Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mini Book Review: 200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory

Despite not yet attempting a real Fair Isle project, I went ahead and ordered 200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory, by Mary Jane Mucklestone. As a Fair Isle newbie, I was hoping the "techniques" section would be beefier than it was. Aside from that, I think this book is great. It's very inspirational with tons (200, in fact) of Fair Isle motifs in tons of different color combinations.

I have several project ideas in mind already, I just have to take the plunge and cast on for some colorwork!

Sitting is continuing to improve around here. E is checking out ... the lens cap, here.

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Definitely in the everything-in-the-mouth stage.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mini Book Review: How to Raise an Amazing Child to Montessori Way

I'd read some good things about How to Raise an Amazing Child to Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin, on a few Montessori themed blogs, so I was really looking forward to checking it out. I wanted to like it, but I found the tone pretty off-putting right from the start.

There were some neat things in the book, like how to teach your child to put on his own coat independently - that will definitely come in handy! And of course, the fundamental Montessori principle of "following the child."

I would probably have had a different impression of this book if I hadn't just read a couple of books by John Holt (reviewed here and here) that stress letting children learn naturally. For example, the Montessori book described a 3-step activity to do with your child to increase their vocabulary, seemingly only for the sake of increasing their vocabulary. It makes more sense to me, and here's where I'm being influenced by Holt, to just use those words you want the child to learn in your normal speech. The example in the book was naming different vegetables. I could easily imagine saying, "Let's buy that eggplant," in the grocery store, or "We're having eggplant for dinner," versus setting aside time for sitting E down and repeating "eggplant" to him until he could point to one and repeat it back to me. I'm being a little harsh on the Montessori book, but not by much.

How to Raise an Amazing Child to Montessori Way is mainly aimed at somewhat older children, so I may revisit it when E's a bit bigger.

Our latest development that I haven't snapped a picture of yet (sadness!) is little E sort of grabbing at his noggin. He puts all five fingers on his head and then brings them together, like he's scratching his head. Quite cute!

Instead, here's a picture of snow covered trees from last week. The snow is almost all gone already. Here's to hoping that was our last big snow for this winter.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

{this moment}

Amanda's idea...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Puzzle Ball: Complete!

I made E a "puzzle ball" from the book Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. These toys were all the rage on the interwebs awhile back when the book first came out (yikes, that was five years ago!). Although you often seen them done up in prints, I went with your basic primary and secondary colors, using Kona cotton fabric. Kona seems pretty popular online, but this was my first time using it. Now I see why people like it - it feels more heavy duty than typical quilting cottons, making it great to use for kids' stuff. Just for my reference, the colors that I used were Rich Red, Tangerine, Corn Yellow, Basil Green, Royal Blue, and Crocus Purple. I wish the green were a little brighter, but this one was the best choice that my Joann's had in the store.

Here's the little guy checking it out:

I stuffed it pretty firmly, and it's still a little bit difficult for him to get a hold of, so it's not exactly his favorite toy yet. It sure does look neat though.
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What does this super-cool pitcher have to do with anything? The pattern called for you to cut the 5 1/2" diameter circles, and coming in at a 5 1/4" diameter, this pitcher was the closest thing I had. I tend to like to go a little bit smaller than bigger when there's a choice. I'm glad I didn't go any bigger, or Mr. Muffin really wouldn't be able to play with it yet.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: How Children Learn (Part II)

Click here for part I.

Now for part two!

Holt says this about children touching things, which seems like common sense, but bears repeating, "At home, we should try to keep out of reach, and even out of sight, valuable or dangerous objects that we don't want children to touch. At the same time, we should keep on hand a good many objects cheap and durable enough so that a child can touch and use them." (p. 32) While this might seem like a "duh" comment, it reminds me of a story about a mom who was very upset when her two children (about 1 1/2 and 3 years old) knocked over a display of glass Christmas ornaments, breaking all of them. I'll have to remember - if I don't want it played with, don't put it out while E is so little!

Holt also says, "It is probably a mistake, anyway, to assume that whatever little children touch they will destroy, and that we must therefore keep them from touching anything that is not theirs. This dampens their curiosity and confidence. More than that, it probably makes them too fiercely possessive of what is their own." (p. 33) I don't know from experience, but it seems like a reasonable theory about why little ones can be very possessive.

