Archive for the 'Kids' Category

An observation on car travel.

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Especially at the holidays, it can be far more pleasant to take a little extra time and go a few extra miles on state roads and U.S. Highways rather than battle the traffic and press of the Interstate Highways.

That’s what we did today as we traveled 260 miles from the outskirts of Dallas home to Austin. The worst stretch was the 30 miles we spent on I-45. The best thing about the whole trip was all but avoiding I-35.

Beneficial side effect: more and better places to stop between large cities, which is important when you’re traveling with young children.

Go out and make something!

Monday, November 19th, 2007

I’m not very handy with tools — I can do the basics, but not much else — but I’m a huge fan of the whole roll-your-own movement embodied by MAKE. (Sad to say, we missed the Maker Faire when it was here. So maybe I’m not all that when it comes to being a fan . . .)

Anyway, if you have kids, consider getting them hooked on making things via . . .


Also dig this from Saul Griffith, progenitor of Howtoons:

The underlying philosophy is that it’s critically important in this technological age to teach kids to see the world for what it can be, not for what it is, to have them question why they can’t make the world better by experimenting, and to teach them not have a fear of the physical world. That failure is fun, and that the physical world is a really cool computer game if you want it to be.

Sounds great to me.

Pat Forgione hammers home the right message.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Fun times this morning: I got to attend a 7:45 a.m. assembly at my kids’ school, which once again (three years running!) topped the Austin school district in fundraising for Reading Is Fundamental. (RIF is a biiiig deal with the younger set Chez Walker.) The guest of honor was Dr. Pat Forgione, Austin’s superintendent of Schools. He was extremely good-humored and energetic, and conveyed the air of a veteran schoolteacher who is intensely interested in the thoughts and feelings of the kids around him.

What was so impressive about what he said: while praising students, teachers, parents, administrators, and RIF sponsors to the heavens, he pounded home the theme that intelligence comes from effort — that hard work leads to smarts, which in turn enables to further success in work. The message of “effort = excellence” was practically the first thing that came out of his mouth, and he didn’t just touch on it lightly — he reiterated it several different ways that kids and parents alike could relate to.

This matches the educational model recommended by Po Bronson in this New York magazine article, which I’ve mentioned before. Don’t praise your kids — or your students — for their innate qualities (“You’re so smart . . . you’re so pretty”) anywhere near as much as you praise them for hard work, that is, for putting superior effort into their endeavors. I ended up talking about this after the assembly with a couple of moms of my acquaintance, and we all agreed: kids will succeed when they put their guts into something.

Superior effort — not anything innate — is the key. Rewarding superior effort is an investment that will repay itself many times over.

Childlike absorption.

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

My son likes Lego. By this I mean he really, really, REALLY likes Lego. Case in point: his most recent Lego catalog (yes, we’re on the mailing list for this — we signed up at his insistence) says on the cover that there are “More than 90 new items” in it. But my son, obsessed as he is with all things Lego, just reported to me that there are . . . wait for it . . . only 82 new items in the catalog.

He knows this, of course, because he went through the catalog painstakingly, page by page, searching out the items marked “NEW!” Like a Talmud scholar.

We’d all be happier, I think, if we took more opportunities to indulge this kind of childlike absorption in our interesting. Call it “flow” or “being in the moment” or “immersion” — but it’s a good way to live, since it frees your psyche to engage totally with the subject at hand.

UPDATE: He now informs me that the following issue of the catalog has 120 new products in it, so that’s the one that should have the “More than 90” claim on it.

Let your kids get some sleep!

Friday, October 12th, 2007

A while back I referred to this Po Bronson article from New York magazine about over-praising children. The other day Ashley Merryman — who helped Bronson research that article — dropped me a line to let me know that she (? — I think this Ashley is a she) and Bronson had written more in the same vein. So, here are two useful articles for parents, and especially for those whose kids don’t get enough sleep at night, or who don’t have well-established bedtimes.

The central premise here is that lack of sleep and irregular sleep patterns can impede children’s cognitive development. This makes sense, when you read the pieces and think about your own experience — but I imagine many parents never think about it.

We’re fortunate in our household: My wife and I have always kept pretty regular hours, and we started our kids on regular bedtimes from the get-go. Most nights when bedtime rolls around, they’re good and ready to sleep, and they don’t wake up until we roust them out in the morning — but they are ready to get up then. On average, our kids get between nine and ten hours of sleep per night. So, go us, I guess.

Meanwhile, if you have kids who don’t have regular bedtimes, read these pieces and think about which of the steps suggested will help you get on track. My own experience tells me that home life is just a whole lot easier when bedtimes are well-established and followed as a matter of routine.

An idea for Playmobil: Greek and Norse pantheon sets.

Sunday, August 19th, 2007


My son and I have been reading reading D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths at bedtime. If anything, he likes these stories even better than the ones in D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which is saying something. My boy likes stories and he likes storytime, but often he’s fairly indifferent about which book we read. Not so with these myths — he wants to hear every page, and he’s full of opinions and commentary about what’s happening in the stories, what he would do in the same situation, how cool it would be to have a video game based on a particular mythical story, and so on. It was when we were talking about what a Norse myth video game would be like (Thor battling jotuns, mostly) that a question dawned on me: Why, oh why hasn’t Playmobil made a set of Norse myth toys? Or a set for the Greek myths?

