Friday, May 15, 2009

It's a wild ride.

Like BEB, I love parenting. It's the most engaging thing I've ever done, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, intuitively, instinctively, culturally.... full on. 

I find it fascinating how intense parenthood is. I think it's because, doing it this way, being the involved, stay-home kind of parent, my genetic replicators and memetic replicators are working together. Before I had kids there was a chance that my genes' lineages might be pretty much a dead end, passed on only in viruses that mutated inside me. Before kids my genes were 'wanting' me to change my life, and breed but my memes were doing all right, I had friends and workmates talking Susan-talk all over the world. 

Once my chatty household included a child, my memes had a different chance at long and bushy lineages. Since having the kids I have been less good as a correspondent, I haven't been to see BEBPaige, or even Abacus lately, and yet, there's nothing as amazingly likely to reproduce one's parents' ways of doing things as bringing up a child. For example, my children went to the same Playcentre and go to the same school that my parents took me to, my children are pedantic and imaginative like I was, they look up insects and words in reference works as I was taught to. Hazel loves Anne McCaffrey like my mother does and likes to talk about maths at the dinner table like my father does. 

Now the children exist, my 'selfish' memes are 'trying' to become my children's 'selfish' memes. They 'want' those children to reproduce them as much as and for as long as possible. That means my memetic reproductive urges are busy making me want my children to live long and prosper, passing on my ideas and ways of living to others. 

Sean likes Anne McCaffrey and maths too. The similarity of Sean's and my memomes (y'know, like genomes but for memes) are one of the things that makes all our memes more likely to get replicated as together we reinforce each other's and new memes we pick up (e.g. schema learning theory) go well with the other memes we already have (an interest in theoretical discussion). I find myself pleased when my children are friends with people like me, people who reinforce my memes. 

My genes have two chances now too, and my genetic reproductive urges are busy making me want my children to produce grandchildren (preferably lots). My memes want quality grandchildren, the kind who'd like to look at my insect books and dictionaries with me, the sort who would learn from me and talk Susan-talk. Right now my children are too small for the difference in outcome between many-grandchildren and grandchildren-like-me to make a difference to how I sense my reproductive urges. Genes and memes both 'want' my parenting to be successful, my children to be well-loved, and it might be that they are pulling more in the same direction than they have since I was a toddler, back when my memetic learning was so importantly structural that if I hadn't done it I might have died too young to pass on my genes. 


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning dispositions.

I believe people are learning animals. I learn like the mako shark swims, because to do anything else is to be a fish out of water, but I don't learn as fast or fiercely as a baby. 

Learning dispositions are a human birthright, and if we want people to be life-long learners, or even happy, we must try to avoid inhibiting them. 

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Smartness and kitchens.

A favourite paper of mine: The Intelligent Use of Space by David Kirsh. Go on, it's fun.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Workshop workshop.

Yesterday a subconscious urge struck me and I signed up for the "How to run a workshop" Playcentre workshop on November 19th; now I'm trying to work out why I did that.

Is it about schemas?

In 2004 we at Wilton Playcentre developed a 2-3 hour Schema Workshop as part of its Centre of Innovation research contract with the Ministry of Education and I've enjoyed giving that to Playcentre and other Early Childhood Education people about half a dozen times.

While we were working on that schema workshop I made a chart showing schemas in areas of play*. My chart is popular with people who find it immediately accessible and useful, but I suspect it would be more accessible, more useful, and therefore more popular, if it had some sort of brief introduction with it. Also, when I wrote it in 2004 I put on it everything I knew about schema learning theory at the time but I've learnt some more since.

So a few months ago I started working on my personal introduction to schemas because I'd like there to be something really short that I can give to people who ask me about schemas that they can use in the meantime, while they work out whether they're interested enough in schema learning theory to do any more reading about it. It started as a half-hour workshop that can be part of another meeting and I've given at a SPACE group and a session meeting (a meeting where a whole playcentre can get together to talk about the kids). My introduction didn't stay down at the half-hour length and so it could do with some work yet, and a Workshop workshop might well show me the trick of concentrating and shortening it.

* Schemas in Areas of Play.pdf
Harper, S. (2004) Playcentre Journal 121: pp 18-19
Also in Meade, A. and Cubey, P. (2008) Thinking Children: Learning about schemas pp 27-29

Or is it about something else?

You see, schemas are quite an interesting thing to know about, but I think I'm wanting to write about them in order for what I know about them to end up as a pamphlet so I don't have to be there to introduce them myself: A Letter of Introduction to Schemas perhaps.

