Monday, May 20, 2019

PLAY is the first stage of a mathematical education

Astronomy is the capstone of the Quadrivium because it is number in time and space, which is to say that the whole cosmos is a dance, which is a form of play.

In Laws VII (819) Plato tells us, when the Athenian is describing how children should be taught the fundamentals of mathematics, that it is best to imitate the Egyptians. “In that country,” he says, “arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as a pleasure and amusement.”

Most of our traditional childhood games are of this nature. There are the obvious games involving cards and dice where you have to count and keep score, and games like jacks, hopscotch, and jump-rope that require not only counting but physical movement.

Still less obvious are the nursery games that parents play with their children. Many of these involve rhythm and movement, such as “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake baker’s man.” Something mind-blowing that I learned recently is that there’s a part of the brain that specifically links your fingers to numbers. Think of the finger game that we sing with our babies “Where is Thumbkin?” When I sang that to my babies, if I thought of it as anything educational at all, I thought of Object Permanence. But when we have our little ones make their own hand motions to that song we’re giving them a physical skill that will translate to physically preparing their brains for a deep understanding of Number.

Here’s another one that lays the groundwork for mathematical thinking—Twenty Questions. When you ask the first question, “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” you’re asking about categories, and then the second question, “Is it bigger than a breadbox [or microwave for most of us nowadays]?” asks a comparison question that is mathematical in nature.

The only curriculum I’ve ever seen that’s even remotely close to this understanding, is the out of print book by Horace Grant, Arithmetic for Young Children. In that book, he has the students use a collection of objects to play with Number, presented in an orderly fashion. Along with this, he asks questions that spark the imagination and help the child make the leap to mental math. Formal, written arithmetic is delayed until the book Second Stage of Arithmetic, and is introduced along with having the child think through numeration (why we name amounts the way we do) and notation (why we write numerals the way we do). It’s a brilliant presentation, which is begun around ten to twelve years of age, far later than most of are comfortable with, used as we are to rushing academics, but I think it’s developmentally appropriate.

Another resource I recommend highly is Denise Gaskins’ Let’s Play Math website and book series. They’ll give you lots of ideas of things you can do to prepare your child for the formal study of the Quadrivium.

I haven’t used this finger math curriculum with young children (I’m generally against formal lessons for children under six or seven years of age), but it seems to fit my qualification of playful. I suspect it might work for older students who may have missed all these games and may need remedial arithmetic.

Monday, April 15, 2019

First impressions of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, Scenes 1-5

That’s an awfully boring title, isn’t it? I couldn’t think of anything clever. :-p

The kids and I are reading Macbeth for our Medieval and Renaissance Literature class with Angelina Stanford, and I had some random things I wanted to write down before I forgot them, so here they are.

The Weird Sisters, Henry Fuseli, c. 1783

First Witch:
A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap
And munched and munched and munched. “Give me,” quoth I.
“Aroint thee, witch,” the rump-fed runnion cries.
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger;
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.

This sailor must be must be quite a man, given the trip he’s on, the ship he masters, and the fact that the Witch says she can’t sink his ship. She can, however, curse the husband of this foolish woman.

I’m saying she’s foolish because here she is with her lap full of blessings gobbling them so greedily that she won’t even share when an old woman asks for some.

If you know anything about fairy tales, you know that’s a huge mistake, a mistake of wicked stepmother proportions.

The chestnuts caught my attention though because so often the chestnut tree is used in literature as a symbol of happiness and prosperity. If you know anything about Macbeth, you know that this most definitely isn’t a story about happiness and prosperity.

Let me go back to the beginning.

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens with the stage direction, “Thunder and lightening. Enter three Witches.” These three make a plan to meet with Macbeth before the day is over (to tell him he will be king, as we later learn), and saying, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” they exit, and Scene 1 ends.

Given that the story begins with upheaval in nature, I’m going to assume that whatever disorder that set off this tragedy has already happened.

They reappear in Scene 3: “Thunder. Enter the three Witches.” The First Witch tells of her encounter with the sailor’s wife, which Asimov says has nothing at all to do with the play—it’s just there to please King James I, who “considered himself a particular expert on the matter of witchcraft,” and had “written a book called Demonology, in which he advocated . . . the severest measures against witches.” [Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare: The English Plays, page 151]

Asimov, you’re a genius and I love you dearly, but you completely missed the boat on this one. Shakespeare wasn’t just a suck-up. He was an artist and he knew exactly what he was doing here.

