Monday, January 28, 2013

Keeping Your Kids Safe Without Smothering Their Development

It was just yesterday.  I was in the grocery store with Katelynn and Kaleb.  We were at the check out counter and the kids were standing just next to me.  The cashier handed me the credit card slip to sign and my frequent shopper card.  I signed the slip and put the card back in my purse, then turned to check on the kids.  To my horror, Kaleb was gone.  I whirled around scanning the area. There was Katelynn but no sign of Kaleb. I called out his name, fear rising in my voice.  No answer.  Other shoppers looked at me with concern.  Then I remembered seeing both the children checking out cookbooks around the corner from the cashier. And sure enough, just around the corner was Kaleb, checking out the books, entirely oblivious to the fright he had just caused his mother. I grabbed his arm and pulled him away, scolding him about not wandering off, relief calming my fearful adrenaline rush.

I remember another similar situation when Katelynn was three.  She thought it would be fun to play hide-and-go-seek with her mom at the department store.  She slipped away while I was looking at a bin of children's swim suits.  Of course she did not answer my calls, thinking that this was a fun game to play.  Eventually I found her 10 feet away in the dressing room.  Of course we had a serious mother to daughter chat about safety after that.

Do these instances sound familiar? What parent has not had a scare like this, especially if you have more than one child.  In the wake of the terrible tragedy of six year old William Yau's disappearance and death, we are all acutely aware there are dangers that lurk for our children.  Parents are being admonished never to take their eyes off their children and never to leave their children alone unattended. Some articles like this one from the Star entitled "Beware of Lurking Predators"  would have us become paranoid parents, putting our child on a leash to keep them safe.

I'm going to be a contrarian voice here.  Something needs to be said about freedom for children.  There must be a balance between fear, safety and independence. If we go further down this path of vigilance, I believe we will have kept them safe from danger, but we will have damaged our children in another way.  We will have retarded their ability to assess situations, their ability to think through decisions, their ability to solve problems, and their ability to trust their own judgement, and quite possibly their self-esteem.  Here are some disturbing trends from other societies where vigilance has probably gone too far:
  • Depression and anxiety - over protected children grow up feeling that the world is a scary place and that they are not capable people.  Psychologists report a rise in children with these problems that point to over-parenting as one of the factors.
  • Taking bigger risks to feel grown-up - kids that aren't allowed to take smaller risks at younger ages attempt bigger risks as teenagers with their bodies, with drugs and with alcohol. Social workers and psychologists report this trend from interviews with such youths.
  • Low self esteem - Not allowing a child to do things independently sends a signal that they aren't capable.
  • An inability to launch- More and more children don't leave the home after 18, unsure of what they want to do with their lives.  Perhaps they doubt their ability to live life on their own.
  • A Dangerous Naivety - Children who are never allowed to do things on their own lack important knowledge to navigate more complex situations later on in life, making them more vulnerable to danger and predators.

So far all the responsibility of keeping a child safe seems to be pointed at the parent.  As if only the parent is able to keep a child safe.  I disagree. Each child must be part of the process.  Each child must learn how to keep themselves safe. If we don't involve our children in this process, that is when the damage I mentioned above will happen.

One Size Does Not Fit All
One of the things we often engage in when a child is hurt or goes missing is blaming the parents.  However, we don't know the cognitive level of the child, his or her personality or experience. We don't know the details of the situation.  We need to come to the understanding that there is no one size-fits-all for when it's appropriate to give more responsibility or freedom to your child. A parent needs to think about the following:
  • The child's cognitive ability-  How much is your child able to understand and how well are they able to articulate themselves, make decisions or assess a situation?  Some of us have children who are ready at 6 or 7 to use the stove, for example.  Other children lack the ability to understand how to use the stove safely. So, we don't allow them to do such things unsupervised.  
  •  Experience - Has your child any experience with the "risky" situation?  Experience does help a child to learn what not to do and what they should do.  For example, if your child has never been around horses, it makes sense that you would want to be there supervising them until they have gained enough experience.
  • Self-Control - How well is your child able to delay gratification?  How well are they able to resist temptations?  How well can he or she follow instructions?
It's a Gradual Process
At some point we have to let go. We have to let our children play on their own, cook, solve disputes with others, etc.  But of course it's not done all at once.  We can start by allowing them to observe us in a variety of situations.  Don't shoo them out of the kitchen or exclude them from other adult activities.  Let them observe you and talk to them about what you're doing and why you're doing it.

