Raising successful kids

Having the girls home from daycare has really given me more hands on with their education. The little one is still too little to do much formal learning, but I’ve been trying to engage my second grader with various activities to help drive her creative and technical talents for some time. My wife and I have always made reading a part of their daily routine since they were in utero, and it’s paid off. We got Elder’s acceptance letter to the gifted school earlier this week.

I had behavior problems when I was in primary school, mostly due to me being ahead of the class in some way or another. I can see the same issues with Elder when she’s doing her Zoom conferences with her class. She’ll be distracted by messing with her camera background, painting her face, or working on something else and constantly interrupting what’s going on to chime in with a progress update. It’s hard for me to witness without trying to correct her, so I’ve taken to leaving her alone to it.

Once she had the dexterity and reading skills to starting using the computer and keyboard, I got her a typing game to play. I had one when I was little, and want to make sure she has proper technique. She finished it, but I still catch her two finger typing, so I need to reinforce it, or find something to mix it up a bit. I hear speed typing is a competitive thing now, so I’ll see if she’s interested in that. Of course I realize that voice first is now a big thing, but I want her to have the underlying skill.

To that end, I’ve started asking her to do morning pages. I gave her one of my Ubuntu laptops and set it up for her with Atom, and tasked her with doing twenty five written words, as a sort of morning pages exercise. I don’t put any requirements on what she writes, and she’s still struggling with it. I’m not sure I’ve really made the case for why I’m asking her to do it. She sees me writing these blog posts in the morning, so I think she gets what I’m doing, but she complains about not having anything to write.

Music is very important to both my wife and I. I’ve played guitar for twenty five years, and we both love singing. The girls enjoy their cartoon musicals, and will often make up songs. I wanted the girls to have access to the tools to make their own music, so I bought a ukelele for them early on. It didn’t take — they haven’t figured out frets — so I bought a piano and got Elder doing Playground Sessions. She still complains about it, but I keep encouraging her to push through the lessons. Getting to the point where she’ll be able to play her favorite songs and create her own is hard, but I want her to see through it. Younger seems to enjoy the song modes on the piano, and likes to “play” along with The Muffin Man. Lately we’ve being taking turns with the pre-programmed rhythm and accompinament options and have been holding dance parties. It’s super cute.

I started Elder on Code.com’s lessons about a year ago. Most of the exercises are centered around moving a character, say a bee, around a path using move forward, turn right, repeat and while blocks. It was fun working with her to solve the puzzles using the minimum number of code blocks, and one of them took us several tries to optimize.

A few months ago I started picking up a few Python For Kids books from the library and tried to entice her into taking a look at it, but she wasn’t interested. We had talked about making programs for various things, but I guess the timing wasn’t right and we set it aside.

Perusing Barnes and Nobles kids gaming section in the pre-COVID days, I came across books about Roblox among the Minecraft and Fortnite books. So I finally set it up on her shared computer a few weeks ago, hoping to give her an alternative to watching TV. And man, she loves it. I pretty much leave her to it, although I have walked in on her playing shooting games on it. She really gets sucked into some of them: a pizza shop simulator, a mansion building time sink, and some sort of boat builder river obstacle course.

I took a look at the Roblox developer docs; it’s actually a sophisticated gaming platform. It incorporates 3D modeling for the various game assets, as well as Lua scripting for the game logic. Elder and I have spent some time playing with the Roblox Studio, placing models and messing around with terrain generation, then letting her playtest by running around in them. We’ve talked about making a game together, and she wants my help building one. I have to question why she wants to make a hunting game where the goal is to shoot bears and lions and “sell their meat” for money, but I’ll take it one step at a time.

Roblox is free to play, but it does have in game purchases using Robux. You can spend this in game money on items for your avatar, or powerups in game, but we’re not doing that. Instead, I decided to see what we could do by creating our own assets. I found out that you can import and export models from the Studio, so I went and downloaded Blender on her computer. We spent Friday and Saturday night watching tutorial videos on YouTube, and took turns sculpting faces in Blender. I even broke my old Wacom tablet out of the closet to play around with. The package is way to sophisticated for her, but I’m glad she took a little bit of interest in it. She says that she has no interest in any of the animation features, but I can tell you that it’s spurred my interest!

Of course making sure the two of them get plenty of non-screen time is important, so I’m making sure they get plenty of outside time. It’s hard since we’ve been isolating for the last two weeks, cause it’s just the two of them. We’ve been taking daily bike rides for exercise and I’ve been trying to get them to sit through some mindfulness lessons via Anaka Harris on the Waking Up app. It doesn’t seem possible for Younger at this age, but Elder at least seems capable of about thirty seconds max before she starts fidgeting. We’ll see how practice goes. All I can really do now is set an example and try to encourage three to give minute sessions.

I want to wrap up by mentioning a Knowledge Project podcast I listened to yesterday with Esther Wojcicki, author of How to Raise Successfull People. Ester’s learning model goes by the acronym TRICK, for trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. There’s a lot of good points in here, although, as other’s have noted, Esther’s privelege and affluence is quite grating in some respects. Still, it’s something that I shared with my wife last night and am going to share with the girls also.

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