(Before going on, I want to point out that these three are elsewhere in the play called the weyward/weird/wyrd sisters, so I think we’re supposed to think of them as being similar to the Fates of classical mythology, or the Norns of Norse mythology, priestesses who told the future.)

Now back to the chestnuts. Chestnuts provide a lot of nutrition and calories in a tiny little package, so they’ve always symbolised things like prosperity and fertility. Because they fall in such abundance during the harvest season, they also symbolise foresight and long life. Here’s something new I learned: They also symbolise the ability to receive ancient wisdom.

So, we have a prosperous woman (that she’s “rump-fed” tells us this) enjoying the bounty of nature, who refuses an old woman’s request for food, resulting in her husband being cursed. In Scene 5, we meet Lady Macbeth, who is as unnatural a woman as it’s possible to be.

I don’t have any conclusions exactly, mostly questions and guesses. Was Macbeth already corrupted before he met the Weird Sisters? I tend to think so, since good people don’t jump head-first into evil. CS Lewis talks about this regarding Mark Studdock’s descent in That Hideous Strength. Macbeth does briefly seem to accept that if he’s meant to be king, it’ll happen without his taking action. But Lady Macbeth must have long since fallen since she’s so quick to push her husband into evil action in order to bring about the prophecy.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Amoretti XXVI

~Edmund Spenser (1552/1553-1599)

Sweet is the rose, but grows upon a brere;
Sweet is the juniper, but sharp is the bough;
Sweet is the eglantine, but pricketh near;
Sweet is the fir-bloom, but his branch is rough;
Sweet is the cypress, but his rind is tough;
Sweet is the nut, but bitter is his pill;
Sweet is the broom-flower, but yet sour enough:
And sweet is moly, but his root is ill.
So every sweet with sour is temp’red still,
That maketh it be coveted the more:
For easy things, that may be got at will,
Most sorts of men do set but little store.
     Why then should I account of little pain
     That endless pleasure shall unto me gain!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sunday is the Queen of the days

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Remembering the sabbath is not something we should do only on Sunday morning—we should be remembering it all week long.

What does this look like?

When my children were young, it looked like me sitting down with them every weekday at 10 a.m. to sing a hymn and read a story, because that was similar to what we’d be doing at that time on Sunday. I held my infant on my lap and let my older ones color while I read aloud. This was the origin of our Morning Time routine, though I didn’t call it that till years later, after reading Cindy Rollins’ blog.

It looked like me planning our daily mealtimes and naptimes around the Sunday service so that Sunday would be a natural part of our week, and not a shock to our systems. We almost never had dessert or sweets during the week, so I made sure to have something special for a Sunday treat after church, a practice we continue to this day—today it was a tin of baklawa that #1Son brought home from Iraq.

It also looked like me making sure I had all the laundry done by Saturday and knew where all the kids’ Sunday clothes and shoes were so things wouldn’t be rushed any more than they had to be on Sunday morning. Let’s face it, when you’re a stay-at-home mom, Sunday morning is the most hectic time of the week, because it’s the only day you have to have everyone fed and dressed and out the door by 9:30 in the morning.

Sunday should be a day of delight, even to our babies. My dear sisters, let’s remember the sabbath day as we plan the rest of the week, letting her rule over our times and activities. Yes, it will always be a hectic day, but let’s not make it unnecessarily hard on our children.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sorry about the unexpected hiatus

Violin Daughter had her senior recital last weekend, so my Minnesota daughter flew in at the beginning of last week, then my mom flew at the end of the week, then Minnesota daughter flew back home at the beginning of this week and my mom flies back tomorrow afternoon. So, no blog post this week, either.

As a consolation, here are a couple of recordings from the recital. This first one is the Meditation from the opera Thaïs by Jules Massenet, accompanied by her former music teacher.

This next one is the 4th movement from JS Bach's Partita in D minor. When we were discussing whether to hold her recital in the parish house where there is a grand piano (she also played two piano pieces, a Rachmaninoff and a Debussy) or the sanctuary of our 250 year old church building, she said she needed the acoustics of the sanctuary, "Because that Bach piece is LIT."

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Technical note re: comment notifications

For the last few weeks I haven't been receiving email notifications of comments on the blog. Blogger says it's a system-wide problem and they're working on it, but in the meantime, I'm checking regularly for comments here so I can reply to them in a timely fashion. Hopefully I haven't missed any, but if I have, feel free to email me at cumbeeclan at gmail dot com.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Teaching manners to children, 5: How to have interesting and uninterrupted adult conversations in the presence of children

This one rule will shock you.