I'll give an example.  I have recently allowed Katelynn to put away the dishes from the dishwasher.  Now, the first thought that would go through your head is that she might drop a dish and cut herself, or she might injure herself with a knife.  I could just do it myself because I think it's too risky, but instead what I did was have her watch me put away the dishes.  As I went, I talked about how to handle breakable objects and sharp objects like knives.  Next, I watched her put the dishes away a few times, giving pointers about unsafe practices or behaviors.  Now I don't need to watch.  She knows how to do it herself and now she can earn an allowance doing it.  She has learned that she is able to do something on her own and that I trust her to do it. 

Yes, it will take time effort and patience when children make mistakes, but if you keep showing them and allowing them to try with your supervision, eventually, they can do things on their own.  In the process they have learned more about safety, more about how to make decisions and to anticipate danger and take action to avoid it.  Practice is what our children are sorely lacking and lack of it is what makes them vulnerable or easy targets.

Talk about Safety with Your Children
 Talk about strangers (And the fact that they can talk to strangers, especially when they are trying to get away from someone creepy!), about good touch and bad touch and what to do if they become separated.

Take a first-aid course. Saint John's Ambulance offers them.  Katelynn and I are taking one soon. I figure I need a refresher course too.  Help your child memorize their address, and your mobile number.  Role play so that they get some practice handling these situations.  For more excellent ideas on safety tips to discuss with your children check out this article, "Balancing Fear and Freedom in Raising Safe Kids:

Another article "Predator Proof Your Kids" has suggestions on how to talk to your children about how to keep their body safe from unwanted physical attention:

This part of the Free Range Kids website (the heading entitled: "You are raising your kid in New York City. Is it harder to be a free range parent in the city?") had some pretty good tips about some of the things we parents fear most.   Just scroll down a little to find that section. Many other sections are very good.

I might also add that we need to get out more and get to know our community.  Do you know your neighbors? What are their names?  Do they know your name?  The name of your child? How often do you talk to them?  Have you tried shopping in any of the shops nearby? In fact it's nicer to shop in the smaller stores because the same people are there day after day and I bet those abductors that were mentioned in the Star article "Beware of Lurking Predators" are less likely to be in a place where they would be easily recognized as a stranger, not to mention any strange behavior on their part.

We've experienced the benefits of being regular customers in smaller shops near our home. It was not so long ago that the aunty in the flower stall next to the photocopy shop I frequent allowed my kids to sit and watch some T.V. while I ran to my car to get something I had forgotten. She even fed them a snack and gave them a flower.  Getting to know the people in our community means that you've got more eyes to see and more people to help.  

Teach Your Child to Think for Themselves
Spend time helping your child learn thinking skills and give them opportunities to practice them.  There are many situations where children need to assess a situation, make a decision or come up with a creative solution quickly to stay safe when you are not around.

 I just read in the paper yesterday about a family whose teenage son went missing.  Eventually it was discovered that he had lied to his parents.  Instead of going to play football in the nearby field with his friends, they all went swimming.  Unfortunately, they picked a bad spot and the young man was swept away by a strong current and drowned.  His traumatized friends told the parents that he never showed up to play football.  It was only later when his body was found that they owned up to what had really happened.  Maybe if this young man had taken the time to assess the situation and think about whether it was really safe or not, he might had turned down his friends' suggestion.

Teach decision making skills, cause and effect, problem solving and planning.  When there is an opportunity for decision making, problem solving and planning, involve your kids so they get some practice flexing those muscles. Newspapers also have many stories where you can apply these skills to the situations reported.  Discuss how these skills can be used in those situations, and of course, use them in situations your family is involved in.  Talk about what happened afterwards and whether you would do anything differently.

Are these strategies fool proof?  No! Bad things sometimes happen no matter how careful we are, but it doesn't mean we lock up our children away from the real world. If we've worked with our kids in these areas, I believe we don't have to live in constant dread of your children being hurt or snatched away.  We can then allow them more freedoms, and we don't have to always be hovering. At the same time, we've done what parents need to do - equip our children to one day get along without us.