What I'd like to stand up on my hind legs and lecture you about right now is Te Whāriki's belonging and well-being, flow, people's passions (of which schemas are a subset) and how desperately they matter when people interact.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Best thing a newborn sibling can do.

Back in the day, if Hazel put her lovely soft child cheek beside Iris's, Iris would root around on it for a nipple. Hazel used to love these "funny baby kisses".

I'm thinking of this because my inbox seems to have another baby sister or baby brother announcement every time I look at it, each one reminds me of the day that Sean went through to Hazel's bedroom and said
"The baby came out of Mum's tummy last night, you're a big sister now."

When Iris was born Hazel was very keen on her, but, you know, newborns are extraordinarily frustrating people to love. Getting positive feedback out of a newborn is a matter of hope and kind interpretation on the part of loving and experienced adults; people who are new at trying to understand babies often find newborns completely opaque.

Newborns are used to a comfortable, friendly but impersonal environment, not unlike a private spa pool at a resort famous for its unobtrusive but efficient service. Newborns tell you something's wrong, but they don't know to tell that you've got it right. Newborns do love to breastfeed but not everyone has the superpower of making their milk, and their tummies are often a bit dicky. Newborns aren't as tolerant as a doll or as grateful as a cat, they can't even hold onto their presents.

Hazel cared desperately and wanted to know that Iris loved her back or even noticed her, and the only feedback Hazel had found out how to get reliably was negative, I was feeling a bit panicky about their relationship spiralling down for the 6 or 8 weeks before Iris learnt to smile when a friend, who'd had had 5 of her 6 babies by the time I'd had 2, told me about the funny baby kisses.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Let's get a really tiny car.

Car seats and booster seats do not make my life easier. Without them children are small and squash into the car easily, without them children are people who can walk or catch a train, a bus, or a plane to somewhere to be met by a loved one and a car as easily as I can, this is a wonderful freedom.

But death and internal injuries have only disadvantages.

Dr. Liz Segedin's powerpoint summary of quite a few years of Starship's statistics shows how very much less likely your car is to ruin or end your life if you sit in a booster seat until you're 1.5m tall (Hazel is 1.25m, Iris 1.15m). Booster seat research, Dr Liz Segedin.ppt

The NZ Child Restraints' site's Booster Seats section includes this little gem:

What is "sub-marining"?

When a small, undersized child, (a child who is unable to pass the 5 step test) is placed into an adult belt there are a number of risks that the child is exposed to. Such risks include injuries to the neck, spine and internal organs, as well as injuries caused when the child slides out the lap portion of the seat belt in an accident. The effect of this is known as "sub-marining" and is shown in the image below.


A child will scoot forward in an adult belt simply because they cannot comfortably sit with their back and bottom against the back of the vehicle seat, nor can they sit with their knees comfortably bent over the seat edge.

When a child is uncomfortable, they will find ways to make sure they are comfortable, this means they will pull their lower body forward to rest their knees on the seat edge, leaving a gap behind their back. The child is also likely to place the sash portion of their seat belt behind their neck, since their shoulder is now lower down and the seat belt cuts into their neck causing discomfort.

Useful info for parents.pdf (a pdf summary of how to tell if a child is sitting safely).

Safekids' position statement.pdf They say "It's booster seat time for Kiwi kids" and provide 17 pdf pages of argument for that.

Oh, botheration! Another inconvenient truth.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008


I just downloaded Te Whāriki (New Zealand's Early Childhood Curriculum) and The New Zealand Curriculum (for English speaking schools), I look forward to reading them together.

At the end of the nineties I spent a couple of years working at BDLC in Bloomington, Indiana, where we used the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)'s guidelines to help us provide a developmentally appropriate, child-oriented centre. When I moved back to New Zealand in 2000 I worked at Kea House (a centre in Victoria University) for a bit and since 2002 I've been at Wilton Playcentre. I've very much enjoyed working with Te Whaariki for the last 8 years and I'm curious about the one-year-old curriculum for schools.

I think Te Whaariki might be a useful document to make a way of life actually. I certainly don't forsee a time or place in which I will want to stop growing up as a competent and confident learner and communicator, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in my sense of belonging and in the knowledge that I make a valued contribution to society.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hymn for Lloyd Geering

[Sung to The Old Hundredth]

The Bible is but people's words,
Around the sun we're yearly hurled,
Evolving, changing like the birds
On this our only precious world.

We choose the actions that we take,
Forgiveness comes from those we wrong,
We are the choices that we make,
Our lives are lived and then are gone.