Heh. How’s that for a click-baity title?

In Part 1 we discussed definitions, and the fact that manners are part of the culture we belong to.
In Part 2 we discussed basic principles and the need to model good table manners to our kids.
In Part 3 we discussed establishing a pleasant environment in the home so that mealtimes are an extension of that atmosphere.
In Part 4 we discussed not creating food-related issues as a major factor in making meals pleasant for all.

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.
Galatians 6:9

I feel very strongly about this one rule I’m going to share with you for several reasons.

1. It makes supper a pleasant time for Daddy and Mama to catch up on the day, and to have adult conversations with each other and with dinner guests.

2. It makes supper an adult activity that we allow our children to participate in, which gives them something to aspire to.

3. It provides ample opportunity for the children to SEE what adult meal-time behavior looks like, and to imitate it.

4. It provides ample opportunity for the children to HEAR what adult meal-time conversation is like, and to imitate it.

5. Even from younger ages, our children appreciated the fact that when we had adult guests they were never relegated to a Kids Table, but got to listen to our talk, which was far more interesting than anything that ever happened at a Kids Table.

But before I get to the rule (and I’m sorry it’s taking so long to get around to it) I need to explain what brought it about. You’ll see in a bit why I’m taking such a circuitous route. Also, I want to acknowledge that if you’re a single-parent family the situation will be much different and much more difficult for you. In the next post I’ll try to address that situation from my limited perspective as a military wife who had long spells of parenting alone.

In Part 3 I mentioned Mike’s crazy shifts, so you can imagine how hard it was in the evening and at bedtime when he was working and I was home alone with three-and-a-half-year-old Eldest Daughter, two-year-old #1 Son, and newborn Mosey. Thankfully, around this time he was put into a position with more sensible hours: 7:30-4:30, Monday through Friday. We had a wonderful routine during those days. Mike would come home and play with the children while I made supper, then after supper, he’d give the two oldest their baths and get them ready for bed while I washed up, nursed the baby, and got her ready for bed.

I say “wonderful,” because it was wonderful for me and the kids. But it was hard on Mike, coming home from work tired and needing to spend the next few hours interacting with little children before he finally had some down time. Don’t get me wrong—he’s a fun daddy and good with the kids, but one evening when we sat down at the table, for whatever reason (I’ve asked him and he doesn’t remember what motivated it) he said that he did not want the kids to be talking during supper.

I thought he was just especially tired that evening, so I did my best to shush them. They weren’t rowdy kids by any means, but the two eldest have always been best friends and they were used to talking to each other and to us, so it was kind of challenging to keep saying, “Daddy’s tired. You need to be quiet.”

This scenario was repeated the next night, and the next . . . until I finally realized he really meant he didn’t want them talking at supper EVER.

I was not a little annoyed.

I thought he was being ridiculous, and tried to talk him out of it.

In the end, this was so important to him that I decided to figure out how to make it work.

Parenthetical comment here. Remember last time when I said I had no qualms about enforcing my table rules? I listed two reasons. I actually thought of listing a third, but decided to save it for this post, and it’s this: As the mistress of this home I have real authority in my domain, and what goes on at the dinner table is just one of those areas. I point this out because I don’t want y’all to think that my husband is some kind of chauvinist, but I hope I don’t make the opposite mistake of making myself look like a harridan—I tend to wear my authority lightly; anything else wouldn’t be dignified. Mike and I get along pretty well and our kids think we’re cute, so I guess we’re okay in this area. ;-)

Also, please keep in mind everything I’ve said before about nurture and comfort and love. That didn’t go out the window just because I found myself needing to enforce a fairly strict rule.

But how in the world was I going to make it work?

Turns out I had a decent place to start, which was serendipitous. I had worked for two years between high school and college, and one of those jobs was in after-school care at a private Christian school. I arrived at noon when kindergarten let out, took the kids out for recess, then back in for lunch and naptime, then stayed till the parents had picked them all up in the evening.

