Thursday, May 28, 2009

Encounter with a Guardian

Esther's comment: "Kitty! Kitty!"
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Nobel Prize Winners and School

I enjoyed reading these quotes from Nobel Prize winners regarding their experience with school.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Super Size Saturday: Games!

De'Etta, over at Choosing Joy, hosts a Super Size Saturday meme. Each week features a topic relevant to large families. This weeks topic is Games!
Here are a few of the games I remember enjoying growing up:

Outdoors: A favorite outdoor game of my family's was the Creative Scavenger Hunt, originally inspired by Gordon Korman's book "I Want to Go Home!". This game is adaptable to different group sizes, and age really doesn't matter. It can be played inside the house, in a yard, park, or forest. We would divide up into teams of two or more, with a list of items to find. The list of items should be as creative as possible. Examples might include A Lion's Mane, A Small Planet, A King's Crown, A Volcanoe, and Dinosaur Bone... The goal was to find or make something to fit the item description--with extra points awarded for creativity (a dandelion might be called a Lion's Mane, etc.).

Indoors: One family favorite that could be played by anyone who could write was Balderdash! If you're not familiar with this game, players take turns reading a word from a card (typically really unusual words that no-one is the group is likely to know). Every player then writes their own definition to go with this word (or writes the real definition if they know it). All the definitions are then read (including the actual definition) and everyone has a turn to guess the correct definition. Points are awarded for guessing the true definition or for other people guessing the one you made up. It might be fun to do this with a foreign language--make up your own word cards, and see what zany definitions you can come up with.

In the Car: Our family criss-crossed the United States and Europe many times. We often played variations of "The Animal Game", in which players accumulate points for spotting certain animals on their side of the car (with modifications when not many animals were present--in Holland we counted Windmills!). And then of course there was The Alphabet Game--see who could find all the letters of the Alphabet first. When one person spotted a letter first someone else could not use that same letter (i.e. if we're both trying to find "x" and I see it on an exit sign, you have to find yours somewhere else). Hey, anything can be fun when you're stuck in the car!

When I grow up I want to be...

When I wrote about my recent book acquisitions and asked for advice on book organization, I received this response from my mother:

Put them on the shelf over and over again, and when they are off the shelves rejoice in the fact that someone has been reading them. You can put the childrens books on the lowest shelves and the adult books up high--since anything the kids can reach will end up on the floor. If you worry too much about organizing them it will be too hard to put them away.

As always, my mother's advice was both practical and insightful. It seems to me that my mother has always met the challenges of life with clarity and confidence--the clarity to see things (and especially people) as they really are, and the confidence to walk a day at a time, trusting that prayers are answered and that God's providence will always be sufficient for our needs. In each person she meets (whether the president of a country or a street urchin) she sees a brother or sister, a fellow child of God. She values neither her own soul nor that of any other person as greater or less than this.
I wonder sometimes why I am so eager to read expert opinions on the rearing and educating of children when all I really need to do is follow my own mother's example!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Endangered Minds: Part 1

I am working my way through the book Endangered Minds by Jane M. Healy. This book deals with how our children's experiences literally shape the neural pathways in their minds, and how our modern culture of fast-paced, shifting visual media may be affecting children's brains. I have decided to share some thoughts as I work my way through her book.

One thing that really made me think was Dr. Healy's report on some research done on rats. The rats were kept in different kinds of environments--some were in small, plain cages (impoverished environment) and others in large cages, with other rats as well as toys and manipulatives to interract with (enriched environment). All rats were fed the same food. At the end of the study, the rats brains were dissected and examined on a microscopic level. Rats in the enriched environment had heavier, denser brains with more neural development. Most interesting of all, however, is that neither set of rodents had developed their brains as much as those of rats living wild in the same area.

