Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Parenting Edition

Let's take a little break from talking about unicorns and dinosaurs, eh? (But of course, if you have more to say on the topic, please do go and leave a comment!) The links I have for you this weekend are all about parenting:

First up, Mark Sloan, who wrote Birth Day, an awesome book on childbirth, now has a blog. Go check it out. So far it looks pretty good.

Coding Horror, one of the better geek/coding sites, had a post about parenthood. It is a pretty good read. I particularly like the pie chart, and the quote: "That one percent makes all the difference." So true.

From programmers to economists... I forget how I came across this review of a freakonomics podcast on parenting, but both the review and the podcast are worth your time. But then, I lean towards the "don't freak out about it" school of parenting, mostly because I can't maintain the intensity that so many of my parenting peers seem to be able to handle. This may be because I'm not selfless enough, but I prefer to blame the fact that my kids don't sleep as much as many of their peers.

I mentioned in passing on my unicorn post that one of my husband's areas of non-perfection is his tendency to make jokes about the fact that women are supposedly just naturally worse at spatial reasoning than men. He doesn't really believe this, by the way. He's just trolling me- which is fine, I troll him on things, too. But now that our girls are old enough to understand what he's saying, we had to have a discussion about this and he's recently agreed to stop. So it was perfect timing when I came across Parenting Science's recent post on the development of spatial reasoning. She has a follow up post with suggestions for games and toys to help kids develop their spatial reasoning. I found the bit about the benefits to building a Lego toy by following instructions and/or copying a picture particularly interesting, since I tend to think that free form building is somehow "better" (since it is more creative). Of course, Pumpkin already knew better than me- she does both.

(Update: FeMOMhist has a post up with some awesome looking toys to help practice spatial reasoning.)

Finally, my husband came across this and it is hilarious. I had to explain it to him, though, since they didn't have The Reading Rainbow in New Zealand. Even without the explanation, he thought it was pretty funny, so if you also don't know what the Reading Rainbow is, don't let that stop you from watching it:

(The Reading Rainbow was a show on PBS in which Geordi La Forge LeVar Burton read picture books.)


  1. That's odd. I am freakishly good at spatial reasoning and my husband is only average. Unfortunately, my daughter takes after her dad.

    He has no 3D skills at all, but is an idiot savant at 2D and understands infinite dimensional Hilbert spaces in the abstract. But he has no intuition in 3D.

    I find it hard to talk to them.

  2. Anonymous3:56 PM

    My mom sucked at spatial skills so she had me practice and practice spatial skills from an early age. (There are a lot of workbooks out there for both 2D and 3D). I am very good at them.

    My husband is pretty terrible at spatial skills, which is ironic considering he's the engineer. (I'm always saying, "Yes that will fit" or "No that will not fit" or "No, try it the other way.") Of course, my sister's also an engineer so maybe some of my mom's spatial training paid off.

  3. Anonymous4:01 PM

    Also: Would like to point out (having just got back from a little girl's birthday party): Girls toys SUCK in terms of spatial skills. Boys toys are AWESOME.

    I have no idea what we're going to do if we have a girl. I feel guilty regifting my little ponies and barbie dolls to other little girls. They should have the chance to play with toys that test brain power too.

    (And listening to the moms at the party who luuuurve buying little girl toys, they're not getting interesting toys at home either.)

  4. I'm actually pretty good at spatial reasoning. My husband is better, but he's also probably better than 90% of the men out there. The field of my PhD required a fair amount of spatial reasoning, and I was good at it.

    On the girls' toys problem- we handle that by just having both types of toys around. So we have all the usual girl things- dolls, toy kitchen stuff, etc. But we also have most of the usual boy things- Legos, trucks, etc. Our kids play with both in about equal amounts, although they go through phases with toys and fixate on one or the other from time to time. Petunia is in a car phase now. But just before that, she was in a doll phase.

    I think this gets harder as the kids get older, though. So check back in with me in 5 years!

    Lego has actually tried very hard to not be considered a "boy" toy. They even have pink tubs with pink and purple blocks. I read a story once that said that they did that because some girls (or their parents?) wouldn't play with a toy that isn't pink or purple. We have the standard sets, and both girls love them.

  5. We've got doll stuff and toy kitchen stuff too... just the right amount for a boy. Which, personally, I think is the right amount for a girl too. (He even has a my little pony from a preschool happy meal when they ran out of the "boy" toys.) It's when the crappy girl toys crowd out the awesome "boy" (really, uni-sex) toys that it's a problem. I guess it's a good thing we had a boy first... But of course the in-laws and others will feel the need to shower any potential girl with "girl" stuff.

  6. @cloud, yes but the lego sets are SO overwhelmingly boy it is absurd

    I am so bad at spatial reasoning that fMhson was basically born able to do puzzles better than me.