Now, at this time, my little sister was in the second grade at the other elementary school in this system, and I knew that at lunch break the students weren’t allowed to speak for the first five minutes of the meal. Kids that age will get distracted by talking and forget to eat all their lunch until it’s too late, so this was a sensible rule. Those five minutes gave the students enough time to focus on eating so that their 20 minutes in the lunch room was adequate. Knowing that my five-year-olds would be subject to this rule when they went to first grade the following year, I decided it would be a good idea for them to practice it, so that they wouldn’t have to learn new lunch-time habits when they moved up.

I don’t remember when I first started having my own children do this. Was it when the first two got old enough to start talking to each other a lot? Was it when I needed to start training them to be quiet during supper? I’m really not sure, but the important point is that I had a small way to begin the training—just the first five minutes of breakfast and lunch, which were our meal-training times. That one small thing gave a little victory twice each day on which to build. The more faithfully I adhered to that five-minute rule, the easier it got for them to keep silent at supper.

The next thing I had to teach them was that I really would take care of their needs. All they had to do was wait for me to notice and ask them whether they would like more of this or that, to which they were allowed to reply either, “Yes, please,” or “No, thank you.” Having a script really simplifies things.

Nowadays this seems like such a radical rule, and like I said earlier, I was upset with Mike when he wanted me to enforce it, but really it wasn’t terribly different from the way things were when we were growing up in the 70s, in my family’s social circle, at least. No one had the old “children are to be seen and not heard” rule, of course, but still, we just didn’t gab and act goofy when we were doing adult things, and dinner-time was definitely an adult thing.

Again, I want to point out that I’m just describing what worked for us, not laying down rules for other families.

But at the same time, I’d really encourage you all to consider instituting something like this, just at dinner. Or rather, at the meal where both of the parents are present, whatever time of day that happens.

Unexpected blessings

Remember what I said about imitation before? Because they spent years simply listening, when they turned twelve years old and were officially allowed to participate in the conversation, they knew how to have a sensible meal-time conversation with adults.

Then, because they couldn’t speak up I had to make sure that I was paying attention to their needs so I could offer seconds when they’d finished everything, or whatever was needed, another blessing was that they learned to wait patiently for me to notice and take care of their needs. I can’t claim that this is the sole reason my kids have such trust in me, my judgement, and my love for them, but surely it was one of the building blocks.

Another thing—and this actually means less work for Mom—was that since they were just eating and listening and watching, there were many things that I never had to directly train them to do. They just picked up on them because they saw them every single night.

This follows from the last thing, but my youngest three children hardly had to be trained at all. By the time they were born, our family culture was so well established that they just fit right in with it. I say this to encourage those of you who are just starting out, or who are needing to make drastic changes. It’s hard hard work in the beginning, but it really does get easier! Don’t lose heart!

For the next post I’ll try to remember all the practical day-to-day things I did to make this a blessing to all of us, not just to Mike and me. My youngest is fifteen years old and I’ve had very little to do in this area since she was born. It’s astonishing how much you forget of the things that were so large and difficult when the children were all very young.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Teaching manners to children, 4: Regarding “issues”

I’m sorry this post is late! Last week we flew to Memphis for Violin Daughter’s graduation from The Center for Western Studies’ gap year program, and then this week we drove home with her. I cannot recommend The Center highly enough. It’s a fantastic program and John and Day Hodges are fine people who truly love their students. If it’s at all possible for your child to spend a year at The Center, you should take advantage of it!

On to business! Last time I said, “at that stage the only rule I had was that I did NOT want there to be Issues surrounding mealtimes.” This time I want to expand on that.

Part 1: Definitions
Part 2: Basic principles
Part 3: Earliest stages

Part 4: Regarding “issues”

The nature of food and meals

Food and meals are meant for nourishment and comfort and fellowship. It is the parents’ duty to nourish their children, which is another way of saying that you owe it to these little people whom you have brought into the world to nurture and comfort and feed them.

I wanted our mealtimes to be peaceful and pleasant times, so that precluded having fights with the kids about what and how much they were eating (or not) and it also precluded using food for rewards and punishment.

But how do you do that? Here are a couple of principles to keep in mind:

Principle #1: Prevent issues from arising in the first place

Principle #2: If a child is hungry he will eat what is given him*

So, if I didn’t want to have to force-feed my child, thus creating an issue, I needed him to be hungry when he came to the table. In order for him to be hungry at mealtime, I had to limit snacks. At some point in my life as a mother, I got tired of my kids asking for snacks (because even though we are to imitate our heavenly Father, who delights when we come to him with all our needs, Mama is a finite being and only has limited amounts of time, energy, and attention, and not only does she need to recognize and accept that, but her children need to learn to respect it), so I put out a bowl of fresh fruit and told the kids they could eat whatever they wanted from it, whenever they wanted it, WITHOUT ASKING. Raw fruit never stopped my kids from being hungry at mealtime, but your kids might be different.