Not surprisingly, the most enriched cage does not provide as much stimulation and learning opportunity as do the natural interactions and demands of real life!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

General Conference

My conference report arrived today!
I am truly impressed with all those who thoughtfully study the scriptures in search of guidance for their lives. I try to do likewise. I am, however, deeply grateful that I am not on my own to discover what direction Peter, Paul or Moses might have given had they lived in my own time. Just as these men were inspired by God to speak to the people of ancient Israel, Judah and the Mediterranean world, there are men inspired in our time to speak the words of God to us.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints holds a worldwide General Conference twice a year, in October and April. I first comprehended the significance of these conferences when, as a teenager, I sat half a world away from the Tabernacle in Salt Lake city and listened to men called as Apostles and Prophets of God speak inspired words to the church worldwide, broadcast through the modern miracles of satellite communication. What moved me that day was not so much the words they spoke but the incontrovertible witness of the Spirit in my own heart that these men were indeed Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, called and commissioned by His authority to stand as his witnesses to the world. That day, I knew that God does indeed speak to our day through prophets and apostles. I have never forgotten that witness.
Years have passed, I have moved forward with my life and now I face the daily challenges of raising a family in a world that has largely rejected God. I look forward to every October and April General Conference, when I can again sit at the feet of the Lord's Apostles, chosen and commissioned for our day, and receive guidance and counsel tailored specifically to the needs of our time. And once the conference is over, I look forward to receiving the printed transcript published in the conference report issue of the Ensign magazine, so that I can again study their words and seek for applications to my own life.
So now my Conference Report is here, and I look forward to once again feasting on the words of modern day prophets and apostles.

Conference archives are also available online at,5239,23-1-1032,00.html

Monday, May 11, 2009


I grew up in a home full of books, thousands of books, and have always known that I wanted the same for my children. Until quite recently, that dream was on hold because I didn't feel I had the space for/wanted to take care of a lot of books, and hey, I do have cards to four different library systems. But with Lily learning to read, all the kids clamoring to be read to, and library fines occasionally reaching ridiculous levels, I have decided to bring the library home. I've been on something of a book-buying spree recently, and am feeling much happier with the book selections available in my home. Some of the sources I have found are library book sales (I got a 2001 World Book Encyclpedia set with two volumes missing for $25) and thrift stores (I came home with about 40 books for $17). Now It's time to organize! does anyone have a favorite book-organization strategy to share?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Teaching like a Cat

I thought I would take the liberty of extending my cat analogy. Today's lesson comes not from our current batch of kittens but from a wonderful mother cat who was part of our family when I was young. Like most of our cats in those days, she had come to us through the fields--just showed up at our back door looking for food. I don't remember that we ever called her anything but "Kitty". Kitty had Siamese coloring, but seems to have obtained her temperament from somewhere else. She was both affectionate and intelligent, and these attributes were most apparent when she was raising kittens.
I remember specifically watching her one day with a batch of kittens probably 5 or 6 weeks old. Kitty had found a mouse (we were in farm country, so mice were plentiful and cats appreciated!) and brought it back unharmed to provide her kittens with an important learning opportunity. Usually I hated it when one of our cats caught a mouse, I felt so sorry for the little mice and used to rescue them when I could. But this time I watched in fascination as Kitty carefully carried the live mouse and dropped it where the kittens were playing. The kittens of course were delighted with this new plaything and immediately set about stalking and pouncing on it. Whenever the mouse escaped from the circle of kittens (this happened several times) Kitty would go after it and bring it back. I don't remember how the mousing lesson ended, but it can't have been good for the mouse. I imagine I didn't watch.
I could learn a lesson in fascilitating learning from that mother cat. She was teaching her kittens an important skill, indeed one that could be critical for their future lives. How did she teach? Did she sit the kittens down and lecture to them? Did she insist they master this skill before they could go out and play? No. She simply presented them with the opportunity, and stayed around to encourage and support.
Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed listening as my husband followed a similar approach with Lily. We were in the car on the way to violin rehearsal, when he said "I want to teach Lily multiplication". What followed went something like this:
Dad: Lily, do you know what 2 times 2 means?
Lily: No.
Dad: Times means groups of, so if you have 2 times 2 you have 2 groups of two. So if you have 2 socks in one hand and 2 socks in the other hand, that is 2 times 2. How much is that?
Lily: (slight pause) 4!
Dad: Exactly! Let's try something harder. How much is 3 times 4? That is 3 groups of 4.
Lily: (longer pause) 12!
Dad: And what about 2 times 10?
Lily: I don't know.
Dad: Do you know what 10 plus 10 is?
Lily: 20
Dad: Putting 10 and 10 together is making two groups of ten. That's the same as 2 times 10. So what is 2 times 10?
Lily: 20!
Dad: and what is 3 times 10?
Lily (thinking hard) 30!
Dad: That's right!

