Happy 10th Chinaversary to me!

Today marks my tenth Chinaversary. It’s no secret the most significant event I’ve experienced throughout my decade in China is motherhood, but second to that is the journey that led me to working with infants and toddlers and Montessori.

“I don’t know how you do it…I wouldn’t last a day!”

I hear this all the time and I always ask, “why not?” Often people have never really thought about it, nor asked themselves what exactly it is about young children that is so baffling or scary that they would never dare consider working with them. They just believe they do not have the patience for it. I hate to admit it, but once upon a time I was absolutely that person. Seven years ago if you were to ask me if this is where I saw myself in the future, my answer would have been a resounding NO…

…but here we are.

In 2011, I worked for a young, expatriate couple who had a two year old daughter and they changed my whole perception of family life. The parents were smart, beautiful, and both had successfully climbed to the top rung of their respective journalism ladders. But perhaps the most amazing thing to me was how much and they travelled and how easy they made it seem with a two year old—who was inquisitive with an energy that never slowed [I was exhausted just looking at this child, seriously]. I had always been told that children and travel do not mix and so, I said I would delay having a child for a few years. But I found myself being more and more curious about children as I continued to work for this couple. And so, I began to study child development.

While studying, I had the good fortune of witnessing for myself the wonderful milestones and the developments of infants and toddlers. It was so fascinating to observe all the transformations occur in their physical, cognitive, socioemotional and language skills. I began to understand children and I started to recognise the different ways they learn and the different ways their minds perceive different situations. It was also satisfying to successfully apply the skills I had acquired through the studies. It changed the way I interacted with children. I found myself becoming more empathetic, patient, and generally, just happier to be around them. I had gained an understanding of children that made it a pleasure to work with them—even on those really difficult days, when the cries would cut through you like a hot knife on butter, there was always something to be thankful for because I began to view the world through their eyes; I had gained their sense of wonder.

Now we fast forward seven years and I have devoted many years to studying children. I continue to practice my craft and I continue to find new ways of understanding them and so when people ask me, “How do you do it?” I simply say it’s because, “I want to.”

Thank you, China, for letting me discover what it means to truly love your work.

It took me 10 years to solve one major mathematical problem.

Fourth grade was a terrible, awful, no-good year!

Okay, I’m being hyperbolic—but, it was the year that I was asked to stand in front of the class, pick up a piece of chalk and solve a mathematical problem. It was some sort of multiplication or long division or, as far as I was concerned, the most difficult mathematical problem ever created!

To this day working with numbers sends a heart-stopping fear through me that I can’t explain, other than just sheer panic. And needless to say, I try to avoid mathematics at all cost, which is not ideal…my husband is forever bewildered that I never check if I’ve received the proper change after paying for something. It’s also the reason I’ve embraced weChat and other electronic forms of payments (Why wouldn’t I? It does the math for me!).

I know that soon enough the day will come that Charlie will ask for help with her maths homework (Cue: The Imperial March.)…and she’ll realise that Mathematics is my kryptonite. This poses the following problems:

1. I won’t have the confidence to help her or, more likely, still try to help her and fail and ultimately, let her down—which is my actual biggest fear.

2. I’ll eventually have to admit that I never bothered to “face my fear” and avoided it instead of actually trying harder to learn mathematical concepts (because let’s be honest, your annoying math teacher was right, we use mathematics everyday!).

3. All the times I encourage her to persevere telling her to “keep going” and to “try again” and all the occasions I try to promote resilience and foster positive learning dispositions…they will all be lies. It would be hypocritical to call myself a role model.

How can I urge her to persevere when trying to solve a difficult math problem and when I never did?

I can’t, unless I can honestly model it.

This is the one major mathematical problem I am solving in my life.

Because I am resilient.

(And the Internet will teach me…privately, and in the comfort of my own bed where nobody ever has to know how many times I panicked, cried and hit the reset button!)

Rapunzel, Rapunzel…Please keep your hair short!

“Now you look like a boy.”

“So, I look like a boy because I have short hair?”

“Yep.”

My heart sank a little. I’d been chatting with two young sisters about differences for my uni assignment. In my years of working with young children, I’ve learned that conversations need to be organic and that you just have to follow their lead. And thus, how we landed on the subject of the differences between boys and girls, specifically hairstyles.

When I was nine I had, unfortunately, been exposed to head lice and my mum decided the best option was to chop off all my hair. My dad could not hide his disappointment. “You’re so beautiful with long hair. I guess it’ll grow it back” (Uhh. Thanks?) That Monday, I found myself being screamed at in the school bathroom, “Get out! You’re not supposed to be in here!” I was dressed in hand-me-downs, old jeans, and a t-shirt—a slight contrast from the bright pink dress the girl (yelling at me) wore and her long hair, which gently draped against her shoulders, would’ve made Rapunzel jealous. It was almost the complete opposite of the short, bowl-cut hairstyle my mum had given me. Before I could open my mouth to explain, a teacher—who I guess decided that I was a boy too—was dragging me out.