My responsibility then, was simply to keep the bowl of fruit filled, and to remind them not to ask me for snacks. This included not caving in when they wanted bread and butter or trail mix or whatever instead of the designated snack. If you are going to make a rule, you must stick by it. If you cave in on occasion, you are merely teaching your children that if they pester you enough they can get what they want. You must be, as Cindy Rollins would say, impervious to their pleas. They are not going to starve to death before supper, no matter what they say.*

Also, you must do all of this cheerfully and confidently. Remember, you don’t want negative emotions attached to food, and you certainly don’t want them feeling insecure in your decisions. You are the adult, and your confidence in your own decisions will help them have confidence in you.

So, one food rule we had was that one about snacks.

Another one was that they could have seconds of whatever they wanted, so long as they had eaten everything on their plates.

In order for this to work, I had to fill their plates myself so I could control portions. This meant that I had to know each child well enough to have a good idea of what a reasonable amount of food was. This also meant that on occasion they’d have a growth spurt and their appetite would get ahead of me. I’d notice that this had happened when a child would eat seconds and thirds and fourths of mashed potatoes. When this happened, I’d adjust the portions of meat and veggies at the next meal, so that there wasn’t ROOM in their tummies for four servings of mashed potatoes.

Notice what I would NOT do: I would not stop them after seconds of potatoes, and tell them that they had to have another serving of broccoli before they could have more potatoes. To do that would be to make potatoes the reward for eating broccoli, and like I said, I didn’t want that kind of thing to go on.

A third rule I had was that desserts were a separate course, and getting dessert was not contingent on anything other than it being time for dessert.

This was especially hard for Mike to handle because he grew up in a family where dessert was always a reward for having eaten everything on his plate.

I had no qualms about enforcing this for two reasons. One was that for the most part the kids weren’t leaving uneaten food on their plates. The other was that dessert was a rarity in our house. We have birthday cake several times a year, and I make pies for major holidays, but dessert is never a regularly expected course.

One bit of advice when making the dessert: Be sure that you make an amount that is sufficient for each person to have ONE reasonably sized serving, and no leftovers. This avoids the issue of people eating too much dessert, and it also avoids having them beg you for leftover dessert when they want a snack before bed, or the next day.

By this point, you might be concerned about wasting food. I really hate throwing out food too, so I had a couple of different ways of dealing with this. One was that if there was only a tiny bit of food left over, I’d just throw it out. I mean, I would NOT encourage them to eat “just this last bite” in order to keep from wasting it. To do this would be to train them to ignore their bodies’ signals that they’d had enough to eat, which is to say, doing that would train them to overeat.

If there was really a lot of food left, and they said they weren’t hungry, I’d tell them that I was going to put it in the fridge, and if they got hungry later, they should eat it, instead of fruit. This is my one kind-of-exception to the fruit-only snack rule. A few times, when I was a very young mother, I continued to bring this plate of leftovers out for meals until it was all eaten, but that was horrible. Finally I limited myself to bringing it out for the very next meal, but not more than that. If the child had eaten nothing during that time because that food was so distasteful to him, I figured maybe there was something going on that I didn’t understand, so I didn’t make an issue of it. At the following meal, we started fresh.

Another concern you might have is training a picky eater. I remember when #1 Son was just three and a half or four years old and on Sundays I always made a pot of 15-bean soup and started the bread machine before leaving for church, so lunch would be ready as soon as we got home. This son LOVED the fresh bread and HATED the soup. He would eat his entire slice of bread and then not eat any soup at all, so I had to figure something out. What I finally did was this: At the beginning of the meal, I would cut his piece of bread in half and set it on a small plate close to me and tell him that when he had eaten half of his soup, he could have one half of his bread. Then after he’d eaten the second half of soup he could have the rest of his bread. That worked well for him. He never learned to like 15-bean soup, and he’s still a picky eater, but he does know how to eat what’s placed before him without complaining.

This almost looks like using the bread as a reward for eating the soup, but I think that because of the overall environment around our meals, it didn’t feel like that to him, and it never was stressful. He never fussed over that rule—he just buckled down and ate the soup.