When it comes to doing and making, he says, "Very young children seem to have what could be called an Instinct of Workmanship. ... They want to make it as well as they can, not to please someone else but to satisfy themselves." (p. 37-38) I'm looking forward to watching this in our little guy. Perhaps this "Instinct of Workmanship" comes from a child's desire to gain whatever control he can of his world, about which Holt says, "All children want and strive for increased mastery and control of the world around them, and all are to some degree humiliated, threatened, and frightened by find out (as they do all the time) that they don't have it." (p. 44) I haven't read enough of his work to say for sure, but I believe that this last quote describes one of Holt's main tenants. It's so important to remember that little children are doing the best they can to grow and learn, and whatever shortcomings they may have are already frustrating enough, without us compounding their hurt feelings.

On a lighter note, about playing games with kids, "The best games with children flow easily and naturally from the situation of them moment. ... And whatever the game is, we must be ready to give it up, instantly and without regret, if the child is not enjoying it." (p. 52) I try to keep this idea in mind when I'm playing with E. I also think it's important to keep playing as long as he's still interested.

Regarding the rate of children's learning, "Children are not railroad trains. They don't learn at an even rate. They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be." (p. 155) This observation is one of the reasons that Holt doesn't find the traditional school system to be a good fit for most children - it expects them to learn at a fairly consistent rate, and to learn material they may (probably) not be interested in.

Courage: "... a child who is allowed to return to babyhood for awhile when he feels the need of it, to fill up his tank of courage when he feels it run dry, will move ahead into the unknown far faster than we adults could push him." (p. 177) And, "If we are careful not to push a child beyond the limits of his courage, he is almost sure to get braver." (p. 177) These two quotes bring to mind an image I have from somewhere else (not sure where...) of the toddler returning to his parents' arms to recharge for a few minutes, before plunging back out into the world.

Finally, Holt disagrees with the traditional Montessori disapproval of fantasy play (p. 244), and I'm inclined to agree with his disagreement. The example he gives is the Montessori "Pink Tower" - a set of pink or red cubes of various sizes. The "proper" way to use the cubes is to stack them, with the largest on bottom and progressively smaller cubes on top. If the children in a Montessori classroom play with them in a different way, say pretending they are mommies and daddies, or cars and trucks, the teacher will stop them and tell them that's not how the blocks are used. From an outsider's perspective, that seems to be stifling their little imaginations. I believe Montessori's idea was that small children have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality, and so they should stick to reality until they can tell the two apart.

No new pictures today, but Mr. Tiny is getting in to checking out his feet now! He grabs at them while he's sitting and while he's getting changed, neither of which are good times for snapping a picture, bummer!

He also really enjoying chomping on a carrot at dinner today, I think it must have felt good on his pre-teething gums.

Friday, February 17, 2012

{this moment}

Amanda's idea...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

. . . . . . . .

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Mr. Muffin had his first taste of solid food this weekend, strawberries! He spotted them on the table (maybe because they're bright red and easy for him to see) and seemed really keen to get at them, so we let him! I didn't snap any pictures when E was eating his first one at my parents house - next time we have to bring the camera into the kitchen instead of leaving it by the front door... - but here are a few pictures of him eating another one at home.

I don't think he really ate much at all, but he definitely put some into his mouth and tasted it. The poor strawberries ended up as strawberry-pulp though.

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I also tried giving him a big chunk of avocado, but it was too slippery. We had some yellow squash, like zucchini, yesterday that I thought would be great for him to try cut into "fingers" that were easy to grab, but he wasn't too interested in them. I think he needs some time to get used to the high chair first, he's not so sure about it yet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Review: How Children Learn (Part I)

A couple of weeks ago (I'm a little behind in my book reviews) I read How Children Learn, another book by John Holt. I really liked this one, more so than Instead of Education. There's a lot to say about this book, today I'll focus on Holt's ideas about what adults do that helps, or hinders, children's learning.

Firstly, attitude: "It is only in the presence of loving, respectful, trusting adults ... that children will learn all they are capable of learning. ... It is not so much a matter of technique as of spirit." (p. 21) The emphasis on respect for the child is also at the center of the Montessori approach, but I found Holt's observation that it's more a matter or spirit than technique rather a relief. I have more on Montessori coming up in another book review, but it seems to have a lot of rules.

Holt also had much to say about not pushing too hard, for instance
"How much people can learn at any moment depends on how they feel at that moment about the task and their ability to do the task [i.e. powerful and confident or discouraged and down]. Part of the art of teaching is being able to sense which of these moods the learner is in. People can go from one mood to the other very quickly. ... When people are down, it's useless to push them or urge them on, that just frightens and discourages them more. What we have to do is draw back, take off the pressure, reassure them, console them, give them time to regain - as in time they will - enough energy and courage to go back to the task." (p. 50-51)

He then related a story of a parent who tried to make his children learn to swim, but he only succeeded in frightening all three of them terribly.