More Related Readings:

Another excellent article about balancing safety with risk: "Over Protected Kids: How to Let Kids Take Risks"

 Free Range Kids Website:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Word Up! How Word Problems Can Boost Critical and Creative Thinking

I  recently had a dinner to celebrate my niece's seventh birthday.  My brother and sister-in-law had recently moved to Singapore, so I asked how schooling was going for Ariel.  I was relieved to know that she was adapting well and surprised to know that despite the many field trips that have interrupted our formal homeschooling sessions at home, Katelynn was at or above what was being taught in Singapore.  (O.K., I admit that we are dismally behind on our BM, and somewhat behind in Chinese but that's another story which doesn't apply to Singapore.)

But what really caught my attention in our conversation about what Ariel was learning in Singapore was the use of story problems for math.  Apparently her new school in Singapore uses these problems frequently in its math syllabus. The wording of the problems was giving Ariel a bit of trouble, it seems. I could say the same for Katelynn.

I went home thinking about this. I had not really thought very much about the story problems we had done at home.  I did them as an afterthought because they happened to be in the workbook I was using. This new conversation awakened a curiosity in me to find out more about this way of learning math and what I discovered changed our approach to math and might just change yours.

Do the Two-Step
The first thing I discovered was that one-step word problems really don't help teach children how to apply what they learn in math.  They are too easy to figure out without really thinking about them.

Think about it.  Do you remember those story problems you used to get with your math homework?  Often, to solve them, all you had to do was use the same operation you had been doing in the other traditional equations on the same page. They went something like this: Ernest has 6 balloons. He gave his friend Sally 3 balloons.  How many balloons does Ernest now have?  So, you knew that you only had to plug those numbers into a similar arrangement with the same operation to solve them. No thought required.

What helps children apply math better is a multi-step problem where more than one step is needed to solve it.  Something like this: There 18 balls in the gymnasium. In all there are three types of balls: footballs, basketballs and kick balls. 6 balls are footballs and 5 balls are basketballs.  How many balls are kick balls?  Of course this is a very simple example, but you get the idea of what is meant by multi-step here.  You have to add five and six together first then you have to subtract that from eighteen before you can get the answer.

Mix It Up
Even if it wasn't the same operation (maybe your teacher was a little trickier and gave you a mixed selection), because it was a one-step problem, a simple cursory reading would tell you what operation to use.  There really wasn't much thought to it.

So the lesson here is use multi-step problems and use problems with a mix of operations. It can be two or more operations in one problem (like the one above) or two or more operations in a group of problems (some problems on the page require addition, others require subtraction).  It gets learners out of robot mode and requires them to think more about what needs to be done to solve the problem.  Not only that, most real-world problems are not one-step problems. They often involve two or more steps and more than one operation to solve them. So this is good practice of life skills!

(I will stop here for a moment to give a caveat.  You should use one-step problems with your six or seven year old the first few times with word problems.  It helps them get acquainted with this type of problem and what different words like "how many all together, how many more, how much less", etc.. After a few rounds you can start introducing simple two-step problems.)  

Talk About or Write About the Word Problem
I had heard about math journals as a method of getting kids to explain how they solve problems.  I've haven't tried these yet because Katelynn is not very speedy at writing, but with older kids, you could require them to explain their strategies for solving word problems.  (See the link below to learn more about them).  Another way is to get them to explain orally.  Whatever method you use, make sure you don't just include how the problem is solved, but also WHY they solved the problem a particular way.  

The big word for this is metacognition.  It's being aware of how you think and what strategies you should use to learn or accomplish something.  It's a very powerful skill that can help your child become a powerful thinker. That's why it's important to talk about the word problems (or anything else you're learning about), discussing how they were solved and why that method was used.  You can also discuss whether there were any other ways to solve the problem.  Are these ways better?

Create Your Own Problems
Actually what I mean is have your child write their own problems.  Once they've done enough word problems to understand the wording, they can write their own.  I do this with Katelynn. She write problems for me and other family members to solve.  This makes it more fun than just solving something someone else created.  Not only that, when children write their own, their grasp of story problems is much stronger.

Do Word Problems Often
Multi-step word problems help develop logic, abstract thinking and discipline.  Right now, as I do these multi-step problems with Katelynn, I can see that she often just wants to give up.  She'll just shrug her shoulders and say, "I don't know."  But, I persist and get her to break the problem down into smaller steps.  I start by asking her to tell me what she would do first and so on.  So it's important to keep using word problems frequently with your child and building up the complexity and types of operations as you go.

