Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in child development (4)


Concrete operations

Two years ago, when we were first exploring long term education options and were looking to absorb as much information as possible, I read two books by David Elkind—The Power of Play and Miseducation, Preschoolers at Risk. Of all the books I've read on child development I believe these are two of my favorites; They ended up being the final push we needed to embrace our growing opposition to today's style of preschool (the kind that replaces imaginative play with the formal learning and computer time), and ultimately the first of many steps down a road that led us to choose homeschooling.

Though parts of both books deal specifically with discipline and the kinds of "stages" that all mothers abhor, they come back to my mind often for their information on Piaget's developmental theory. I believe it was while reading Miseducation that my knowledge of Piaget went from college text book memorization of his theory on stages to a real life grasp of its application. Piaget held that children must achieve certain cognitive abilities before they can learn certain skills, and watching Calvin grow and change these stages have been pretty marked, and having the means to recognize them has been pretty rewarding.

Why am I spouting all this information so suddenly? Because yesterday I experienced one of those "Aha!" moments, a real light bulb going off in my brain while watching Calvin put together a floor puzzle. Several months ago, the last time we had the puzzles out actually, I sat on the floor in much the same position, watching him do the same three puzzles, and experiencing a certain amount of frustration and anxiety. Calvin himself was having a fine time, but watching him repeatedly try to fit together pieces that could not possibly have connected (i.e. hole to hole, peg to peg, or straight edge in the middle) was a bit like nails on a chalkboard for me. Calvin's only real concern with the puzzle pieces was to put the pictures together without any consideration given to shape or orientation. Several times I tried to gently lead him to recognizing the importance of the shapes, but to no real avail.

Yesterday, however, was like a new dawn. After months without even opening the puzzles he flew through the two easiest ones in minutes and attacked the harder puzzle with an actual plan by pulling out the edge pieces and connecting them first, beginning in the sky and moving towards the ground. He was sorting pieces based on both color and shape. I was astounded. I was pleased. I was also greatly relieved and found myself enjoying the activity for once. Later I thought about all the various leaps he's made in the past couple of months—his newfound understanding of familial relations (Gram is your mother, isn't she?), his sudden interest in and aptitude for learning to read and write, and now his ability to sort puzzle shapes in multiple ways—and that's when the little light bulb went off in my brain. Those leaps and bounds were predictably related and were the signs of his starting to move into the concrete operational stage, when children become able to properly classify and order objects based on one or many factors. It is upon reaching this stage that children are able to recognize simultaneously two different aspects of a single object's existence (the puzzle piece can be the head of a brown dinosaur, and can also be a top edge piece in a puzzle) and successful movement into this stage is necessary before true reading (not memorized recognition of words by sight) can be taught since a child must be able to recognize that a letter can make multiple sounds, and can be not only a letter, but also a sound, or also part of a word.

I made note of my little light bulb moment, like putting the final piece in my own puzzle, in the journal I have begun keeping on our homeschooling journey. Just writing down the discovery made me realize what an exciting moment it really was for me. I think I rank it right up there with first steps, or first foods, only really this one is even more exciting because it is so much more interactive and so much more complex.


Never underestimate

I was in the kitchen preparing a meal to go in the crockpot, looking forward to a day of fun and relaxing since the chores were done. Calvin was in his play room coloring on his easel and calling out every once and again about his work.

"This is a big window in brown"

"I'm using green to make hand turkeys."

The final cry announced that he was finished drawing and would move on to playing with his trains, so, out of a habit that has yet to form, I said "make sure you put your name on your artwork!" wondering, as I said it, at the futility of the statement. To whom else could it possibly belong? And he can't write anyhow, let alone spell out his own name on paper.

A few minutes later I finished with the crockpot meal and joined the little guy in the play room. Well I'll be.

Many times I have told myself, and others, to be careful about underestimating the abilities of children. In my care to follow a learning path that was unschooled and desire driven we have yet to work on any reading or writing skills, and though we've often spelled his name out together verbally or with magnets, we have never practiced forming letters in any way physically. Jon, when he got home, called this an obvious desire to learn how to read and write and declared open season on that subject. I'm not sold yet, but I do think this is pretty darn neat.


Stick figures

For Christmas last year we got Calvin an easel, a present that has seen plenty of use and love the whole year through (as attested to by the multitude of paint splatters and occasionally misplaced stickers).  Calvin's favorite medium has been paint, which he uses in an abstract style that brings a vibrant touch of color to the play room, where I have several of his pieces hanging for daily enjoyment. I like the abstract feel.

