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Posts Tagged ‘parenting

I tweet-shared this opinion piece yesterday because I thought it was timely and well-written for lay folk.

I agree with almost all of it. Almost.

The authors’ example of 21st century edtech pseudoscience was DVDs on the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein. I get the valid arguments against the DVDs — their benefits were for older learners, temporary, or scientifically proven to be ineffective. But how are DVDs “21st century”? What person in current “early childhood” knows what a DVD is?

They also make this statement:

Raising a successful child in today’s world does not require special technology, toys or other products because we know that the brain is a social organ thriving on basic human communication and daily social experiences – conversations, stories, gestures, demonstrations, walks, hide-and-seek, doing things together, holding the lift door for a neighbour, helping granny with her grocery bag, exchanging words of encouragement.

I agree that there is no need for special technology. But this does not mean NO technology. The everyday and mundane technology include their parents’ phones and eventually their own. Kids need to be taught how and when use them meaningfully, powerfully, and responsibly. We must embrace such tools rather than reject them under a blanket statement.

The start of the school year is a mixed bag of emotions for parents. More so for the kids, but for just a bit let us focus on the people who bore them life.

While there are many parental emotions this week, there are two major ones that different types of parents might swing between. One is relief and the other is anxiety.

A working parent with kids might be relieved that the nanny that is school has resumed business. Cruel as it sounds, these parents are happy that their children are back in school and out of their vacation hair.

The anxious parent is typically a first-timer. Not a new parent, but one whose child is starting kindergarten or primary school or any new school for the first time. There is separation anxiety.

There is a spectrum, of course, not a dichotomy of either one or the other type.

I actually prefer to be with my son during vacations. I like observing how he grows up and revisiting life through his eyes. You might say that I have a Piagetian fascination (Piaget formulated his theories on cognitive development in children based on observations of his own kids.)

It is this same Piagetian fascination that reduces my parental anxiety. I know that one role of parents is to let go and create independent individuals, and hopefully nice, responsible, happy, and self-regulating ones at that.

My small anxiety was not that of separation, but one of travel.

When I was a university professor, my son attended kindergarten at an outfit on campus. When he was in primary school, it was in the neighbourhood and I taught him how to take the bus home.

Now that he has started secondary school, he has to travel about an hour on the train. He has to deal with the possible train breakdowns and the various travel alternatives. He has to think on his feet and grow up in the process.

This is about as authentic as learning can get. No amount of Xiao Ming travelling westward at 90km/h and northward at 80km/h in a textbook will come close to that sort of learning.

So I prepared him during the vacation by familiarising him with travel routes and possible alternatives. I was his guide at his side on the train.

Like a learning scaffold, I was literally at his side yesterday on his first day of travel. Like a proper scaffold, I gave him the choice of using it or not again depending on how confident he was.

He took the scaffold down today. I am happy and proud, and a little sad.

My son is 12-years-old. Mention that anywhere else in the world and another parent might shrug or ask me what he likes doing. Mention that in Singapore and the immediate reaction is an exclamation: PSLE!

At the beginning of the year, my wife attended a special session at my son’s school. Parents met their kids’ new and get-them-ready-for-PSLE teachers. My son’s mathematics teacher wanted to know how many kids did not receive mathematics tuition, be it remedial or enrichment. Only my wife and three or four other parents’ hands went up.

That teacher assured us that tuition was not necessary and that was a good thing. The bad thing was that all the other parents did not believe him.

More recently, the same teacher asked my son’s class of 40+ students if they had experienced ill-structured problems. He did not use that term but explained it as questions that did not have fixed or clear answers — basically life problems.

Only my son put up his hand and was naturally asked to elaborate. He described how he had experienced interviews, focus groups, question generating activities, peer critique of independent work, and portfolios. If I was there, I would have reminded him of the way he solved problems when playing video games.

I was not surprised that the experience was not more common. I was surprised at some of his peer’s responses. They did not place much value in those activities. A few even sneered.