I want to reiterate how important it is to be consistent and firm and confident, while being open to adapting as difficult situations arise. I stress the firmness as foundational because I think that today the temptation for us parents is for flexibility and adaptability to be our modus operandi, and we only become firm when we’re really tired and stressed out. This is really hard on children. Children need to know what to expect in order to feel secure, and the key to that is parents who act with gentle consistency, loving firmness, and humble confidence. 

These principles were things that I had in mind from the time my first children were quite small, but much of the practical application developed after I had to start thinking hard about training in table manners. Next time I’ll tell you all what caused me to have to step up my game.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

* Barring medical issues, of course

Monday, May 28, 2018

Just for fun

My poor blog has been mostly dormant for the last few years because I’ve been in the apprenticeship program offered through CiRCE Institute. It’s a fantastic program and I highly recommend it, but it is tough—three years of reading hard books, learning to teach mimetically, and writing essays with the Lost Tools of Writing curriculum. Our last assignment was to write a Socratic dialogue, and I thought I’d share mine here, just for a change of pace.

If you’re not familiar with the format, the Socratic dialogue, it’s a little drama that consists of two characters, the Socrates figure and the Interlocutor, discussing some idea or statement, trying to come to an agreement. The Socrates character asks the Interlocutor questions to define ambiguous terms, expose false premises or logical fallacies, or to point out absurd or unjust consequences. Sometimes they come to an agreement, but not always.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

    The young woman took the roasting pan out of the oven, transferred the meat to a board, poured the stock into a jar, then set the pan on the stovetop and turned the fire up. Taking a wooden spoon in one hand, she added flour to the pan with the other, and mixed it into the roasted vegetables and fat that had been left behind. She—let us call her Hestia—took a special delight in cooking porchetta, a dish she had grown up watching and helping her mother and grandmother make, but this was her first time doing it on her own, and she didn’t want anything to go wrong.
    So studiously was she attending to her fire and food that she didn’t notice the young man enter the kitchen, the westering sun setting his mischievous face aglow, nor did she hear the old dog under the window thump its tail in pleasure as its master entered the room. The man stole up behind his bride, wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her neck, eliciting a squeal of . . . was it delight? or vexation? In either case, she lost hold of her spoon as he—we’ll call him Dionysus, shall we?—spun her about the room. At last he set her down and she recovered her spoon . . . and her dignity.

Hestia: Let me alone now. I have to finish this sauce.

Dionysus: Ooh, what is it? Alfredo?

Hestia: No, silly, it’s a gravy for the porchetta.

Dionysus: But you could put Alfredo on it—Alfredo’s the best!

Hestia: You’re funny! Alfredo’s the best on pasta, but pan-dripping gravy is the best on meat. But don’t worry. I made Fettuccini Alfredo just for you, because I know you love it. Now—mmph . . .  Stop it! I need to focus! Okay, where was I? Um, oh! Can you get the wine glasses down for me?

Dionysus: Which ones? These?

Hestia: Yes, thanks! So, have you made up your mind yet?

Dionysus: Made up my mind? About the glasses?

Hestia: No, silly. The Joneses will be here soon and we need to have an answer for them.

Dionysus: Oh, that.

Hestia: Yes, “that.” Well?

Dionysus: Well, I don’t know what you want a cat for anyway. Dogs are so much better than cats.

Hestia: Don’t be silly. Anyway it’s a kitten. It won’t be any trouble at all.

Dionysus: Don’t laugh, I’m serious. Dogs are better than cats. Here, watch this: Rex, here boy. Good boy! Sit. Lie down. Sit up. Shake hands. Good boy. Now go home. Good boy, Rex. That’ll do. See that?

Hestia: Yes.

Dionysus. Well, there you are!

Hestia: And . . . ?

Dionysus: I mean, what cat would do all that?

Hestia: What does that have to do with anything?

Dionysus: What does that—? Everything! I’m serious. Look, what will a cat do for you? It won’t look after you or comfort you, it won’t play with you, and it certainly won’t love and obey you.

Hestia: Heh. One wonders what you wanted a wife for. Mmph—stop! I’m supposed to be doing something here. My gravy! Oh, good, it didn’t burn. Hand me that jar, please. Thanks. But still, your only objection to a cat seems to be that it isn’t a dog.

Dionysus: Well, of course.

Hestia: So, basically, you’re just saying that you like dogs better than cats.

Dionysus: Well, of course—because they’re better than cats.