Frequent exposure and practice with these types of problems will train your kids to not give up easily, help them develop metacognitive skills, logic and abstract thinking, as well as problem solving skills.  What's not to like about that? Wish I had started earlier, but I'm definitely going to include them more often in our math sessions from now on!

Some Great Sources for Story Problems

I mentioned math journals.  Here's a Scholastic article on them with tips about how to use them.  It'll change the way you do math.

 Math Playground: Has lots (I mean hundreds) of excellent multi-step word problems for all ages and for many areas of math.

Figure This! This site offers more real-life problems.  Recommended for mid-upper primary.

 Aunty Math's Challenges: Stories with word problems for K-5.

Study Guides and Strategies Math Series: Solving Math Word Problems.  Lots of tips on terms used in word problems and what operations they relate to.  Some word problems with various types of math at the bottom.

PDF document with multi-step problems.

 IXL: Has multi-step word problems under the heading "Mixed Operations" for grades 3 and up. Also has lots of practice for many areas of math. Practice is online.  This link takes you to grade 3, but if you check the menu you can get to the other grades.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aesop's Fables, Molecules and Physics

Today I thought we do some work on comprehension and critical discussion of a reading passage with Katelynn.  I chose an Aesop fable, "The Crow and the Pitcher", from Teaching with Aesop's Fables.  It started out innocently enough.  I had Katelynn read the fable by herself, but what happened next blew me away.

In the fable the crow is unable to get a drink on a hot day from a pitcher, so he adds stones one by one until the water level rises enough for him drink.  We started out talking about the moral, but the discussion quickly moved on to how the crow could get the water to rise.

So it was off to the kitchen to try out what the crow had done.  Katelynn and Kaleb added rocks to the water and sure enough, it rose higher.  But Katelynn was not satisfied.  "How did this happen, Mommy?" she asked.  Suddnely our language arts lesson had turned into a physics lesson.

I explained about the concept of displacement.  I wrote down the word and began drawing  a picture, trying to explain.  But still that wasn't enough. Katelynn looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and rightly so.  All these new vocab words were just like a foreign language.

Then I remembered I had some packing peanuts I had saved.   I got an empty box and poured the peanuts in.  But then I realized I'd have to explain what these peanuts were. They sure didn't look like water.  Uh-oh, now we were venturing into chemistry.  I had to explain what a molecule was and that the peanuts represented molecules of water.  Still not quite enough - more quizzical looks.  Back to the paper again.  I began explaining that water and everything else in the world is made up of tiny, tiny pieces called molecules.  We can only see them with the most powerful microscopes - the sort they have at big universities, not the one we have at home.

Then she asked me, "Is that the smallest thing in the world?"

I said, "Not quite.  Molecules are made up of atoms"  I drew a basic picture of an atom.  (So glad I was remembering my chemistry lessons.  I really thought I had forgotten them!)   "Each water molecule has three atoms.  Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom stuck together."  I drew a chemistry-like picture of H2O.  Labeling each one.  "You know what oxygen is, right?  It's the stuff you breathe in.  Hydrogen is another type of atom."

 Nods of understanding. Phew!  My goodness! How did we get here? Talking and learning about concepts from secondary school!

Back to the box now filled to the rim with of peanuts.  "So all these peanuts are water molecules.  That's what was in the pitcher the crow was drinking from and the glass of water we filled with pebbles in the kitchen. Let's take this stone and put it in the box.  What do you think will happen?"

And so we saw that the stone pushed out the peanuts and Katelynn finally understood displacement and what was happening in the pitcher and the glass of water.  We talked further about what happens when she jumps in the pool, and how water usually goes over the side into the drain.  How this also happens in the bath tub when she gets in.

I never would have imagined this was going to be our lesson today.  Sometimes I can see a lesson veering off in a new direction - an advanced direction.  Then I think to myself - uh-oh, off topic. Is this going to an area that will be beyond her understanding?  Maybe I should steer it back.  But, I've come to realize that the learning that takes place is much more powerful when we explore these tangents. The flexibility of homeschooling allows for this.  (I dare say that if classrooms in schools were much smaller this would be possible there too!)  Instead of chemistry in abstract terms eight years from now, my girl is learning and understanding it right now.  Something I would never have imagined could happen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Habits that Make a Creative Mind Part I - Why Limit Television

Yesterday at an open house my children did something that surprised me.  They turned down the opportunity to watch children's programs on Astro when it was offered to them.  Katelynn decided she would rather draw and create a fashion magazine on a pad of paper and Kaleb decided he would rather go into the playroom and play with the toys. I really thought they would succumb to the lure of the T.V. 