If kids that age mirror what their parents say and believe, then we have a problem if PSLE2021 is going to try to change parental mindsets. (See my six-parter on the new scoring format.)

My son’s different way of thinking probably stems from the fact that my wife and I are educators. However, I do not think that we do anything special. We teach when things emerge and with the seemingly mundane.

If we get cut off while in our car, there is life lesson. If we eat out, notice the uncleared tables, and clear our own, there is a life lesson.

When we eat in, we do so together and we talk as we watch YouTube videos. Maybe that is a bit special.

During the day, I watch and curate several videos that emerge from my YouTube subscription, RSS, and Twitter feeds. I put interesting ones in a Watch Later playlist. At dinner, we watch the videos via a Google Cast to a TV in the dining room. We have never had a quiet moment because we ask questions, model thinking, and dissect opinions.

I think of this as a different form of reading to a young child. When we used to read to him when he was much younger, we were preparing him for basic literacy. Now we prepare him with information, media, and critical literacy. Just like language development, exposure to and practice with these leads to fluency.

This is my anecdote and one story does not paint a complete picture. By listening to other contrary anecdotes, I realise that we are swimming against the current (the flow and the times). I do this because I can see the larger picture: The current leads to a waterfall.

It was Kermit the Frog who declared that it was not easy being green. He was talking about standing out.

It is not easy to go green (be environmentally friendly) and see returns for your efforts too. The video below suggests a simpler habit we can all adopt.

Video source

But even the effort of buying responsibly can feel hollow because you are not sure what actual impact you are having.

How about doing the following then?

It is not easy to be green. It is not easy to parent either. But the latter is well within our grasp.

As parents and/or educators, we can all do something to nurture kids with progressive values that we can see in action a day, a year, and a generation from now.

Let our legacy be better kids.

I would expect a headline like Are Touchscreens Melting Your Kid’s Brain? to originate from the local press. But I found this on Wired.

The quote that disturbed me the most was:

the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

I think the author and I have different views on what it means to parent.

Leaving a child to play with or watch a video with a mobile device is not parenting. It is not even passive parenting. At best it is nannying.

Parenting is helping the child manage the use of mobile technologies. It is setting and maintaining rules. It is about knowing when to say yes and no as well as articulating why.

The harm is not in the mobile or touchscreen device. It is in parents or adults who do not manage its use.

Not too long ago, my son’s art teacher told the class to draw a sunflower. Having a mind and eyes shaped by LEGO and Minecraft, he opted to draw a blocky version.

My son told me that kids who drew more literal or accurate versions of sunflowers got better grades than those (like him) who drew their own interpretations.

Perhaps I should give the teacher the benefit of the doubt if the pieces were graded on technique or accuracy of representation.

Or perhaps I should wonder if there is room in that classroom for multiple interpretations or creative expression.

I told my son that art was subjective. We had a just-in-time, just-for-him discussion on the importance of different perspectives and staying creative. I am going to follow up with a reminder that “grades are not everything” and provide him with a boost in confidence.

There are things that schooling does not teach. There are things that schooling should teach but does not. We must be aware of both.

If we are parents, we must fill those gaps in on our own. If we are educators, we must ask ourselves why those gaps even exist.

I think the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) cannot be implemented fast enough.

According to the PDPA site:

Provisions relating to the DNC Registry came into effect on 2 January 2014 and the main data protection rules will come into force on 2 July 2014.

DNC is Do Not Call. It also covers Do Not Text and Do Not Fax. I wish it had Do Not Email.

Like most people in Singapore, I still get spam text messages. I did not subscribe to any of them nor did I agree to receive them, but I am always told I can unsubscribe from them.

My son has his own smartphone and he gets messages informing him of ATM withdrawals and advertisements to attend courses or to buy condominiums.

