Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Birthday Balloons

Our tradition continues, when the kids wake up on their birthday they find tons of balloons. Here they are playing with literally a room full of balloons.

Monday, September 25, 2017

7th Birthday

Happy 7th Birthday!

Sweet Son loves Legos, video games, and music. He plays piano, trumpet, and accordion. He stays up late reading and his favorite meal is usually around 10pm. He enjoys puns and bathroom humor. While he prefers playing by himself most of the time, if he sees someone being left out or ignored, he will play with them. I  have observed him playing more than once with children with Down's Syndrome and including them without hesitation. He has an amazing heart and an amazing mind.

Sweet Daughter loves stuffed animals, games, and people. She plays piano, guitar, flute, and is starting voice lessons. She wake up early full of energy and wants to run, play sports, and be active all of the time. She has recently decided she loves reading and will often get a book to read or write in a journal if there is no one else to play with. She prefers being around people and board games and card games are almost an obsession with her. Playing risk for four hours in the afternoon just means she will want to play Catan or Ticket to Ride later in the day. She has some incredible leadership skills and no matter what group she is in, she quickly ends up being the one running things.

They are best friends when in a large group and fight like siblings when it is just the two of them. They always stick up for each other and have started standing up for each other against us! Every time they help each other or do something for the other without being told or asked, my heart melts just a bit more. I love them move every single day and I am so proud of who they are becoming.

Friday, September 22, 2017

More photographs of both kids

I love the photographer we use every year and the fact that my kids cooperate for good pictures! Here are some more of both kids together.

"Wrap your arms around each other"

This is his "I'm innocent!" look as he tickles her

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Self-Esteem

This post was originally published in July 2013

If you are reading this blog, I'm sure you already know that telling kids they are smart does more harm than good. So, what else does the research say about self-esteem?

First you should realize that most of us have the wrong definition of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not about feeling good. Self-esteem is simply a set of opinions about yourself. Self-esteem is built though competence and new achievements. There is a balance of the two. Trying a new experience you can't possibly succeed at will not build self-esteem any more than a high level of competence at something you have been doing for years.

Our society need to shift from our current view of children as helpless and needing to be protected. We need to support them through the difficult times, not rescue them. One of my personal pet peeves is hearing parents talk about how they don't want their child to be behind or have to try "too hard" at something. No one is the best in everything and the earlier you learn that the better off you will be. You should not try to get rid of the bumps in the road for your child. Instead, teach them how to handle the bumps. We should not teach our children to give up when it's difficult or they aren't the best. Imagine what that society will look like when they are adults. The goal here is to raise children to be independent, successful adults. You can't always protect them, so learning to deal with the bumps when they are small is crucial.

"Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." Piaget

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sweet Son

Here are Sweet Son's individual photos. :)

This one is my favorite because you can see his personality.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sweet Daughter

She was born first, so here are her individual photos. I will post his tomorrow. :)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Kids Pictures

Here are some of the photos of the kids together.

She wanted to be the tall one.

The photographer said, "Can you give each other a hug?" 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Motivating Students

This post was originally published in July of 2013

There are some things children are motivated about on their own and some things we need to help them find motivation for. So, what are the best ways to motivate using brain research?

First you need to know about the nucleus accumbens. For those that want this simplified, it's known as the reward center of the brain. It's a limbic structure that sends dopamine throughout the brain. This is the specific part of the anatomy that generates and sustains motivation. When you think dopamine you probably think Ritalin and ADHD, so let's start our discussion there.

Volkow (2009) found a disruption in two dopamine reward/motivation pathways among adults with ADHD. The severity of this disruption was related to the severity of inattention. Another study done in Barcelona, found that children with ADHD have a smaller ventral striatum (including the nucleus acumbens), especially on the right side. The volume was correlated with hyperactivity. We know that Ritalin produces significant levels of dopamine in the brain. This increases motivation and makes tasks seem more interesting. When you look at brain wave activity in typical kids versus ADHD kids there is a huge difference. The theta/beta ratio for typical kids is 4:1, while the ratio for ADHD kids is 9:1. For some kids necessary tasks require a Herculean effort. 