Imagine the set for the labors of Hercules, complete with Hydra and Erymanthean Boar. Imagine Thor and his trusy sidekick Tjalfi done up in colored plastic. Imagine the deluxe, only-for-Christmas Olympus and Asgard dioramas. The mind boggles.

Now, maybe Playmobil knows its business better than I do, they’ve done the market research on it, and they’ve figured out that the grief from a minority of incensed parents about pushing pagan religions would outweigh the appeal of putting frikkin’ Hercules and Thor figures into the hands of six-year-old boys like my son. Maybe. Or perhaps they just haven’t thought of putting these antique pantheons alongside their many other lines.

So there you go, Playmobil folks — there’s my contribution. It’s yours for the taking if you’ll send me a free set of every Greek and Norse mythical toy you eventually make.

Don’t be hatin’ on the homeschoolers, know what I’m sayin’?

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Thanks to our work on a Cybils award committee a while back, I’ve become online pals with Kris Bordessa. She lives with her family on the Big Island of Hawaii, which means she gets to post awesome, envy-inducing blog photos taken from her back porch and the like. On her blog she talks about this and that, including the books she’s writing, the freelancer’s life, and homeschooling, which is a subject dear to her heart.

In her new post “Silent Judgment”, Kris talks about the tacit criticism she sometimes receives from those who “disagree” with her family’s decision to homeschool their boys. I put “disagree” in quotes because, in truth, outsiders are in no position to form any sort of opinion on whether Kris & Co. are doing the right thing by their boys — especially when, as in this case, the outsiders did so without knowing a damn thing about Kris’s approach to educating her children, much less the results that this form of education has had on the boys themselves.

Kris knows better than to get too exercised about it all, because she’s, y’know, a grown-up — unlike her judgmental interlocutors. But I’m a little exercised about it, even though my family has chosen to send our kids to the (excellent, highly rewarding) neighborhood public school. So, just to vent a little, I thought I’d take just a moment to note a few individuals who did pretty well in life without the benefit of copious formal schooling:

The fact that many of these people lived before the advent of modern public schools (or outside their reach, in the cases of Maclean and Love) in no way undermines this observation. Clearly, the mass of youngsters in the days before widespread public education didn’t receive adequate education in the sense that we would define “adequate” now, but, just as clearly, some did. Especially given the prevalence of single-parent households and two-working-parent households, most youngsters today probably do need public schooling if they’re to receive “adequate” education. But by no means can public schooling — or private schooling, or any sort of formal schooling — be taken as the gold standard of adequacy in education. Such a generalization is simply untenable, and to believe this generalization is itself a mark of ignorance, full stop.

Here endeth this rant.  For now.

Make your own tapestry!

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

I can hardly wait to use this with my kids:

Historic Tale Construction Kit

Also check out the example here (via here) that led me to this in the first place, plus this handy-dandy Middle English dictionary from the University of Michigan.

I’ll give you a sampling of my own efforts later . . .

Worth reading.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

–My friend Redneck Mother has a hilarious post about being the parent of a smart, adventurous three-year-old. If you are a parent or plan to be one, read it.

–Pete Goldlust carves crayons. You won’t believe what he’s capable of.

–Guy Kawasaki points to the Life Remix feed, where you can explore things like “How to Work Like the Masters”, and “Even Simple Multi-tasking Can Make a Project 30% Late”. This stuff is teh crack for self-organizationally-obsessed folks like myself. Join me in my addiction, won’t you?

More on kids’ entitlement.

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Last week I took Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow to task for blaming Mr. Rogers for the sense of unearned entitlement that infects too many younger Americans. Turns out I wasn’t alone:

The Entitlement Epidemic: Who’s Really to Blame?

. . . more than 1,000 psychologists, educators and observant readers contacted me in response to my recent column headlined “Blame It on Mr. Rogers.” That column included a premise some found too provocative*: Did TV icon Fred Rogers contribute to our entitlement epidemic by telling children they were “special”?

Many readers appreciated the arguments. But others felt the column was unfair to target Mr. Rogers, who was such a positive influence. I hadn’t expected that column to be taken so literally, and I should have articulated the fact that Mr. Rogers also encouraged hard work and mutual respect. It’s not his fault if others now misinterpret the “special” language he popularized.

So, kudos to Zaslow for clarifying what he means, and for putting a big chunk of the burden right where it belongs — with parents, consumer culture, and “the self-esteem movement”. Especially if you read the earlier column and my comments on it, you should certainly give this one a look. I particularly liked the homey quote that Zaslow uses to wrap up the piece, taken from Florida schoolteacher Syd Corbett: “Self-esteem comes from the self doing something worthy of esteem.” Just so.


* One little quibble here: Whether Zaslow meant it this way or not, “a premise some found too provocative” is weasel-ish. It can be read as putting the burden on readers for being too squeamish, as when you don’t-really-apologize for being unkind by saying “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt” rather than saying “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Speaking just of my own reaction, I didn’t find Zaslow’s original premise “too provocative” — I thought it was flatly incorrect. But anyway, good for him for following up and giving more nuance to this subject.