I assume that since he has a prepaid SIM card number, the previous owner of the number set up the ATM withdrawal alert. These texts are from a bank we do not have an account with and the alerts are for $1,000 withdrawals. From the frequency of the withdrawals, my guess is that the previous owner has a gambling habit.

How now, PDPA?

My son attends Primary school and is too young to attend accounting and other courses the texts tout. He is not interested in them either. Nor is he rich enough to buy a condominium.

Maybe he has money squirreled away somewhere. According to other text messages, he makes frequent $1,000 withdrawals.

But I digress.

When my son asked me why he should not reply or unsubscribe, I told him that was a sure-fire way of letting the marketers know that he existed. He would get even more text messages as a result.

When he asked me why they would send such messages to a kid, I told him that they did not know that he was a child. And in this case, I do not really hold the marketers responsible.

The mobile operators are guilty of being loose with their databases. It is not enough that they make money out of the services we pay for. They also want to profit from our information.

But I digress again.

Learning to deal with spam texts is an early 21st century competency. It is about managing your personal information.

We cannot expect most schools to teach kids this competency because most schools ban or restrict the use of smartphones, particularly among the younger kids.

When schools do make an attempt, it might be an e-learning module led by Garfield (that fat orange cat) that even young kids know has nothing to do with reality. Kids can tell if a situation is not real or the consequences not dire.

Parents can put their hope in schools or wait for the PDPA to come into effect. They can also choose to categorize this as a small issue and ignore it. Doing any of these are mistakes. These are teachable moments that are authentic and meaningful.

Warning: The following video contains gruesome cartoon violence.

Video source

After watching this video, I remember a statement from one of the elders: This is the state of the nation of parenthood. It’s disappearing.

Watch with your kids. Maybe not this video or the Happy Tree Friends videos. Watch everything else!

Video source

I watched a documentary on Minecraft, Story of Mojang (trailer above).

I enjoyed the bits on the creative efforts of individuals, the Minecraft Teacher‘s classroom, and the comment of a parent.

That parent did what most parents do: Limit the computer gaming time of their kids. But that parent also noticed the creative work that his child was engaged in. He wondered why he should limit that. He reflected that parenting had to change.

That struck a still resonating chord with me.

The issue is not about self-regulation, discipline, and balance. Those are important to develop in a child. The issue is questioning the setting of unreasonable limits on creativity, authentic exploration, and self-directed learning.


Over the weekend, my son and I created two videos of his exploits in Minecraft.

They are not professional quality as we used an old white Macbook, QuickTime’s built-in screencasting feature, and Minecraft running in a window.

Video source

Video source

There are lots of other more famous and entertaining Minecraft users who have created YouTube videos. CaptainSparklez, paulsoaresjr, and bluexephos come to mind. These are also the ones I would recommend for mostly kid-friendly viewing.

So why bother adding to an already large pool?

First, I wanted to show my son that creating such a resource takes time and practice. It is easy to go to YouTube, do a search, and simply consume content like the way you might watch TV. There is a lot more to learn from producing a video.

Second, it is important to give back. His videos are not likely to gather as many views or get as much appreciation as Sparklez and co. But you never know who you might reach or inspire. If an eight-year-old can do this, how about you?

Third, he will eventually realize that to teach is to learn more deeply. Even a simple description or free storytelling requires a certain sequence or logic. Saying one thing one way is clear to all. Saying it another way leaves them in the dark with a mob of Creepers.

Fourth, I would like him to eventually learn how to upload videos to his own account. There he will learn how share it responsibly, e.g., by tagging, deciding whether or not to enable various sharing options, and so on.

Fifth, he will be adding to his digital showcase and life portfolio. I started blogging on his behalf just before he was born eight years ago. He now has a digital presence in Posterous where we co-produce content. He needs to learn that this as a process and a form of literacy.

His school is unlikely to teach him this. I cannot offer him what MinecraftEdu does. But I can help him not just learn from Minecraft videos but also with them!


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