On the topic of mistakes and corrections, Holt doesn't buy the "Bad Habit Theory of Learning" which says that "every time a child makes a mistake [...] we must instantly correct it, lest it freeze into a 'bad habit,' impossible to correct. The theory is simply untrue. Many of the things children learn [...] - to walk, talk, read, write, etc. - they learn by trying to do them, making mistakes, and then correcting the mistakes." (p. 107) And so it follows that "children do not need their speech corrected. They will come to correct it themselves as they are naturally exposed to correct speech." (p. 106) He also means here that if a child says something incorrectly (like "teached"), not to artificially work the correct form of the word (taught) into the next thing you say to them.

Also, it is a mistake to see "all children's mistakes as stupid and careless, instead of the logical results of a misunderstood question or an imperfectly designed theory." (p. 282) For instance, "teached" does make a lot more sense than taught, the child's theory of forming the past tense of verbs just doesn't include all of the exceptions yet. Holt recalled a story where a child who was learning to talk would purposely call things by the wrong names sometimes, just for fun. About it, he said, "This feeling, that when you know how to do something right it is often fun to do it wrong, is strong in children. Adults who meet it tend to discourage it. I think this is a mistake [...] It is not always necessary to be right." (p. 55) Lastly, and this doesn't just apply to speech corrections, "little children strongly dislike being given more help than they ask for." (p. 28)

Holt stresses the importance of listening to children: "When a baby shows us, by his expression, by the insistent tone of his voice, and by repeating his words over and over, that he is trying hard to tell us something, we must try just as hard to understand what he is saying." (p. 97) We do try already to do this with baby E, when it's clear that he wants to go up and touch something, if he looks like he wants help to sit up, because as Holt says, and as we intuitively felt ourselves, "There is no time in all of a child's growing up, when he will not be seriously hurt if he feels that we adults are not interested in what he is trying to say." (p. 114)

One of Holt's central tenants (that I think he discusses in more detail in How Children Fail which I haven't read yet) is that frequently quizzing kids after you tell them something to see if they have learned it does them no good. I'm not sure what his opinion would be about asking a child who is learning his colors "What color is this?", but say you explained to a little one how some complicated machine worked, he definitely wouldn't want you asking questions to make sure they understood it, especially because your explanation might have been more than they were looking for in the first place. With respect to the color question, perhaps it depends on the spirit in which it is asked.

In any case, he says, "every unasked for test is above all else a statement of no confidence in the learner." (p. 143) Finally, children "live in a perpetual uncertainty and wonder, and - unless adults are always asking them fool questions to test their knowledge - mostly thrive on it." (p. 286)

Click here for part II.

Here's a picture of little E with his laser-like focus working on picking up a potholder (that I made for Hubbo a long time ago!) from the kitchen table. We were trying to keep him busy while I finished eating that day.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sittin' Pretty

Just within the last week, little E's sitting has come a long way. A couple of weeks ago, he would sit if I held his hands, but then he learned to sit on his own like this:
Daddy is ready with a helping hand, just in case

Not exactly straight, but pretty balanced, and he's been good at sticking an arm out if he starts toppling for a while now (the little arm isn't always strong enough to support him ... but I think sitting is going to help with arm strength.) Being able to study his own feet is some extra motivation.

Today he was sitting like this!

Now Daddy just gives a helping leg :)
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With all of this sitting going on, we're looking forward to seeing how E takes to sitting in a high chair during meals. He's been getting pretty antsy hanging out in his swing lately, we think he wants to feel more included!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy Five Months!

Just popping in to say happy five months, Mr. Muffin!

Yummy rainbows
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Coming soon ... big progress on sitting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mini Book Review: Pathfinder

Pathfinder was the first Orson Scott Card book I read since he mainly writes science fiction, and I'm not a big fan of sci fi books. I love watching sci fi, but not reading it so much. Pathfinder consists of two stories, one fantasy (my favorite genre to read) and one sci fi, but the fantasy one makes up the bulk of the book by far.

Although I'm generally opposed to books that start out by killing someone off (one of the reasons, although there were many others, I stopped reading A Game of Thrones without finishing it), I loved Pathfinder! Thanks for recommending it, sis! I'm tentatively looking forward to the sequel, apparently called Ruins, but based on the ending of Pathfinder it might be too sci fi for me. Sister said she'd read it first and find out!

Fuzzy noggin!
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In baby news, we had allllllmost a 180 back-to-tummy roll yesterday!