    We are working out asses off to get fMhgirl's skills up.

    sciDAD is crazy good, but then so is his mom!

    girl toys do totally suck ass, i hate MLP with a passion only second to the damn barbie

  7. @feMOMhist, we're still in duplo since the toddler is just now coming out of the "everything goes in my mouth" phase- those are all pretty gender neutral, I think. We're planning a "real" Lego set at Christmas, though- probably from their City line. You are right that some of their stuff is very, very boy-oriented, but they do have some girl-oriented stuff and a lot of gender neutral stuff. I know this because my husband is a huge Lego fan, and we've been to Legoland, which has several massive stores (of course). So I wonder if the problem is more with what the stores choose to stock? Which is no doubt based on what people choose to buy.... Sigh. One more way in which the mainstream culture is screwing me!

    We're also going to cave and get Pumpkin the Barbie doll she really, really wants. I'm hoping that if we don't make a huge deal out of her not being allowed to have one, it will just be another one of many toys. I realize that I may find myself very disappointed on that front! But I went through a massive Barbie phase as a kid, and seemed to have come out the other side OK, so I'm hoping it won't be an issue.

    I loved the toys you linked to on your site. That castle building one might be on our gift list this year....

  8. fizzchick8:12 PM

    I'm a physicist, and had a great conversation about this with a colleague one day. I like sewing and knitting, and I also like making things in a machine shop. Both require mathematics, attention to finicky detail, and spatial reasoning skills. Yet somehow one is gendered male and one female, even though they both scratch the same itch in my brain that says "Hey, I just spent several hours doing careful work, and now look at this awesome and functional thing that I made." I hate that society divides what seem to me to be quite similar activities. Anyway, long way of saying that if you have the interest/money/time to support it, fiber arts can encourage that spatial reasoning (and they're both cheaper and less dangerous than a milling machine).

  9. Postdoc10:22 PM

    The Reading Rainbow video is *hysterical*. I totally grew up with Reading Rainbow. Thanks for posting it! My husband also thought it was funny, though he's also a foreigner so he wasn't familiar with the original either (I showed him the original theme song on Youtube.)

    Speaking of which, do you think there's any correlation between husbands being foreigners and them being unicorns? My husband (also a science postdoc, incidentally) is definitely a unicorn and is *amazing* around the house - quite frankly, I suspect he puts in a little more effort around the house than I do - he grew up on a farm in Europe and so I have to wonder if cultural differences might also come into play a little bit in the "unicorn" capacity. I'm definitely thankful every day that I'm married to a unicorn (though of course I chose him, for many reasons including that, but still! :)

  10. Loved the sweet, pithy @Coding Horror post. And I loved the Doors video - yep, to me he'll always be Geordi. Trekkers unite!

    The Freakonomics podcast made me laugh - sometimes at the economists but mostly with them. "Society" is a powerful force. I loved this exchange:

    "DUBNER: It’s so depressing, I have to say, because we rely on people like you to represent the disinterested view, to make an unimpassioned assessment of the way things are and the way we think things are. And you often show in your research that the way things are is quite different than the way we think things are. And we want you, as economists, to behave as our data preaches just as we want, you know, a man of the cloth to behave as the liturgy and the sacred texts preach. What does it say about the human mind that even you, who’s written a book on this, is unable to break the ties that society presents to you as this is the way it must be done?

    GANS: Well, you know, this is the difference between the positive and the normative. You’re right, as a normative act that doing the good, showing society the way to go, or course I should do all those things. But as a normal, selfish, economic rationalist person, it’s too costly for me. I really don’t want to have to deal with that, not even to do what objectively might actually help the happiness and perhaps the even well being of my child. Apparently I’m willing to stick with the social mores on that. So, even economists, you know, we can say these things publicly, but doing them is very, very hard. The social pressures are there."

    "The social pressures are there" = understatement of the century. Amen.

    @Cloud said: "But I went through a massive Barbie phase as a kid, and seemed to have come out the other side OK, so I'm hoping it won't be an issue" Me, too. I played with Barbies until I was a ridiculously old age - like 13. Mostly I enjoyed making houses for the dolls out of found objects. So, yeah, like you, I'm not sure Barbie is the devil's spawn either.

    I'm of the "it's how we actually use the toy" school. I think Barbie can be incorporated really well in play-it-out scenarios. Lately my 4y.o. DS loves washing Barbie's hair in the bathtub.

  11. Anonymous4:54 PM

    My comment didn't go through earlier, so I'll repeat it. I'm a physicist, and had a really neat related conversation with a colleague a few months ago. I enjoy sewing and knitting, and also making things in a machine shop. However, I hate that society has decided that one set of activities is female, and one is male. To me, they both scratch the itch of "Hey, I spent several hours of careful measuring, thought, and manufacture, and now I have this elegant and functional object." At any rate, fabric and fiber arts, if you have the time/money/inclination, can be an excellent way to teach spatial reasoning. Bonus: they're cheaper (and less dangerous) than a milling machine or table saw!

  12. Weird, @anonymous- I was sure I'd seen it. Sorry about that!

  13. Oh, and thanks for the comment, of course... I think you're right that sewing/knitting/etc can be great ways to exercise the spatial reasoning muscle


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