I turned this event over and over in my mind. Juxtaposed against it were the many conversations I'd had with parents about the habits of children in their use of T.V. and computer games, along with countless articles and studies I had come across of the effects these gadgets are having on our children. Then there was also my observations from the classroom of children.  I had always told my children that T.V. was like junk food and that it rots your brain.  After taking a closer look at studies on the effects of T.V. viewing, I can see how correct those words truly are.

During childhood and adolescence the body and mind are being shaped for adult life.  For young people, the food eaten, the amount of sleep, the emotional environment, the types of amusement (and many other areas of life) all act together to shape the body and mind they will have as an adult.  An important role of adults is to guide and when necessary enforce right choices that will help each child gain the optimum body and mind possible from the natural qualities they possesses.

One of the main areas of contention with parents is the T.V. and rightly so.  Studies on the effects of  T.V. on the brain show that we should be concerned with how much television our children are viewing.  Here are several graphs of brain waves for different activities.  Pay close attention to the bottom yellow line.  These are gamma waves.  Gamma waves are fast, high-frequency responses in a person's brain that spike when concentrating, processing and making sense of information, self-control, abstract thinking, decision making, planning, problem solving, creating and many others.  These sort of activities are often referred to as higher order/level thinking.

Here are what brain waves look like when drawing:

When reading:
And when watching T.V:

 Why are gamma waves so low during T.V. watching?  Gamma waves need concentration to be present.  The nature of T.V. is to shift focus, by zooming in and out, changing scenes, etc every few seconds.  This sudden shifting triggers what is called "Orientating Response".  When ever something suddenly changes, your mind will drop concentration and other higher functions (planning, creating, abstract thinking, etc.) to focus on this new stimulus to be sure that it is not a threat to you. Gamma waves demand concentration to operate. Because your orientating response is being triggered every few seconds by the shifting scenes on the television, there is very little opportunity for gamma waves.  Furthermore, gamma waves take much longer to come back.  In other words, you have to concentrate for awhile before gamma waves return.

This isn't very good for adults, and it does affect their ability to focus, concentrate and use other higher level functions, but it's far worse for children.  An adult's brain can be molded and changed, but not as much as a child's. In fact it takes much more exposure and practice to alter an adult's brain.  The brain of a child is what we call very "plastic" or mold-able. It's very easily molded and changed with much less effort. It is well known that how we use our brains in childhood affects the shape the brain takes in adulthood.

Let me give you an example of this.  Those who grow up in an environment where Chinese is spoken learn to be sensitive to tonal sounds of words and phrases.  The constant practice of doing this as a child shapes the brain to be sensitive to this as an adult later in life.  Others who do not grow up in such an environment do not have brains that are sensitive to tonal variations and would encounter difficulty in distinguishing the different tones when hearing Chinese. Whatever gets used during childhood is strengthened in the brain. Whatever is not used is cut. This cutting takes place at various times during childhood up into adolescence. The brain is very efficient in this way so that the resources of oxygen, food and water can be channeled to what will be used from day to day. I guess that where the expression "Use it or lose it!" comes from.  It doesn't mean you will totally lose those abilities that are cut. What it does mean is that as an adult, you will have to exert a much greater effort to build back those abilities and you will not be able to attain the total mastery that a person who has grown up using those skills would have.

Coming back to T.V. viewing for children - what this means is that if a child spends hours and hours watching television his brain is conditioned to expect constant change and novelty (new things) in his or her environment.  It becomes hard for a child to concentrate on things for very long, and things become boring very easily.  Without the built up ability and skill of concentration needed for those gamma waves I mentioned earlier, there will be difficulty in using higher level brain functions that require gamma waves (like planning, self-control, abstract thinking, etc.)  If this continues through enough of childhood, then the brain will be shaped to function this way and in adulthood, much greater effort will have to be used to use higher level thinking.

It is very important to limit television watching in children.  For children under three, even a small amount can have negative effects.  Many child psychologists and pediatricians advocate that children two years of age and under, don't watch any television. Instead, help your child to engage in activities that require concentration and practice of other high level thinking.  Usually anything that has less structure and use of the imagination are good activities - drawing, free, unstructured play; sports, reading, etc.

