Letting children learn the way they read! Lessons in Parenting and Homeschooling a Toddler

Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style  of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda.  French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.

In many ways, the last – American – is the most difficult for me to abide by. The lassez-faire attitude has just about been converted into childrearing! “Let children rule” and “Give children whatever they want”, at least looking around my most immediate examples. Obviously not all American parents treat their children as “spoilt brats”, but there is a lot of pampering, “parents play with their children”, “children rampaging the dinning table at a restaurant or throwing tantrums”. Children just about treated as ‘brainless’: all they do is wake up, eat, go out to play, come back and eat, play and go to bed. I watch some of the kids my son’s age and older, who cannot pick up their trash, cannot put their plate or cup in the dish after a meal but they can reach out into the fridge and get themselves a drink or something to eat. I remember at six years of age, already washing dishes as my house chore before going out to play. Not only did I put away my plate after eating, but all other adults plates; and nobody waited on me. I have tried to impart those skills into my son young-self. He knows to put his plate in the sink after eating, and washes dishes sometimes. He knows the bathroom sink is his to wipe clean and dry every morning after brushing his teeth. He knows to put away his clothes in the laundry basket. He knows to take off his shoes when he enters the house. He knows to say “Thank You”, “Please”, “I am sorry”. For the most part, he knows to create his own play, not expecting mommy to play with him all the time. I grew up playing with fellow kids not adults.
N’way! While I impart plenty of lessons into my son’s head, and drill him to learn and practice what he has learned, I also realize there are limits to everything. That includes reading, reviewing books and retelling stories. I have noticed, just like his K-Class teacher said, he loves to read what catches his fancy. Anything out of that, he is not too keen about. If a book is of a subject not within his interests, too wordy or cumbersome for him, he turns off immediately. I keep telling him that, “sometimes we do things we are not interested in, but because we have to do them. I give him the example of letting him eat ice cream now and then, even though I do not really like ice cream.
So, with reading comes struggles to keep the focus, especially with books not so exciting to him. I want to adopt my “Ugandan-Chinese” drill surgeon style of teaching, “read read and read, until you get it.” My mom, an Early Childhood Education and Development Trainer would disagree with my style. “Let children enjoying learning,” she will say to me. Plus, I realize working with my son that sinks the ship, wears him down and eats his ego and his little heart. He feels so intimidated and underachieved.
I decide to take him to the Library, so we can together pick out books that interest him and reflect his hobbies and desires. One is Champions! of NASCAR by K.C. Kelly (2005).
Once he is done reading, I give him time to relax and do something else. Then it is time for the book review, starting with a couple of questions:
1. Tell me about the book you read (if responses are not forthcoming),
2. What is the title of the book?
3. Who is/are the author(s)?
4. Who is/are the illustrator(s)?
5. What do you remember about the book you read? (Again, not much response)
6. What are some of the words you remember? (Nothing still)
7. What is this book about?
Then, I prompt him sentence by sentence, allowing him to recall what he learned. When it seems that he is still stuck or ‘prefers’ not to remember, I ask him to tell me some of the words that appeared in the book.
Of he goes:
1. First
2. Championship
3. Races
4. Line
5. Car
6. Competing in races
Excellent! I compliment him.
That brought a smile to his face and a feeling of accomplishment, “I think I remember something!” he said The grouchy, teary and visibly tired and check-out child is once again alive and ready to roll.
Next up, I use illustrative questions.
For instance,
1. When you race, what happens?
Ans. Champion
2. What is a champion called?
Ans. A winner
Then he begins remembering facts about the book on his own.
“Mummy, I know another word that I remember in this book, “born”.”
Then he flips through the pages, and goes straight to the sentence where the “born” is, “NASCAR was born….” And more words start coming out…..
So, I tell him, “You know why I am typing this? I am going to put it online, so that other parents can read this and read to their kids. They will learn how to teach their own children, when they are having trouble getting them to learn.” That excites him.
“I just can’t believe I am doing this!” he said
That earned me a hug and a kiss and [Ms. Bankabale’s] smizing eyes!
Then he suggests that we create steps that other people will follow.
Off he goes:
Step One: Biko writes down the words
Step Two: Mummy shows them the book
Step Three: Biko shows them the “Title”
Step Four: Mummy shows them the “Author”
“Good job! Team Work,” he said with a Hi-5!
By now, his umph is back! He feels very achieved and accomplished, and empowered to contribute and lead his learning.
Lesson for me: Allow your child to enjoy the reading experience. It is ok, if he interrupts mid-way. Put a pause and let him ‘ride the show’ for a while. If he adds something that does not relate to the reading, like when he said, “Make special things out of paper to give to people.” Ask him cleverly, “how does that relate to the reading?” He will catch his mistake.
If it seems really hard getting him to read, start the process by reading to him a couple of pages. Keep him engaged by asking him back and forth question of what you just read to him. You will notice that he starts recollecting terms and phrases. He might also ask you a couple of questions and clarifications, or interject with his own interpretations.
When it seems like he is getting really engaged, ask him to read one or two pages. Let him lead the reading, but offer to help him pronounce new and cumbersome words. With my son, I taught him a “cover-and-read” trick. He cover all letters of the word with his fingers, except the first two, reads them in syllabels , as he progressively reveals subsequent words. Once he has pronounced the entire word, he reads it all out aloud. He is super excited to hear mummy say, “good job Beeks”.
In the end, we are all Happy People! Super Readers and Co-Teachers!

