Math book (on Laura Vanderkam’s recommendation, along with Family Math, if I recall correctly), but we haven’t really used it.  DC1 already owned Aha! and Gotcha! (and had kind of outgrown Math for Smarty Pants), so we briefly looked through it but really had outgrown it.  I haven’t dug it out of DC1’s bookcase to try with DC2.  Maybe I should.

We have two different sets of brightly colored manipulables that I will dig out to play math with the kids with.  One set is a set of pixel-blocks that DC1 loved to play with.  Zie has always been into small things (and not into putting things into hir mouth), so pixel blocks work well for that (not safe for many small children!).  DC2 prefers a set of bigger circular pieces that DH initially bought to use as game pieces for game design (I can’t easily find them on amazon, but there are a lot of reasonably priced options if you search for manipulatives).  We also have lots of fun toddler sorting games because apparently I never grew out of them.  (I may be messy and disorganized in most of my life, but I find sorting to be extremely soothing.  This is part of why my bookcases and spice cabinet are beautifully alphabetized.)  Back when we had access to swing sets (our town has removed them all for “safety”/lawsuit reasons), we definitely counted pushes.  Once my kids were able to talk, I would ask, “How many pushes do you want this time?” and then I’d count out that many pushes and ask again.

omgd says:

I started trying to introduce fractions by talking about sharing. As in, “There are 6 apples and your friend takes half. How many do you have left?” She doesn’t really get thirds or quarters yet, but I think it’s because of the vocabulary.

I have to admit, I haven’t really thought about teaching fractions other than what DC2 is getting in hir brainquest book.  They will become more prevalent in the Singapore book a book or three from where DC1 is right now [Update:  the day after I typed this, DC2 had to color in halves and quarters in hir Singapore Math 1b book, but only for a couple of pages].

Ok, now back to me:

When my kids are bouncing off the walls someplace that they shouldn’t be bouncing off the walls, we practice counting.  When counting is too easy, we practice skip counting.  When skip counting becomes too easy, we will practice multiplication.  Then division.  I use this technique with my brilliant but overly energetic nieces and nephews who are too excited at being with extended family to be controlled by their parents.  (Back when I flew Southwest, I would keep the small children I invariably ended up sitting next to given my need for a window seat occupied by figuring out what their math level was and teaching them the next thing.  There are kids who learned long division from me because I wanted them to stay still!)

I LOVE Singapore math SO much.  It’s really great because it sneakily builds up to future concepts.  Examples are chosen specifically to help the subconscious pattern-match to figure out new things that won’t be introduced for chapters.  It is lovely.  Plus they teach a lot of really great mental math techniques that those of us who are really comfortable with use automatically (things like realizing that 10-1 = 9, so sometimes it’s easier to mentally add 10 and subtract 1 than it is to add 9 directly).  I am extremely impressed at how much facility DC2 has with numbers right now. Here’s me talking more about the workbooks the kids do.

DC2 had learned the borrowing and carrying from Brainquest (and me)– we spent about a month slowly cranking through double and triple digit addition and subtraction.  There are a lot of problems on a page and I would have hir just do 3 a day once we got to carrying and borrowing.   But zie wasn’t really facile with it until we got Dragonbox Big Numbers which is an enormously fun and addicting game (I finished it, but I still sort of wish I could be picking apples now.  It is a really great game.)  DC2 sped through it (as did DC1 and I– I finished first, then DC2, then finally DC1 sometime after that English project finished [for those who are curious, it wasn’t interpretive dance next… they’re doing another powerpoint (or, she suggests, PREZI UGH) use MOTION!… and a bunch of other suggestions that are super bad powerpoint etiquette].)   By the end of Big Numbers, DC2 was a multiple digit addition and subtraction wizard.

DC2 is mostly through DragonBox Numbers right now and is really good at it, but it’s not really as much fun as Big Numbers was, and it’s got some bugs which are irritating.

