A to Z Blogging Challenge: Prologue

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It’s been a while since I participated in any kind of blogging challenge, so I was quite interested when I came across a passing mention to something called the “A to Z Blogging Challenge“. Apparently this is a yearly challenge that has been around for a while now, and there’s a good chance that I probably heard it mentioned before at sometime in the past, but this is the first time that I took the initiative to actually go to the website and see what it’s all about. The idea is that if you blog every day except Sunday (because you have to have a day off, right?) through the month of April, you wind up with 26 posts. For the less observant of you out there, that means one post for every letter of the alphabet. So on day 1 you would blog about something that starts with the letter “A”, on day 2 something that starts with “B”, and so on. You can blog about anything you like; you can be totally random or come up with a theme. The only real rules are 26 days = 26 posts, and to use the alphabet as previous mentioned.

I thought it sounded like fun, so I decided to sign up, and was quite surprised to see that approximately 380 people had already signed up by the time I got to the form (back at the end of February). I thought to myself, “Self…that is a lot of participating blogs!” Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked back to the website a week into March and found that there were now over 1000 participating blogs? And that was with three weeks still left to sign up! Yikes!

All that aside, I’m telling you all this because tomorrow is the first of April, which means the first of my 26 alphabetic posts, and I need to explain a few things ahead of time. First of all, since my accountability posts are an important part of my blog, for the month of April there will be two posts each Wednesday: one accountability post and one challenge post. Second, along the same vein, I’m going to continue posting Fiction Fragment Fridays during April, so there will also be two posts every Friday. Lastly, as previously mentioned in the big “Theme Reveal” post, I decided that I am, in fact, going to use a theme for my challenge, and that theme is “Characters”. Whether they be from my favorite books, comics, TV shows, movies, or video games, during the month of April I am going to blog about 26 different fictional characters whom I love. Doesn’t that sound awesome? 😀 I think it sounds awesome.

And one final little point: since this challenge is a “blog hop” that encourages participants to spend a little bit of time each day visiting each others’ blogs, the people who run the A to Z Challenge suggest that posts be kept short (so we can all visit as many other blogs as possible). For that reason these 26 posts will be a fair bit shorter than my usual posts. Most are in the range of 400 words (as opposed to my usual 1000 words or more). Don’t get used to the brevity, because I’ll probably be ranting like a lunatic again in May. 🙂

The fun starts tomorrow! Good luck fellow challengers, and to my readers, I hope you enjoy!

Things I Know About Kids – Learning

First, I feel I should point out that I have done no real research on the topic of learning capabilities in small children, nor have I read any research done by others. What I know I’ve learned from my own daughter, and to a lesser extent my niece and the children we see at playgroup.

With that aside, what I know is that we as a society have a bad habit of underestimating small children. We follow guidelines that tell us what skills our kids should know and by when, we buy age-specific toys based on assessments made by the companies who designed them, and we get upset if our kids haven’t learned a specific skill by a specific time, even if they’ve become quite advanced in a different skill in the meantime.

In other words, we group all children together, expecting them to learn and grow at the same rate, and limiting them by focusing on only the skills we’re told they should have by now. I personally think this is very silly because, while you shouldn’t push your children to “learn learn learn learn learn!!!” you should always encourage them to go further and further.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter has a wooden alphabet puzzle. The back of the puzzle board states that the puzzle is for ages 3 and up. At the time we purchased the puzzle I thought that “ages 3 and up” couldn’t possibly refer to any kind of safety issue because the puzzle pieces are quite large, and a quick examination showed that there is no way the pegs could possibly become disconnected. When the safety check was all clear we gave our daughter the puzzle to play with…at the time she was just under a year old. Yes, we gave our one year old a toy that someone, somewhere, decided was meant for three year olds and up. We weren’t pushing the learning toy on her, and we certainly didn’t expect giving it to her to make her a genius or anything; we just figured it was a good, educational toy that she’d enjoy playing with. But here’s the thing…she caught on pretty fast. It only took her a few weeks to be able to locate where the pieces went, and by the time she was just under a year and a half old we had her telling us what all the letters were as she was doing the puzzle. It didn’t take long after that for her to understand that letters naturally went in a particular order, and if I wrote down letters she’d tell me which ones came next.

There were other factors that contributed to her success, of course… For one thing we took the time to sit with her and tell her what all the letters were. For another she also regularly watched a Sesame Street special that teaches kids the alphabet. But the point of the story is that if we had set the puzzle aside, assuming that she wouldn’t be able to understand it until she was at least three years old, she might not have caught on to the alphabet so soon. If we took it upon ourselves to assume that the Sesame Street special was too advanced for her, she wouldn’t be THIS close to being able to sing the whole alphabet song at less than two and a half years old (imagine me holding my fingers a few millimeters apart).