How do you parent a child who wants to do things his way?

ImageI am increasingly in agreement that anybody who has never been a parent should not be granted audience for dispensing parental advice. Sorry child psychologists, Early Childhood Development trainers, baby minders, friends and family without children of their own. Until you have brought a child into this world, you have no “expertise” to dispense. You do not know a thing, zilch! 

True, back in the days, even those who had never had a child of their own could dispense wise tips on parenting and proper child upbringing. Even children as young as six were ‘parents’ and babysitters to their siblings, baby cousins or baby neighbors. They were the “neighborhood watch” or, as is said in Africa, “brother’s/sister’s keeper”. But those days are dwindling, as society becomes increasingly individualistic, and families more nuclear. Couples are choosing much more to raise their children without the interference of relatives, neighbors or friends, and more young people are staying single without children, even within Africa. I was once among those little girls who babysat my sister’s children. As the last girl in my family, I was expected to help care for my all my older siblings’ children. So, I learned a lot about child upbringing (or so I thought). In fact, I assumed that ‘expertise’ accumulated through babysitting my nieces and nephews would ably serve me once I became a mother. But I was about to find out when I became a mother that, every parenting experience is new and uniquely challenging. It does not get any easier when one becomes a parent, nor is it optional.

My experience at the public play park today with my son just reminded me how complicated parenting is, and made me wonder, “How does one parent a child who wants to do things his way?” My son is very comfortable engaging himself, even playing by himself.  He creates his own play toys, play space and playtime, and wanders off as far off as his imagination leads him into his comfort zone. He creates multiple toys – an airplane, a bird, a car, a dragon, in just one napkin. He loves puzzles, the maze and anything that engages his brain. At a kids playground, he often stays away from climbing play stations, preferring to run around or be pushed on the swings. He likes the baseball pitch, even playing what he calls “pretend baseball”, that is throwing a nonexistent ball to mummy to hit with a nonexistent bat, then run around to different bases. 

Today, I tried getting my son to climb the slides at the park, but he would not indulge because he was scared.  So, I pointed him to a little kid who had climbed up, and praised her brevity. I knew this was breaking one of the “don’t dos of parenting”, by comparing him to other kids. But how else was I going to get him try new things, and gain the courage to do things he was not comfortable with? We have already had the talk of “it is not always about you”, “sometimes we do things we do not like but because we have to” or “sometimes you have to do stuff to make mommy happy”. Plus, raising a boy as a single mother guilt-trips me sometimes, when I worry that I might not be able to mould him into a boy. Ironically, I grew up a tomboy, climbing trees, and playing with the boys. I loved outdoors and team games, unlike my son who is a lone player. So, I argued him with what he loves most, telling him that “climbing makes you stronger” like Superman. Finally, I managed to convince him to climb and slide down. He enjoyed it so much that he went back and forth until l had to take him away to use the bathroom. Thereafter, he did more climbing until we moved to the field to play soccer, baseball, ride the bike and swing. 

In a way, parenting my son challenges  me to learn lessons in managing people. Not everybody is the same, and not everyone will want to do or behave the same way as I do. It also allowed me to breath, remain cool and think through ways of keeping both of us happy and each a winner. In a way, I see parts of myself in my son; I have a strong personality and strong conviction. I am committed to things I love, and will dedicate myself to effectively accomplish them. Yet, I am also flexible when engaged in a non-threatening way, with examples derived from real experiences of others. 

Mothers, It is O-K not to like your kids, Sometimes!