Hestia: But “better” at what? “Better” in what way?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Teaching manners to children, 3: Earliest stages

As I mentioned in my last post, because I believe in the power of seeing various examples, I’m going to be writing about what my own family did. No family is perfect, least of all mine, and no family will be facing exactly the same circumstances yours is, but still, it’s always helpful when trying to wrap your mind around a dauntingly huge idea to see it incarnated in various ways.

Part 1: Definitions
Part 2: Basic principles

Part 3: Before I started thinking about formal training

My first child was an extraordinarily easy child in this department. If you know anything about Myers-Briggs stuff, she’s an ISTP: Introverted Thinking, Extroverted Sensing. As is typical of babies of this type, she reached all of the developmental milestones way ahead of schedule, had fantastic fine motor skills, and was very independent.

When she was an infant, if she happened to be awake during a meal, I’d lay her on a blanket nearby so she could move around to her heart’s content, but still be close enough that I could keep an eye on her. That really only lasted about three months though, because she always wanted to be up where she could see whatever was happening. She was able to sit up on her own when she was three months old, so at mealtime I started putting her in her swing, which was located where she could see most of what went on in our little, open-plan apartment.

By the time she was ten months old, Eldest Daughter was sitting at the table with us and quietly feeding herself her own bits of food, one pea at a time. If she ever made messes, I don’t remember it. She was quiet and happily occupied herself, so mealtimes were pretty effortless. Mostly, Mike and I chatted, and I’d keep an eye on her to make sure she actually got enough to eat. She was very patient, but she tired of feeding herself before she’d eaten enough to last more than an hour, so I’d casually offer her a spoonful of food every once in a while. After the meal I’d give her a bottle to make sure she was adequately cuddled and filled. (She quit nursing when she was six months old—I’m pretty sure my milk production was inadequate, but that’s another topic.)

 When #1 Son came along, I would put his baby seat on the table with us at mealtime, if he wasn’t napping then. It was important to me that he be part of our family culture, especially meals, from the earliest possible days. Looking back on it, maybe this made mealtime pleasant for the children, because they were there with us enjoying fellowship long before meals became something where correct behavior was expected of them.

For this reason I believe that there’s no such thing as a child being too young to begin training in manners and courtesy. It begins by your example long before they’re capable of anything but enjoying being with you.

Eldest Daughter was nineteen months old by then, and mealtime training wasn’t much more than trying to get her in the habit of putting her sippy cup down above her plate, so that it was well away from the edge of the table. This is an example of beginning with the end in mind. Sure, it wouldn’t be terrible if she accidentally knocked her sippy cup onto the floor, but I wanted to start early teaching her a habit that would allow her to use a grown-up cup without needing to learn new table habits.

If she forgot, I would either remind her where it belonged or move it there myself without comment, because at that stage the only rule I had was that I did NOT want there to be Issues surrounding mealtimes. But if you think about it, that was a rule for myself rather than for my children.

I want to address what I mean by “Issues surrounding mealtimes,” but I’m going to save that for the next post. First I need to say something about atmosphere, because I think this is crucial. 

My husband’s work schedule was pretty crazy in those early years. He’d work the day shift (6:00am-2:00pm) for four days, have two days off, then work the swing shift (2:00-10:00pm) for four days, have two off, then go back to the day shift, all year long, including weekends and holidays. Every once in a while he’d have to work the midnight shift.

Because Mike’s shifts were so crazy, I worked hard to have a stable routine at home. I’m a firm believer that the home is meant to be a sanctuary, and a sanctuary must be peaceful, and for there to be peace, there must be order. I’m also a lover of comfort and beauty, so I don’t mean for my emphasis on order to imply that I ran a militarily regimented household.

Believe me, it was nothing like that!

I just mean that for my own peace of mind I needed to have regular mealtimes and bedtimes, regular times for running errands and being home, regular times for chores, stories, and playing.

This turned out to be a profound blessing in raising children, because as it happens, children also desperately need this kind of predictable, peaceful environment.

So everything that I’m saying about how I did things happened in this context of peace and comfort.

This is so important that if you’re struggling with your children’s mealtime behavior, I’d encourage you to take a hard look at the rest of their day. Is it characterized by peace or by chaos? If it’s the latter, your task is going to be far more difficult than simply teaching your children to listen when the grown-ups are speaking, say please and thank you, and not make messes with their food.

To be continued . . .