Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are Legos for girls?

BusinessWeek ran a cover story this past week on whether Lego is for girls. A note of explanation, before anyone leaps to certain conclusions. The classic Lego blocks are, most emphatically, for either gender. However, in recent years, Lego has figured out that there is far more money to be made selling kits based on different themes. So which themes? While Harry Potter has been pretty gender neutral, most of the other themes are pretty over-the-top boy: battles, Ninjas, etc. I wish the laws of economics didn't point toward kits (talk about stifling creativity, to dictate how a toy should be played with, and assigning a story line already...) but it does.

So why not some kits aimed at girls? Sounds simple enough as a way to build market share. But what should those kits look like?

To the credit of Lego, it sounds like they are not simply making the blocks pink. The soon-to-launch Lego Friends line is based on studies of how girls play -- packaging kits so you can start playing before you've totally assembled the kit, since girls seem to be more into enjoying the process than boys (who tend to race against the clock to complete a kit). It seems to be like a reasonable compromise to make Legos more appealing to girls so they can get the spatial reasoning benefits of playing with these little blocks... but I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bold Step?

Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of Northwestern's Center for Talent Development, recently took over the reigns of the National Association for Gifted Children. In her first address, she called on the field to take a "bold step" toward focusing on talent development, rather than giftedness. Focusing on "giftednesss" has led to marginalization, she says (and given that the spell check on this blogger software doesn't even recognize "giftedness" as a word, I'd have to agree that the field is not exactly central to much of education).

This announcement has been controversial for several reasons. One is that parents of highly gifted children often have to fight to convince schools that there is anything different about their children and their children's learning styles. Olszewski-Kubilius's point is that the field has been focused too much on identification -- sometimes a bit of an angels dancing on the head of a pin type question of whether a tested IQ of 129 vs. 131 means anything, and on which test, and at what age, and then nothing happens to the kid anyway except getting 45 minutes of enrichment once a week. But after decades of work, at least many school districts now try to identify gifted children. Clearly, people would be a bit miffed to have the head of NACG say that's not so critical.

I have mixed feelings about this myself. Regardless of whether children grow up to do anything remotely high-achieving as adults, they deserve to have their educational needs met. Sure, some gifted kids grow up to win Nobel prizes, write great symphonies, etc., but others live quiet and normal lives. One's temperament has a great deal to do with these things too -- one's level of ambition, one's level of self-discipline, competing priorities like family obligations, etc. I don't view the quiet and normal types as failures.

On the other hand, Olszewski-Kubilius is correct that identification is only the very, very start. Personally, I'd rather live in a world where there was no identification, but all children were challenged, stretched, and had their talents maximized, vs. a world with perfect identification but none of the above. The question is whether this "all children challenged" vision is too utopian for the world we do live in, where the educational establishment likes to ignore high-achievers as a matter of policy with NCLB, and sometimes just for sport (cutting down the tall poppies and all).

What do you think? Should the field talk about "giftedness" or "talent development"? Is there much of a difference in focus, or is there plenty of room for both?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Be careful with "no"

(cross-posted with My168hours.com)

I've been pondering lately the question of "what have my children taught me?" (Asked by the facilitator of my parents' group). One lesson I'm working on learning is to be careful with my "nos."

Here's the thinking: Whining is hell on earth. Listening to children whine makes one irritated, tense, embarrassed. Why do children whine? Well, we tend to encourage it. Many of us say "no" reflexively to whatever random thing a child is proposing. Then, the child starts whining or throwing a tantrum and we eventually say "yes." Because we probably didn't really care. Yes, you can play for 5 more minutes. I only wanted to leave the playground because I was bored. Yes, you can have jam on your pizza crusts. Why not?

The lesson the child learns is what any good negotiator (or dungeon master) knows. Don't take the first offer. Torture produces a much better confession. Find out for sure what the parent cares about and doesn't care about. Whine enough and "no" turns into "yes."

So what is a parent to do? Grow a spine, perhaps -- but the best negotiators know that confrontation often leaves your opponent with no choice but aggression. Here's another framework:

If you are going to say no, be willing to defend it to the death. Well, not death, but to the point of a public, grocery-throwing temper tantrum.

Otherwise, consider a "yes." Or at least pause before you automatically say "no." Stall by asking "why do you think that would be fun?" or "tell me more about that idea." Because if you're going to say yes eventually under duress, you may as well say it before the kid realizes that screaming is the way to go. In other words, be careful with each "no."

This is obviously easier said than done. But I am trying to be judicious with my flat-out refusals. Sam, my 2-year-old, got himself out of his car seat straps last night. That was a definite "we are pulling this car over" no. But when he wanted to have a bite of my birthday cake before lunch, I realized this was going to escalate rapidly, and wasn't that big a deal. He's a good eater, shoveling in tomatoes, oranges and other foods that his 4-year-old brother won't touch. When I realized that I didn't care enough about lunch order enforcement to endure a temper tantrum during my birthday lunch, I went ahead and said yes fairly quickly. After all, I have been known to eat junk food before meals as well.

When do you say "no" and when do you say "yes"?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What have your children taught you?

That was a question posed recently in a parenting group I've joined. I imagine that broadly, people would say things like "patience" or possibly "humility" (something I was thinking, the other day, upon learning that a couple expecting their first child had chosen a parenting manual they intended to follow exactly...as if children follow operating instructions).

But the first answer that popped into my head was actually literal. My 4-year-old is currently obsessed with how many letters are in different words. So I now know that "Philadelphia" and "Pennsylvania" both have 12 letters. I also know that 2 "Jasper"s make a "Philadelphia." These are definitely things that I never pondered before.

My children have, perhaps, tried to teach me patience in their often aggravating fashions. But I do know they have taught me a lot about time, and whether I am spending it on things that matter or not, and that you can do quite a bit in small bits of time. Someone was describing to me the other day that they need long, uninterrupted periods to write. My children have taught me that, at least for me, this is not the case.

What have your children taught you?