Cutting back on your child's T.V. viewing might be a challenge at first.  They will most certainly be agitated and complain of boredom in the first few days.  This is normal and you will have to be strong. A time of protesting and nagging is totally worth reversing and stopping the negative affects T.V. has on them.  Leaving the screen black will also be good for the adults too.  You will learn to rediscover the lost art of play, conversation, reading and other enriching habits.   Your children will eventually adapt and they will learn to play with other things and play with other children.  What they need is the chance to practice playing on their own without an adult standing over them and directing them.  With practice, they will slowly learn how to amuse themselves and will begin developing concentration, creativity, planning, self-control, and other important skills. 

If you'd like to know more of the technical details to this, you can find it in these sources:

1.  Scientific American, Television Addiction is No Mere Metaphor

2.  The International TV-Free Community, How Does T.V. Affect Brain Waves (Lots of references to many studies here.)

3.  News Medical, Expert Warns Parents to Limit the Amount of T.V. Children Watch Before Age of Two

Saturday, January 21, 2012


There's a buzz going through the homeschooling community about the new edutainment park, KidZania that will be opening in K.L. in February.  I have been staring at the building with the Airasia airplane sticking out of it for over a year now and felt it was high time I found out more about it.

Kidzania was the brainchild of Xavier L√≥pez Ancona of Mexico.  Originally, his friend Luis Javier Laresgoiti had sought Mr. Lopez's help in coming up with a business plan for a series of day care centers that would allow children to role play in various professions.  He soon came to the realization as he put it, "Nobody owns role playing." His experience in working with big corporations under GE Capital led him to seek sponsorships with big name businesses like Coca Cola to set up miniature businesses in KidZania where children can role play.  For example, Coca Cola has built a miniature bottling plant where children can participate in an production line.  A third of KidZania's revenue comes from such marketing deals.

When children first enter KidZania, their parents purchase a "plane ticket", which I'm guessing is going to be from AirAsia for the price of RM 55.  Parents must also must pay to enter.  I had heard from some sources that the ticket may be RM 35 for parents.  Well, I hope parents are not just paying to sit in a parents' lounge waiting for their kids to finish their "work".  

Next, kids take a short quiz which helps them pinpoint what type of work they'd enjoy doing for a living at the job information center.  They also get 50 Kidzos (the currency for this theme park) and must open an account at the CIMB bank. They may spend the money in the gift shops.  Judging from some articles I had read about the park, they may also be able to spend it on some services, like a makeover at certain boutiques or playing games in the games room . To get more Kidzos, the children must find a job and work there.  Unlike in the real world, less popular jobs like window washer pay higher wages than more popular jobs like fire fighters.  I suppose this is to encourage kids to try less popular professions.  Education is also part of the theme park experience.  Children can enroll in 20-minute courses with a quiz at the end to earn a bachelor, masters or PhD, which allows them to demand higher pay for jobs. 

It seems the theme parks in other countries are highly popular.  The one in Japan was fully booked its first three years!  So I guess reservations may be necessary!  

I don't know about you, but before I commit to spending perhaps RM 85.00 a pop (for just one of my children) to go, I'd like to think about the merits of the investment. I learned this the hard way when we visited Universal Studios in Singapore.  We spent so much money on the tickets and found ourselves waiting in line for hours with rides that were only 30 seconds long in many cases! I realize that I won't get a full picture unless I go there or talk to people who have, but I can look critically at the set up and activities and weigh the pluses and minuses from what I do know.

  • Role play - I have realized from some of the units I created in Edison Explorer, like our Wild West unit, that role play is a powerful way to spark interest and help children learn.  What they learn also stays with them. I'll give you an example. Students from many years ago still tell me this is one of their favorite units.  They can still remember facts about the Wild West, the activities we did and thinking skills from that unit.  For the first time, history came alive for them and it was interesting to them. So I would imagine that children would definitely enjoy themselves and remember for a long time what they have learned from trying out jobs at KidZania.
  • A wide variety of professions to try - This really allows children to learn more about working world. It might be better than field trips to these companies because the children actually get to do the jobs in those companies. Older children could really benefit from this as it could really help them a few years down the road to make informed decisions on what they should major in at university.  That's much better than basing a decision on where their friends are going to school or the dreams of their parents.
  • How things work - Not only do kids learn about professions but they learn about how things work in the world around them.  For example, they can learn how electricity is generated, how ice cream is made, how a courtroom works or how a newspaper article is produced. KidZania makes it a lot easier to learn these things because they are all under one roof and there's no need to keep seeking approval to visit and learn and no need to coordinate a field trip.  However, it is a little sad that you wouldn't be able to meet a real journalist, policeman, lawyer, etc to ask more questions about the profession.
  • Earning real money - Having an account, an ATM card and having to earn money in order to buy things teaches kids some important, beginning lessons about finance.  It would be easy for parents to branch off from this to talk about loans and credit cards, bank statements, etc.
Having mentioned the positives, I also have reservations too.  Here are some of them:
  •  The idea that education's purpose is to increase earning power.  As noted before, children can take courses to earn degrees that allow them earn more for each job.  The courses must be paid for (not a bad idea to help kids understand that education costs money).  Others have noted that there just aren't enough messages about the intrinsic value of education.  The message that comes out most loudly is that education exists for the purpose of a higher paycheck.