Here is my question to  mothers: Ever felt you tired or resentful of your children? When you don’t wanna listen to them, play with them or give them
any attention?
[what an UnPC question, right?]
It’s called “IDENTITY CRISIS“!
Maybe fathers might relate to this question too. Sorry I cannot tell, because I have never been a father. Well, I have been a mofather, i.e., playi
ng both roles as father and mother to my son, for most of his five years. Yeah Yeah, you know it already:)
I am writing this note because, time and again, I get into those moments of not wanting to pay attention to my son. When I just wanna be by myself, do my own stuff, type away on my laptop, catch up on news from around the world, and enjoy my Facebook moment. Those times when I just wanna pick up and go. At times, I have resented the clock ticking 16:00hours during weekdays, when my son gets back from school and I need to pick him up from the bus. I confess that sometimes, I feel better dropping him off at the school bus stop in the morning, then going on to do what I love – morning jog, reading, work and “me time”.

Yesterday, it just hit me really hard. It was Friday night, so no school over the weekend. And we were home just the two of us…So, we had a lot of time to ourselves. But I did not wanna be all that my son had. I did not wanna be responsible for his entertainment. I do a lot making sure he has what to eat, he’s bathed, dressed up and goes to sleep calmly. I just don’t wanna become his “playmate” every other time! And last night was much harder on me.
But my son didn’t get it. He kept sharing with me the toys he was making from his play dough. He kept asking me question, and engaging me in his play script. He wanted me to play along with his toys. He kept asking me that he wanted me to answer or guess the answers…! He wanted to involve me. I just wanted to type away.
ImageI cried because of the guilt I felt for not wanting to play with my son. I cried because I felt guilty for wanting to be alone. As mothers, we are generally expected to want to be with our kids all the time. We are expected to love our kids unconditionally. In fact, some mothers often castigate those mothers who say, they do not want to be with their children. We throw HEAVY stones at mothers who give their children away to foster care or abandon them in hospital or to their fathers or grandparents. We denounce mothers who drown their children, who want nothing to do with their children. Yet, we rarely question fathers who just sit down and burry themselves in a newspaper or TV, instead of making dinner, bath, dressing up their children. As society, including mothers, we do not apportion similar blame to fathers as we do to mothers.
So, I wrote to my BFF and shared my feelings and sadness. She wrote back to me:
“you need to look on mumsnet, there are so many women also saying this same thing. it’s about identity, you’re not just B’s mummy, you’re d the person too!” 
Oh! that made me feel better! By the time I receive this note, my son was asleep and as I watched him sleep in my bed, I enjoyed all the beauty in his silence and fell in love with him again. I had done my crying and was back in love with him. But my BFF’s words fortified my feelings of love and devotion to my son. It was a re-assurance that, I am not just a selfish biatch! I need to have my life back. Before I was a mother, I was just me….the globetrotter, runner, worker, happy girl….It was all about me. Since becoming a mother, it is all about my son 24-7. It has been like this for most of his life. And like my BFF brought to my attention, plenty of mothers go through it…
Besides the note, I watched the “Pregnant Man” on OWN’s Where are they now? last night, which gave me a better appreciation of parents and commitment. A woman-to-man-expectant mother-single dad on three…more than I would be willing to do! That selflessness gave me a renewed appreciation of my son and commitment.
So, today, Saturday, we had a great time. We went to the park and played. Initially, I did not wanna be the one to play with my son. I want him to play with himself or other kids…not mother. Perhaps because I grew up with plenty of neighbors my age, and all the kids I knew played with fellow kids not their parents. So, he climbed up and down, went on slides, as I sat aside…He still tried to involve me. I followed him around. He was happy; he enjoyed himself and enjoyed his mother being there. He rode his bike and climbed around again in the park. He rode the rodeo, as I sat in the coach, on his instructions, and he rode me around. We went back to the car, had fruit, homemade juice and coconut yogurt. We took out his scooter and he rode it with a helmet. I did not have to remind him to put on a helmet. he reminded himself – and told me, “It is dangerous to ride without a helmet.
Then he got me onto something even more exciting. He led me to the play field, and started running around, stopping at the base. He told me to run as well, to the base. Then I learned that the base meant, “baseball”…I asked him whether he learned that at school. He said, “No! Daniel taught me.” [Daniel the Tiger]! Oh! I love you PBS…maybe TV does not necessarily rot all the brain! More power to you PBS. And we batted and threw the ball. We interchanged roles; he batted, I threw the ball; he threw the ball; I batted…. Moreover the activity involved my favorite sport – running….All my uncomfortable crumbs vanished. After 15 rounds of batting and throws, he won… We went onto the swings. He was happy. We swing together. 
And the day is done. And I feel much better, much happier as a mother and much committed. Good night love….of my life….