Is this too bleak to understand?
Grace, love and fellowship remain.
Let us dwell on the Son of Man.
Is there still good we can attain?

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Wanda Harland's expectant!

I'm not getting around to reading the web much these days, but I'm not at Playcentre where I wonder if Iris is missing Rosa, I'm sitting with Hazel as she doesn't vomit some more (keep not vomiting Hazel; it's a good look) drifting through months of words and it turns out that Wanda Harland's expectant! Omigodomigod!

(Examines self for urge forth to go forth and do likewise... nope, it's still schadenfreude I'm afraid, I prefer other people to do the vomiting.)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grokking Csíkszentmihályi's flow.

Just before Christmas I said
At the moment, what I love best about Ultimate is that it can occupy my whole being; a lot of the time that I am on the field I am not multi-tasking at all, I am not even directing my thinking. My self is wholly present in the moment, senses and understandings united; intuiting and acting in a dynamic and embodied way. To be so concentrated is utterly luxurious, mystical and animal, it is how I am when I am pushing a baby out, when I orgasm, and the more of the game I can do it for the better I play.
I didn't have a word for that state then but reading a draft of my friend Nikolien van Wijk's forthcoming book Getting Started With Schemas I read that Csíkszentmihályi's flow, a combination of intense concentration and deep enjoyment, is a symptom that a child is engaged upon their schemas.

Wikipedia says

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging (Csíkszentmihályi, 1975. p.72).

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

I think Csíkszentmihályi's flow is my favourite thing about my favourite things.

I love watching the disc fly; a predator's wordless understanding of physics and aerodynamics bringing me to exactly the right spot to snatch it out of the air.

I love to paint, to draw, to give a blank page a resemblance. My focus is wholly within the moment of the mark-making. The changing shape of the lines or texture of the paint, the speed at which I move my hands, my being is in these things.

I love to converse, to let the ideas wander, to listen and make connections, to be oblivious to what people might think of me and to concentrate wholly on what they think. Suddenly an hour's gone by, or maybe a night. I also love to write; in order to express myself with clarity, power, or a frivolous enjoyment of the pitter patter of little words passing, I let myself melt into my sentences.

Flow feels very good, and seeking it out is incredibly motivating.

Flow feels like a brain state. I wonder what we know about brain chemistry during learning, reading, problem solving, art, sport, drama, music, dance, trance, religious ecstasy, addiction, computer games, sex, eating, peeing, and breast-feeding.

Flow feels really really good but one can get flow by doing bad things. I remember flow as a child; calmly and unkindly goading my little sister, enjoying the challenge of staying only just inside her temper's limit so she didn't actually break into violence but talking rings around her 19 months and 23 days less sophisticated positions, and being willing to pay the price of her wrath when I wasn't competent enough to talk her back down again.

I'm sure downers are psychologically addictive by way of flow. Downers (e.g. alcohol, marijuana, lack of sleep) cut the number of neural connections made per second, this makes everything harder to do except narrowing of focus. Downers make it easier to focus (one isn't having so many thoughts at once) and change the balance of competence and challenge so that things usually done with ease become candidates for flow (ever see a stoned person butter a piece of bread).

I wonder whether uppers are also psychologically addictive by way of flow. Uppers (e.g. caffiene, nicotine, hot spices) make the brain make more neural connections per second, it's harder to focus but possible and then a torrent of thinking is pouring around the course set for it.

Certainly the high I've got from computer games is flow. That balance of competence and challenge, that single focus to the point of noticing that it's getting light again outside, that my hands are really cold and that in order to get to the toilet I have to walk bent over around my poor bladder, that's flow. Other people have even studied this idea already, but most of the papers I found about flow's role in cyber addiction by googling addiction and flow experience are not easily available for reading.

Even parts of the flow experience are quite hard to let go of once one is experiencing them. The focus of trying to grab a hair with tweezers, the un-self-consciousness of reading dull books and zoning out in front of the T.V. and of course, that favourite feeling of we parents: control.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Oh, and that state I was thinking about is flow; Csíkszentmihályi's Flow to be precise.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Starting to think about sport.

I know very little about sport. Two years ago my New Year's resolution was to enjoy playing backyard sports for a healthy body and to avoid passing my sporting neuroses on to my kids. Today, in Sean's parents' backyard, I threw a Frisbee and played badminton and volleyball, Hazel played cricket. I didn't play cricket because I got anxious and I didn't feel I knew how to join in. I'm getting there; I enjoy backyard sports and my children do too but the neuroses aren't yet all gone. Besides, I wanted to play badminton; I'd suddenly remembered absolutely loving the shuttlecock floating over my cousins' backyard in 1983's English summer.