  • Highly structured activities with little room for imagination or creativity - Children are told exactly what to do by "Zupervisors".  There's no room for the child who wants to explore and make their pizza differently from the way Pizza Hut actually makes it.  According to Dr. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School,  “Child-driven, hands-on creative play is the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem-solving. When adults drive children’s play, those benefits are removed.”  In unstructured play children have to decide and agree upon what to play, what the rules will be and even problem solve when things go wrong. Such activities build empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and flexibility.  So it's very important that adults step back and let the kids take over to create and interpret things.
          Here's another interesting, yet alarming statistic. A study done by  Sandra L. Hofferth, University of
          Maryland found that amount of time spent in creative play by 9-12 year olds has decreased by 94% in
          a decade. 
  • Commercialization of childhood - We would do well to remember that children are impressionable. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted this about children under 8 years of age: "They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value.”  Marketing to children promotes some unhealthy values such as immediate self-gratification and a focus on things rather than people. We definitely see marketing going on with the branding of the work satations in KidZania.  I have noted earlier that 30% of the revenue comes from selling marketing opportunities to corporations.  It's hard to imagine that our children wouldn't be influenced by the brands and products presented here.  It is also interesting to note in Tim Kasser's book, The High Cost of Materialism, that numerous studies show that materialism weakens community ties, interferes with our ability to maintain relationships, causes higher incidents of stress and depression, and reduces volunteerism and generosity.

The jury is still out for me.  I haven't been there yet, but I'm willing to try it out and see if it lives up to the benefits and whether my concerns are appropriate.  I think a limited exposure with follow up and discussion afterwards in our homeschooling curriculum could gain the benefits and lessen the more negative aspects.

Sources for this article that you may want to check out:
  1. KidZania website (Lots of nice pictures and details.  It seems to focus on the Mexican theme park):
  2. The Center for a New American Dream Presents Tim Kasser's The High Cost of Materialism:
  3. "Advertising Messages Bombard Children",
  4. Media Education Foundation.  Please see the links at the bottom of this page:
  5. "The Need for More Unstructured Play",
  6. "State of Play", The Morning news:
  7. "Playing Grown-Up at KidZania", Bloomberg/Businessweek:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The First 2 1/2 Weeks of Homeschooling

 Well it's been 2 1/2 weeks since we officially started homeschooling. It's not always a walk in the park.  I've had eye rolling moments, as well as wandering attention and resistance to some of the activities I have planned.  But on the whole, I'd say it's been a positive experience.  Here are some of the highs and lows of these past 2 1/2 weeks.