Typically, our society adds pressure and stress when people are not completing required tasks. It has been proven that when under stress, students work harder, but produce poorer quality work. The more stress you apply, the worse the results. While students are trying and giving it their all, they accomplish less. This also decreases motivation and makes students want to avoid challenges. This becomes even more harmful in the long run.

Sleep also plays a huge part on working memory, attention, and reaction time. Forth and sixth graders were paid to sleep one hour more or less for three consecutive nights. After a loss of 35 minutes each night for 3 nights (most couldn't make it an entire hour less) they lost two years of efficiency in these three areas. We are just starting to understand the impact of sleep and how many areas it impacts. I suspect this area of research to have a huge boom in the near future (3-5 years).

So, how do we motivate our children and students? Students need optimal challenges, feedback from the task (rather than from the teacher), freedom from demeaning evaluations, a sense of autonomy, choices, and self-direction. In other words, they need more meaningful projects and less testing. Good luck getting this in traditional schools. There are certainly teachers out there who are doing exactly this for each of their students, but they are becoming more and more rare.

There is one other thing I feel I should mention here. The brain interprets rewards and punishments as a loss of control, which is demonstrated by the stress hormones being released in the brain. The brain is wired to try to find ways of getting the reward without doing the job/assignment. We should stop fighting this and change the way we are teaching. 80% of education in public schools is competitive. While this is motivating for the top few kids, it's extremely demotivating for the other 95% of students. Why try if you aren't going to win? Stop and think about this - 95% of students are being discouraged 80% of the time in school. In order to address this, our society keeps adding more tests and rankings. We are just making it worse rather than embracing the research and trying to help the students.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Family Photos

Once a year we have professional photos taken. Here are the pictures of the 4 of us.

Ok, she said the kids should climb in the tree, but I'm pretty sure I was included...

In a creek bed


Monday, September 11, 2017

Consignment Sale Finds

We buy the kids clothing twice a year at consignment sales because it is so much cheaper. I can average less than $2/item and end up with high end name brands. This time the kids had to come with me and I knew it would be about a 2 hour shopping trip, not exactly exciting for them. I told them if they were good we could look and see if they could find a toy for their birthday.

As soon as we walked in Sweet Daughter saw this. She proclaimed, "I have always wanted one! You have never bought me one. This is what I have wanted more than anything!" 
This is a 5 foot tall banana with dreadlocks and a reggae hat.

At the end of the trip Sweet Son decided he wanted this plane that lights up and makes noises.

They both got what they requested. Sweet Daughter even bargained to get a cheaper price on the banana because hers cost more than his toy did. They lowered the price of the banana, TWICE because she explained that it was for her birthday and how much she had always wanted a banana with dreadlocks. ummm?

Yes, she slept with the banana.

A year later and I have no idea where the plane is, but the banana is played with almost every day. It makes a great body pillow and the kids love falling asleep on top of it. We quickly discovered the dreadlocks come off easily and everything is covered in "banana hair." This leads to many strange looks when discussing in front of people who haven't seen a banana quite like this one.

Friday, September 8, 2017


An early birthday present arrived in the mail and the kids were excited. They each got a set of gears and they went to work.

Sweet Daughter's first creation - her favorites are the swing and merry-go-round for bears

 Sweet Son was more interested in how many gears he could hook together

They put their sets together and made a 3d set that worked smoothly

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Early Education Priorities

This post was originally published in August of 2013.

Kids were tested going into Kindergarten on their knowledge of reading, Math, Science, and Social Studies. What was the best predictor of later reading and Math tests (2nd grade and up)? Science and Social Studies, in that order. Kindergarten reading was not even correlated to 2nd grade reading. Early reading certainly didn't cause higher reading scores. It is much more important to do Science with your kids than any other subject when they are young. This is great because most young kids would rather do Science than reading anyway. Everyone's happy! Also interesting is that early reading doesn't improve later Science and Social Studies scores. Since those subjects are most traditionally taught through reading, I found that interesting. So far the research hasn't figured out why, but still fascinating.