Lately, though, Calvin has branched out into the wide world of crayons. After spending some time at the easel by himself one evening last week he was upstairs reading books with Jon before bed while I straightened up a bit downstairs. That's when I stumbled across the stick figures. I was so excited to find something, that even remotely resembled something other than tumble weed, that I ran upstairs, new art in hand, to ask Calvin what he's drawn. He told me all about the eyes, ears. mouths, and bodies he had drawn.

"They're garbage men" he told me.


Our extended rear facing toddler.

Our 33 pound, three year old little boy, is still safely tucked into in a rear facing convertible seat whenever he is riding in a motor vehicle. This is not popular culture, and we know it. If we didn't know it before, the amount of commentary we've received from the peanut gallery has certainly brought it to our attention. But we believe that the information available says this is the safest way for him to ride, and like most parents we are committed to keeping our child safe. So why does extended rear facing (ERF), though gaining in popularity, remain purely a counter-culture movement? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons, but a failure to circulate important facts, coupled with general confusion, is probably the biggest culprit. As new first time parents we knew nothing about ERF, but when it came time to buy a new carseat, careful online research introduced us to the movement, and further research won us over. This is a site about child development and learning, and this is a post about child development, and about learning—it's about what we learned regarding ERF because we think it's a really important issue.

The CDC ranks motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death in young children, but car seat safety can be a rather confusing topic for many new parents. State laws require that an infant remain in a rear facing restraint system until they reach one year of age and 20 pounds in weight, but many parents read this either as a mere suggestion, or as an either/or option, turning their children around when they reach 20 pounds before their first year, or vise versa. And the confusion extends way beyond the first year—the AAP says that we should keep our kids rear facing for as long as their convertible car seat will allow, but not all its member practices seem to be aware of this. At Calvin's one year appointment the RN who welcomed us was actually apalled that we planned to keep him rear facing for as long as possible and I had to remind her that we were complying with AAP recommendations. This is in stark contrast to the RN who, just last week, did the installation check on our new car seat and commended us on our ERF decision. If the medical professionals we trust can't even straighten it out, is it any wonder that it's a confusing issue for parents?

So why is rear facing so much safer? Simply put, kids aren't built like adults. In fact, a child's cervical vertibrae do not reach maturity (or ossify) until some time between their third and sixth year. Add to that the fact that a child's head is a greater percentage of his body weight, and you've got a rather precarious situation. If the forces in a crash are great enough, that relatively large head can be thrust forward, putting undue stress on the immature vertibrae and leading to spinal damage, sometimes even to internal decapitation and death. Still tempted to submit to the "well everyone does it" line of the popular culture gurus? Sure, most people do turn their kids around at one year, and a rare few of those are the reasons we have such horrendous factoids to share. I don't want to belong to that club. Besides, not everyone does do it.

The Swedes are well known as forerunners in the car seat safety department. In Sweden the unusual thing would be to turn your child forward facing before the age of three, and it is common to keep them rear facing to the age of five (55 pounds being the usual upper weight limit for rear facing on Swedish car seats). Based on the crash data coming from Sweden, at least one current study says the U.S. should recommend that children remain rear facing until the age of four, and that manufacturers of U.S. car seats should begin making seats with higher weight limit restrictions to accomodate this change. Some manufacturers have already responded to these demands, and have increased rear facing weight limits to 40 pounds or more. The seat we just bought for Calvin (the Sunshine Kids Radian 80SL) will allow him to remain rear facing to 45 pounds, and when we do turn him around it will keep him in a five point harness until he is 80 pounds (that's a conversation for another time, though, or you can read more about long term usage of a five point harness on the Kyle David Miller site).

That's my two cents, for what it's worth. You'll see where, in some cases, I've linked the original source of the data I am referencing. Other tid bits I've left unlinked because they are more widely discussed throughout the internet. For more information visit, where you'll find a great break down of the anatomy of a vehicular crash (though their car seat data does not reflect the most recent line of seats) and a forum where you can talk to safety technicians and other parents. Or visit the Kyle David Miller Foundation, where you'll find a page that really explains the medical support for ERF in clear terms, and several heart wrenching stories and videos.

One last thing. Regardless of your stand on the issue, keep in mind that a car seat isn't safe, rear or forward facing, unless it is installed and used properly and is a good fit for the car. If you have any concerns about your seat installation, or even if you don't, do an internet search or call the nearest pediatric hospital to find a car seat safety technician (CST) and set up an appointment to have the installation checked. They can also answer lots of questions and give great tips (like don't buckle your child into the seat wearing a coat!), and check your daily usage. Calvin and I did this just last week and I even though I was sure things were fine (and they were) I feel much safer having had it checked.

Ride safe.