Great Moments:
  • More quality time with my children - Helping Katelynn and Kaleb learn means we spend more time together doing meaningful things.  We talk about more things and we've grown closer.  I love the memories we are building together and I love the opportunity I have as an influence in shaping their lives. I wouldn't trade it for the world, even when I consider the more difficult aspects of homeschooling. 
  • Bible study - I have always meant to do this and now I've just scheduled it in. In just two weeks, Katelynn and I have had some deep conversations, even for her just being seven.  I'm amazed at what she understands and the questions she has. I've found that the things we've discussed come up again later in very natural settings and it reinforces what we've talked about.  I find it also makes my faith grow and holds me accountable because little eyes are watching to see if I walk the talk.
  • Math stories - I'll admit that I don't really enjoy math.   Today I discovered that I could take my strength in literature and language arts and use it to make math more interesting and help Katelynn understand it better.  Quite by accident, as I was helping Katelynn learn to add by 9s, I realized that it would be so much simpler if I just told a story about it. When I explained the concept in terms of a story ("Jealous 9" who likes to copy 10, but always comes up 1 number short) it was easier for her to understand and it was a lot more fun.  Katelynn was so inspired by the story she went on to write and illustrate a story about "Jealous 9".  So now we had killed two birds with one stone - math and language arts.  So I will definitely remember this and find other stories to explain new math concepts we will be learning.
  • Homeschooling groups on Facebook.  Facebook  is one of the greatest inventions to help in homeschooling.  It makes connecting with others and coordinating outings so much easier.  It makes it so easy to know what's going on and to join in, plus it's a snap to share things with others too.  Facebook has really strengthened the homeschooling community and made it easier to homeschool.  You no longer have to feel isolated.  Everyone can be connected and everyone can always find new ways to learn and get support from other homeschooling families.
  • Learning Bahasa - I have enjoyed learning the language along side both Katelynn and Kaleb. We've used pod casts of Bahasa Indonesia. (We weren't able to find any Malay pod casts)  Adeno helps us sort out the differences between the two languages.  The biggest thing about learning Bahasa is that it puts us on equal footing because all of us are at the same level. That makes this subject different from others.  Katelynn and Kaleb see me forget things and make mistakes which I think encourages them to take risks in other subjects when they are learning.  If mommy can make mistakes then it is O.K. to try something even if it doesn't come out perfect.  It's very humbling and helps me remember to keep the perspective of my children as they learn.
  • Teachable moments - they are everywhere.  Here's an example of one. At the grocery store today, we took down the names of fruits and vegetables that are printed on the labels in Bahasa so we could learn more words. It's a lot more interesting to learn new Bahasa words this way, rather than just from a book.  Then we tried saying them with some of the staff members who were putting out the produce.  They helped us with our pronunciation and they got a big kick out of us learning Bahasa, plus it really helped us to start getting over our shyness about speaking the language with native speakers. So even everyday, humdrum activities like grocery shopping can become exciting learning experiences.

Challenging moments:
  • Not battling the traffic jams to school.  Because we don't have to "get to school" it's very easy to get slack and lazy.  It's easy to wake up later and start the day later, which I feel is lost time.  Homeschooling means you are responsible for disciplining yourself and teaching your kids discipline.
  • Friends.  Starting homeschooling right after kindy was tough in the area of friends for Katelynn.  All her friends from kindergarten have gone off to various schools and Katey doesn't see them any more.  I know this would have happened even if we didn't homeschool, but this "friends" issue was compounded when Katey's best friend in our apartment complex moved away to Singapore in December.   Katelynn is by nature a reserved person and it takes her awhile to make friends, so making new friends at our apartment and during our numerous homeschool outings is going to take time. This process is hard for me too. It's not easy for me, because as a mom, it's painful to see her so sad at the loss of her good friend.  I want her to be like me.  I'm reserved too, but I have no problems pushing myself to get to know people and make friends in new environments. I will just have to be patient and keep encouraging her in this area without being pushy.
  • Bahasa - I have to admit, I have not been as disciplined in learning this. To learn a language you need consistent practice.  I know we need to do it about 5 days a week, but we haven't had that good of an average.  I have to work harder about being disciplined on this. 
  • Having days where I get nothing done because of emergencies.  I'll give you an example.  The washing machine and the air con in the kids' room broke down on the same day.  I also had to run some urgent errands. So all my time for homeschooling that day was taken up by these things. Sometimes it happens when I have to take care of emergencies related to my learning centers, staff, student or program issues that crop up and demand immediate attention.
  • Chinese - I'd like Katelynn to learn this language, but it's really beyond me to teach.  I just cannot hear the tones.  Secondly, I know this will sound odd to my Malaysian friends, but for me learning languages is difficult.  I come from a monolingual background (Midwestern America) where there was very little opportunity to learn other languages.  I feel that learning Malay is all I can handle at the moment. I'm going to put priority on that because my children live in Malaysia and need to know the national language more so than Chinese at the moment.  Adeno tries to teach her, but he's not around enough to make what she learns stick. I think eventually we'll have to get a tutor.  
 Looking back at this short time period I can't believe how much has happened. I'm still adjusting to the homeschooling process and finding my footing about what works for us.  I look forward to chronicling more of our adventures.  It's very cathartic and I'm sure it will be nice to look back at how far we've come in the future.