The best way to improve Math scores is going to surprise you. Fine motor skills help with Math. The larger the fine motor deficit, the more impaired later Math becomes. This is most obvious when replicating figures or models, but is true for all areas of Math. They tested many different ways to improve Math scores and the top interventions are: drawing (but not coloring), Legos, fuse beads, pattern blocks, Montessori triangles, puzzles, paper folding, blocks, knob cylinders, and Colorforms. No worksheets, flashcards, or tutoring made the list. Kids tend to shut down when forced to do something they think they aren't good at, but hand them a bucket of Legos or teach them paper folding and they are willing and successful. 

Now for something that makes me feel old. These studies weren't just done with young children. These studies went all the way through college students. At the beginning and the end of the college student study they needed a novel way to test their ability to do mental rotation. Something the kids hadn't done before and were unlikely to practice in between the two tests. They used Tetris. For those of you who are around my age you just freaked out a little that college students have never played Tetris. I was presented with this information at a conference. The group of young guys in the row in front of me spent about 5 minutes debating what Tetris is before using their smart phones to look it up. They decided it must be a game for old people. 

It's well known that the current educational policy is dill and kill. Everyone says they want their kids to have critical thinking skills. You need to know that these are learned before/after and outside school, usually through play. Music, sports, fine motor, problem solving, etc. It's also important to realize that most colleges care more about these activities than you might expect. When looking at two kids with identical grades and test scores the one that will stand out is the one who was involved in things outside of school. This is also one reasons the homeschooling movement is growing in the United States.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Sweet Daughter decided to play basketball this Fall. She wanted something with people and competition. She's actually a decent basketball player, despite her height.

She's the tiny one in purple in the middle of the photo. 
Yeah, the other girls were all MUCH bigger on both teams.

She is the one with the ball trying to figure out who is open.

I'll be honest, this is what most of my photos look like. I think she's the small blur in front.

Notice the video camera in front of me? The other team recorded each of their games and then would meet and analyze their performance and what they needed to work on. Their coach was... intense. She screamed and called them names and insulted them. Did I mention this is first and second grade girls recreational basketball? We lost the game, but our girls walked away happy because no one screamed at them. It taught them to appreciate something they had taken for granted before.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Park with a Friend

We met a friend at a local park. He was younger and our kids immediately took charge - whether he liked it or not!

Showing him around the playgrounds


Goodbye Hug
(Can you guess which kid doesn't like hugs?)

Friday, September 1, 2017


Sweet Son decided he wanted to take swimming lesson as his sport this Fall. I love our swim school they have extremely small classes, 2 kids to 1 instructor or 3 kids to 2 instructors. His first day of lessons he was by himself!

Learning proper body positioning

I'm not sure what he said, but she laughed for almost two full minutes.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Eye Droppers

This post was originally published in January of 2013.

One of our favorite fine motor activities is using eye droppers . We have a couple of different ways we use them.

Here you can see the kids have a few different colors of water and are dripping them onto coffee filters. Once these dry, they make pretty circles to hang up.  


  In addition to how great this is for building fine motor skills, this also offers the opportunity to experiment and talk about why the water spreads. The water spreads on the flat parts first, but slowly it will climb up the higher parts. I love when I can add in a little Science to an art project. We were also able to talk about what happens when the colors meet and start mixing.

Another fun activity that I borrowed from their Montessori school is moving all of the water from one small container to the other. These are small bowls and while at school they use glass, these are plastic. The kids may be great at taking care of their equipment, but Mommy is a klutz and tends to break or get hurt with glass. This takes a lot of patience and really builds those finger muscles that will later be important for writing, typing, playing piano, using chopsticks, and many other things in life.


These red trays are great. I got them at IKEA when they were on sale for 1/2 of their regular price. The kids can open and close them and they are the perfect height for doing art work over the tile. At the top they have two circles for cups (or for marker lids) and one long tray that we use for markers/crayons so they aren't rolling over the kids paper.

I also have visions of eating breakfast in bed on one of these trays, but since I refuse to get up and make breakfast before getting back in bed I don't think it will happen. haha