Did you see what Dad did? He presented Lily with the multiplication mouse as something that would be interesting and fun for her to play with. He made it easy for her at first, starting with something well within her grasp--two groups of two. When the mouse seemed to be getting away from her (10 times 10) he jumped in to provide support and encouragement. He kept the lesson brief and ended on a successful note.
I bet he didn't know he was immitating a mother cat.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Kittens and Kids

As I've watched our kittens grow, I've pondered over the lessons I could learn from them. Kittens grow up so fast compared to children, you get to see them pass through various phases of development in just a few weeks. Watching them go through phases of development has been fascinating! During the first week or two, they mostly slept and ate. As they got bigger (and their eyes opened) they became more adventurous, exploring first the box we kept them in, and eventually the entire house. A little after that they started play-wrestling with each other. More recently, I have seen them develop amazing abilities in climbing and jumping, today one was even climbing up the screen door of the house! And yesterday I watched for several minutes while one of the kittens played with a little plastic bottle lid, tossing it in the air and rolling it around the floor with his paws. At the same time they have progressed from bottle feeding, to lapping milk from a bowl, to eating wet and dry cat food (and crumbs the children drop as well!). They have learned to use a litter box (yeah!) and know without being taught to cover up their own waste. They have become more and more adventurous, happily exploring both the house and yard.
Now, what does kitten development have to do with kids? I think we sometimes forget that a lot of our children's behaviour is really programmed into their development, just as the behavior of young cats is programmed. We can't rush them ahead, pushing them to reach developmental milestones before they are ready. At the same time, we shouldn't be too concerned if a child is not showing the degree of maturity or mastery of some ability that we think they should (or that another child is); in most cases, we will find our concerns resolved with time. Interestingly, although our kittens are siblings and the same age, one of them has been consistently ahead of the other in almost everything--opening eyes, lapping milk, etc--the only thing he lagged behind in was litter box training! But our other little kitten has passed through each stage just as surely as her brother--but at her own pace. I have every reason to believe that they will both be equally capable as adult cats!
And kids? Well, just among my three I have already seen vast differences in when they do things. One speaks in multisyllable words at 14 months, another not till much later. One is walking at 9 months and running at 10, another takes a cautious first step at 15 months. I expect the variations will be even wider when it comes to reading, math, soccer and chess! Some abilities will come sooner, some later, each child will have unique talents and interests--and each will doubtless grow up to be a competent and interesting human being!
Something else about our cats: they have markedly different temperaments. Prince, the male, does everything with vigor--from eating to playing to purring. Princess, our little grey female, is much more reserved--and she likes to savor life. When I was bottle feeding her, she would suckle delicately for as long as I would let her--obviously the actual suckling was at least as important to her as the nourishment. Prince, on the other hand, was interested only in guzzling down as much milk as he could as fast as he could. Princess likes to curl climb up to my shoulder and watch the world from there, or curl up on one of the kids' laps and sleep. Prince is always looking for something t0 pounce on. Aren't our children similarly equipped with individual temperaments?

I wonder, now, what would happen if I took these kittens, with all their drive for play and exploration (things that help them develop the abilities they might use as adult cats to, say, escape from an angry dog or catch a tasty mouse for dinner!) and kept them shut up in a cage, or even an empty room all day? What if I kept them in a large cage with a few "educational" activities designed specifically to teach them skills--say, a pole for climbing and an electronic mouse for chasing? Doubtless the second set of circumstances would produce happier and more capable cats than the first, but...what if instead of keeping them in a cage I let my kittens roam through the world, finding their own places to practice the skills of climbing and pouncing? Can you see where I am going with this? I have no doubt at all that kittens get a better education by exploring the world in their own way, encountering a large variety of places and objects and tackling them with all the physical and mental vigor of discovery, than they would if I placed them in a cage with carefully selected "enrichment" activities. I believe the same is true of my children! Let them explore and encounter the world on their own term, exercising their bodies and minds to play, practice, encounter challenges and come up with solutions. Isn't this what that wiggly little 6 year old who can't stay at his desk is really needing? Isn't this what his brain and body are prepared for? He knows how to learn--he just needs freedom to do it!