And, as I said earlier, I do break out the manipulables a lot.  Sometimes we use them to illustrate a particularly tricky workbook problem, but sometimes we just have fun doing number patterns.  We’ll also do patterns with fingers.  I really like playing games with these and making 10s.  So you start associating 3 and 7, 4 and 6, and so on.  We can also do grids of squares and rectangles with the manipulables to get used to multiplication (which I did more with DC1 than with DC2 because DC2 came home from preschool one day completely understanding multiplication).  There are a lot of fun ways to mix and match numbers and different colors to get an understanding of the patterns (and the beauty) of mathematics.

We also give the kids an allowance at a pretty early age, at first so they can get familiar with money and learn the denominations of coins and dollars.  (After the sticking random things in mouths stage though!)

Later on, I will introduce Hard Math for Elementary Students, but DC2 isn’t ready for that yet.  DC1 is really enjoying Hard Math for Middle School right now, as well as Saturday Math Circle, and zie just started doing every other week competition-based Math Club once a week after school, though zie is skipping the competitions this year/semester.  (Mainly because the first qualifying one is at the same time as a birthday party!  But also partly because zie does math for fun, not to compete.)

Later on, DC2 will also get introduced to Martin Gardner and Aha!  and Gotcha!  But not yet.

Should you be doing more or is it fine to chill?  I’m sure it is fine to chill.  But I can’t not teach math anymore than I can not drink water or keep from breathing.  It’s my nature.  It’s what I do.  And I gotta say that counting/practicing tables is the best for getting kids to behave while waiting for food at a restaurant, though occasionally it does get you dirty looks from other people who think you’re somehow harming your precious child or doing this to show off and don’t realize how much the alternative would interfere with their dining experience.  (Pro-tip:  It is often more fun when you trade off saying the next number, especially when sometimes you get it right away and sometimes you pause dramatically to think for a bit.  This also helps them to notice that skip counting by 2 is literally skipping every other one, and that skip counting by 10 is the same as every other 5.  It’s pretty amazing when they make that Aha! on their own.)

Oh man, I love math so much.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your math teaching tips?

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Ask the grumpies: if I want to give my kids a huge amount of money as young adults, how should I do it?

Sandy L asks

Should I buy my kid a house or pay for tuition?

Student loans can be deferred etc. if the kid is paying their own way they may be more serious etc.

Tuition. The pay your own way thing is BS. Here’s our deliberately controversial post on that topic. You can compromise by having them pay their own extras (clothing, meals out, etc). Then they’ll have the same experience of learning how to budget and not living high on the hog but without the huge amounts of debt at the end.  Also, note that if you’re paying tuition directly, it isn’t subject to the gift tax.  “Under current IRS rules, a payment made directly to an educational institution to pay for the tuition of a student does not count as a gift to the student for gift tax purposes, ” according to fastweb.

Buying a child a house could lock the kid in place and create additional expenses.  A house is a lot of responsibility when you’re just starting out, and trying to deal with selling and repairs on top of job searching and dating and hobbies and anything else that young people do might be more hassle than help.  (And if the kid decides to sell the house in order to pay off hir education, basically you’ve just given realtors a bunch of transaction fees and paid gift taxes for nothing.)  If you’re only talking about providing a downpayment, that’s even worse because a mortgage is a big fixed expense and the kid might not be able to sell very easily if the house goes underwater and they get a job elsewhere.

What do you think Grumpy Nation?  Any experiences with either?

Ask the grumpies: kids learning stuff

Sandy L asks:

I still sometimes feel guilt that I haven’t forced my kids to learn an instrument or even the 2nd language I speak with my mommy. They know some but are not fluent. What are your feelings on that? Do you force your kids to do things they hate?

The Official Grumpy Rumblings Parenting Philosophy ™ is that people are going to want you to feel guilty whether you do or don’t have your kids do activity X (or indeed, any activities at all), so do what you feel is best, which may be whatever is easiest for you.

Do we force our kids to do things they hate?  Sometimes!  I suspect DC1 would never ever ever bathe or take a shower if we didn’t make hir.  Certainly not as frequently as every other day.  And there’s things we’ve made them do the initial not fun parts and they end up liking them more later after they’ve gotten better, like cooking for DC1 or the tough parts of Train Your Monster to Read for DC2.

What about the rest of you, Grumpy Nation?  What are your thoughts?