As I spend more of my scarce and precious time playing Ultimate Frisbee my analytical mind starts to try to understand sport; I know very little about sport so I'm doing research.

"What's sport for?" I asked the athletic-looking young man at Sean's work's Christmas do. He replied with a sharp smile, sparkling eyes, and declarative certainty "winning."
"But how can that be? What's good about winning?" I asked.
"Oh, winning's not good. Winning's a vice."
I think he's got something there, but it's not the only thing.

The next day Housemonkey said perhaps I should read this, and until I finished it I found it hard to do anything else, "this" is The Meaning of Sport by Simon Barnes. Among other things, Simon Barnes is the Chief Sportswriter for the Times. He, who happens to have spent most of his working life writing stories he finds in sport, thinks that sport manufactures the need for people to call upon extremes of character, all the better for making stories out of. I love stories and before I played Ultimate my favourite sport was cricket. Cricket is very heavy on the stories and a test takes long enough to tell quite a few.

Barnes also thinks sport is metaphorical and mammalian. Team sports are metaphorical battles, one-on-one sports are metaphorical duels, and races are metaphors about predators and prey. The thesis for which I was awarded my MA was called Mimesis and Make-believe: How We Use Art, and one of the things I wrote in it which I still think true is that other creatures play make-believe. Barnes's mammalian sports and my animal make-believe are the same phenomenon: pouncing on string and other kitten's tails, batting newspaper about, play-fighting. Other mammals' sports are about hunting and dominance whether they are make-believe, metaphorical or both.

At the moment, what I love best about Ultimate is that it can occupy my whole being; a lot of the time that I am on the field I am not multi-tasking at all, I am not even directing my thinking. My self is wholly present in the moment, senses and understandings united; intuiting and acting in a dynamic and embodied way. To be so concentrated is utterly luxurious, mystical and animal, it is how I am when I am pushing a baby out, when I orgasm, and the more of the game I can do it for the better I play.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Coming out.

Coming out; lots of brave people do it on October 11, and I meant to, but I wasn't very well.

Should I come out? What as?

I like to wear skirts, which is more usual if one is a woman, and I'd rather re-define woman to include me than be considered a man, despite my more mannish tendencies. Thus I am not transgender.

I have no ex-girlfriends, but that wasn't through a lack of yearning, it was more through lacks of action, guts or reciprocity. I guess about a quarter of my crushes have been on women, and my number of lovers is not statistically significant, yet if my outward behaviour choices were as gay as they have been straight I'd definitely be gay, so I suppose I'm straight-ish enough in action, despite all those fervoured imagined trysts, that my claim to be bi is somewhat tenuous especially by now. Lois McMaster Bujold's good with words, when Aral is described as bisexual to his wife, she replies "Was bisexual, he's monogamous now." I do have a tall dark handsome husband and with the evidence of two pretty-in-pink daughters; it's not a very gay look. So, if I'm straight I'm not very straight but I'm not very bi either.

What I can tell you for sure is that I am a feminist. I take the politics of sexuality and gender seriously; I am very over statements of the form "you know what wo/men are like" and gay jokes, in 10 years time I'll be judging my children's partners on their choice of words and actions rather than their sexes, and I am working for a world where sex and sexual orientation don't matter any more than whether people's earlobes are attached or not (did you know that most people choose long-term partners whose earlobes are the same as their own? I hear they do).

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Playing with Lego.

Got out the Lego. Built all afternoon with RincewindTVD. Built a shared language to describe the pieces too. Iris and Hazel didn't press bits into bits much at all, but Iris has the Hagrid's Cottage that he made beside her mattress tonight (the kids have been sleeping on the floor lately, I don't know why).

People are funny.

RincewindTVD built the cottage to the picture, wished he had the instructions to check the hinge mechanism he invented against.

Housemonkey built the not quite solid pyramid full of a hidden maze there's only one way through. I want to fill it with pseudo-scorpions.

I built the gothic space ship on the left; it's stronger than it looks for all it's humourous sketchy grace and asymmetries. I also sorted the bits into takeaways' boxes by size and shape, laid the boxes in a grid, and then put the boxes into bigger boxes where they fit nicely.

It looks like schemas, but we'll have to play with the Lego lots more times to check.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Civil servants, I presume.

Today in Thorndon I saw two men in suits, one towing a wheeled cabin baggage, smile, wave at each other and hurry toward each other. They shared a blokey hug with back slapping, laughed, and snogged. They walked off hand in hand in the spring sunshine.