Again, I’m not saying my kid is a genius, but I can absolutely say with certainty that she has advanced faster than expected because we don’t hold back teaching her new things just because she’s still young. We make sure her toys are safe, and if we buy her something meant for older kids (Ninja Turtles action figures and My Little Pony sets come to mind) we make sure to remove any small pieces she might decide to swallow for fun. Once those two things have been accomplished, we let her play with what she’s interested in, and we encourage her to learn new things. In fact, she and her soon-to-be-four-year-old cousin can work my Samsung Galaxy Tab2 better than some adults I know.

Kids are sponges, they really are. We regularly take this into consideration when taking care not to transfer bad habits, but we rarely think about it when considering teaching and learning practices. Encourage your kid to learn, and (as long as safety permits) let them decide what toys and programs are appropriate for their age group. They’ll thank you for it later.

A Regular Little Mini-Me

Children are funny little creatures. They’re little miniature copies of ourselves, and how we interact with them affects who they will become, how they will grow and act. And sometimes, despite the choices we make and the actions we take, they grow and learn in a way that takes us completely off guard.

My daughter is inadvertantly causing me to relive my childhood, and it genuinely cracks me up every time I think about it. It started with little things that my husband and I fostered without thinking about it. She loves books because we encourage her to explore them and we taught her the alphabet earlier than might be usual. She loves being outside because we made sure to allow her plenty of time to explore and enjoy the outdoors. She loves to talk and sing because we always made sure to speak to her in proper English and I would sing to her whenever I got the chance.

Then, as she moved on into toddlerdom, other interests began cropping up that continually amazed me because they mirror my childhood so closely, despite the fact that I have in no way attempted to push these things on her. One of the first thing that caught my eye was when I noticed how much she loves playing with the dinky cars at her playgroup. When she first took interest with these she had no toy cars of her own at home, and I never specifically attempted to get her to play with any of the toy cars at playgroup. It made me smile because I used to love playing with my cousin’s dinky cars when I was young, and it seemed funny that she would take a shine to them as well. A small thing, to be sure, but funny. Then, one day as my husband was flipping through some movies, she caught sight of the dvd cover for the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. “Wassat?” she asked. So my husband put the movie on for her, and lo and behold, she fell in love with it. She took to all of the movies, the original cartoon, and especially the new cartoon. These days she doesn’t go one day without watching at least one episode, and most nights she wants the show on her tv when she goes to bed. She even has the new action figures, which she recieved for Christmas, and they’re some of her favorite toys. This makes me chuckle on a regular basis because, not only is it odd that a 2-year-old girl would fall in love with a show marketed toward 10-year-old boys, but I also loved the Ninja Turtles when I was young. My cousin and I would watch it every day while we ate lunch at my grandmother’s house, and he and I would act out many a battle with his cache of action figures.

And then, before you start declaring my daughter a full-on tomboy, along came My Little Pony. I’ll confess to this one: I looked up the show myself. I loved My Little Pony when I was young and I had tons of the little toy ponies, so I was interested to see what the new show was all about (the appearance of the word “brony” all over the net may have prompted my curiosity as well). So it was that I found a few episodes of the new show and introduced it to my daughter. The discovery was not at the same level as the Turtles, but over the past few months her delight with them has become nearly as strong. She now has a small collection of miniature ponies, as well as a few of the hair-styling variety, and on a regular basis she will request ponies for her bedtime show instead of Turtles. 

These things, along with several others, have made me seriously wonder about the idea of genetic memory. It just baffles me to no end that, with very little proding from my husband or I, my daughter has somehow come to fall in love with so many of the things that I loved as a child. She loves sitting and playing with the loose strings on her pillow (I did the same thing with a particular towel), she has a strange love for robots (I loved Transformers), and (perhaps as a result of watching Ninja Turtles) her favorite food is pizza (I ate so many mini pizzas as a child that my parents should have purchased stock in McCain). I’m sure I could come up with at least a dozen more similarities that seem to have sprung up from nowhere as well. It makes me wonder what other striking similarities may pop up in the future. Will she enjoy writing? Drawing? Will her favorite subject in school be math? Will she prefer RPG-style video games? Nothing is certain except for this: despite any similarities or dissimilarties her childhood may have to mine, at two years old I already think she’s the coolest little kid in the world, and I know that she’s only going to become more and more amazing in my eyes. Whatever interests you adopt as you grow up, baby girl, mama thinks you’re just the awesomest kid ever.