Fun Fact 1: Gender roles significantly impact educators’ image of children, as well as their pedagogies (teaching practices)—specifically educators of children in early childhood. Early childhood educators have biases toward gender-specific stereotypes and prefer when boys and girls engage in play and activities that match conventional gender roles. Simply put, teachers like to see boys doing boy things and girls doing girl things. Thus, when a child challenges these perceptions, more often than not, they become stigmatised as being deviant (a tomboy, a sissy-boy, or the weird girl that looks like a boy). You can only imagine the negative socio-emotional effect this can have on a young child.

Being mistaken for a boy happened a lot. It happened at airports, shopping malls…and even church! I had trouble making friends because nobody wanted to be friends with the weird girl that looked like a boy. When I finally grew my hair long and started wearing dresses, I started making friends. They were mainly girls because pop culture and society said so. I was a girl and I was to play with girls and do girl thing and boys play with boys and they do boy things. Many believe this is a fact backed by “clinical studies”… a little something called “gender segregation”. But as an adult, I question it…how much of this behaviour is determined by the culture and environment in which children are raised?

Fun Fact 2: During the mid 70’s American families started having fewer kids and retailers were unhappy with the fact that families were buying less and fewer goods and, in a stroke of brilliance, decided to market gendered items, and that’s why you have pink for girls and blue for boys…(and there you go, folks. The birth of gender segregation!) Don’t believe me? Check out Hidden Brain for the full episode transcript of the podcast called The Edge of Gender.

So, back to my question…has culture and environment impacted the way adults see children? Simple answer, yep. Ever since I could remember heteronormative perceptions of being have been deemed “the right way”. Girls behave this way, boys behave that way and girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Girls are the beautiful princesses—the damsels in distress—and boys are the brave princes that marry the damsels upon rescuing them from distress. These are the heteronormative narratives to which we have all become accustomed. You’re probably thinking, “there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s normal.” But is it normal because society decided long, long ago that the definition of femininity and masculinity are the gender roles that have been created by these narratives that we have all grown up hearing, reading and seeing?

So, what can we do?

Research new norms that provide a gender-neutral understandingone that facilitates an understanding of equality and provides children with positive role models and ideas that enable them to decide their own ways of being and more important, new norms that step away from the heteronormative narratives that reinforce stereotypes about gender.

It’s as simple as offering storybooks that challenge traditional values on gender roles—such as The Paper Bag Princess and My Princess Boyand creating safe spaces that encourage young children to engage with toys and activities that promote non-traditional play, which enables children to critically examine and explore ideas of gender. It also provides opportunities for young children to demonstrate that they are active participants in the process of their own gender.

And maybe, just maybe, it will also create a society that embraces the deviants—no matter their gender…or  length of their hair.

The reason I don’t care about the scribbles on my wall…(Thanks, Janet Lansbury!)

Don’t ever mistake any moment with your child for anything less than a learning experience…for both of you.

What do I mean?

Well, tonight Charlie said, “I draw A” during dinner and I looked up and she had used her fork to ‘draw’ on the walls (My fault, I was answering a text…during dinner). Of course, I was busy lecturing her on the appropriate use of the fork to look at the lovely lines she had scrawled on our white wall. But she insisted, “I draw A!” Exasperated. I took her fork away. I mean, she hasn’t even learned to identify ‘A’ from ‘B’, it’s also all ABC to her, even numbers. After a while, she acknowledged that “Forks are for eating, not drawing.” And but then she repeated again, “I draw A.” And I finally looked carefully at the wall… and lo and behold, there it was an upside down ‘A’! I felt terrible for not listening to her… and of course, I praised the upside down letter immediately upon realising, but then she repeated, “Forks are for eating…”  Sigh.

After the little stinker (Yep, I said it!)  went to bed, I came across the Janet Lansbury article below, and this quote resonated with me:

“…Kids draw to have experiences, tell stories and express ideas. Even when they scribble, they are often expressing energy, sound, or motion rather than just moving their arm along the page or making a primitive attempt at something more representative…”

I realised that Charlie had found a way to express that she had finally identified the letter ‘A’ on her own (and drew it!), but all I could do was focus on the negative—not to mention the fact that I completely underestimated her capacity to recognise the letter ‘A’ from ‘B’—rather than appreciate the learning that had occurred right in front of my eyes.

Next time, I’ll parent better, kid. I promise.

So, parents please read the article. It’s an eye-opener! And I implore you, observe and listen…your little one might just be expressing just how clever they are (even if it is upside down)!

“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.” – Magda Gerber Parents have often asked me some variation of the question: “How do we strike the right balance between molding our children and trusting them to unfold?” In my view, “molding” should be reserved for ceramics projects and dental work. In…

via The Moments We Miss When We’re Busy Molding Our Kids — Janet Lansbury

Great tips on monitoring your child’s screen time by Dr. Alan Kazdin.

The use of technology in the form of computers, tablets, television, video game systems, and smart phones has become such a part of our lives. They entertain us, allow us to connect with others, provide information and education tools, and simply make our lives easier. As with any advance, there is usually another side. In…

via Children and Technology — Dr. Alan E. Kazdin