Thursday, April 29, 2010

Holding Boys Back from Kindergarten

I've been listening to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell this week. We have it on CD. I don't normally "read" books this way, but I have been amazed at how much I've enjoyed listening to it. I'm not sure I would feel that way about every book, but I plan to listen to more books this way in the future. I just started it on Tuesday and I finished it today. All that "reading" took place while I was making blueberry muffins and folding laundry and driving around in my minivan. Pretty efficient.

I highly recommend this book. It will really make you think about the ways in which our background and culture inform who we are. The book looks at success and tries to figure out if there is some kind of pattern that success follows. Guess what, there is! There's not necessarily a recipe for success that you can follow, but there are certain circumstances that breed success.

One section of the book is about hockey players in Canada. It turns out that, almost without exception, the best hockey players in Canada are all born in the first half of the year. That seems pretty weird, until you realize that January 1st is the arbitrary cutoff birthday for signing up for hockey. Gladwell explains that the players who were born closest to the cutoff date of January 1, are the best players because they are the oldest players on the team. Because they are the best players, they get picked for special travel teams, practice and play more, and get the best coaches. By the time they have gone through many years in the hockey system, they have been groomed to be best players, and therefore are the best players.

Gladwell then explains that this is the case in most school systems as well. In kindergarten, the oldest kids generally do the best and are put in the advanced reading and math groups where they get special attention and praise for their work. They continue to be tracked in these advanced groups and over the years, the gap between them and their peers grows larger, rather than smaller. They are being groomed to be the best and they live up to that expectation.

Of course, you have to take all this with a grain of salt because this theory of Gladwell's cannot be applied in every case. I'm sure there are plenty of cases of younger kids in a classroom being in the advanced groups. But, I think it is safe to assume that if your child is the oldest in their class, then you are definitely stacking the odds in their favor. Can't hurt, right?

Another book that informed our decision to hold Charlie (our boy who will be five in June) back from kindergarten next year was It's a Boy by Michael Thompson. We have been really questioning whether or not to hold Charlie back. He's ready for kindergarten in so many ways, but he's admittedly not the most mature child on the block either. He doesn't always follow instructions. He struggles to do things like put his socks on (or acts like it's a struggle so you will come help him). He's emotional in good and bad ways and I could see him getting frustrated to the point of tears if something in school didn't come easily to him.

With Emma in kindergarten already, I have a pretty good idea what goes on academically. I have no doubt that Charlie could rise to the occasion and be just fine academically. He wouldn't be one of the top students most likely, but he would be somewhere in the middle. Charlie is very smart, don't get me wrong. But so far he's not exceptional in the things that count in kindergarten (reading, writing and sitting still). If you need a robot built out of stuff found in the recycling bin, then Charlie's your guy.

So, I turned to the It's a Boy book to find out if Michael Thompson had some helpful info on boys and kindergarten. Turns out he did! He's pretty opinionated about this subject, in fact:
"The age at which a boy starts kindergarten, his developmental readiness and the experiences he has there will affect him for the rest of his school career, and perhaps for the rest of his life. In the first three years of formal schooling--kindergarten through second grade--he forms a view of himself as a successful boy or a failure. Research confirms what most parents and educators see every day: that how well a boy performs in these earliest years of school affects his self-image and later performance."

Wow. So, I wasn't crazy for giving this so much thought. The age at which a boy starts kindergarten will affect him for the rest of his life?? This is serious business. To me, Thompson is effectively saying the same thing as Gladwell. Whether it's hockey or school, those who have the advantage at the very beginning will continue to have an advantage their entire career. And according to Gladwell, the advantage doesn't stay the same, it grows over time.

Thompson also goes on to say that kindergarten, in it's current academics-focused form, plays more to a typical girl's strengths than a boy's. (Notice I'm saying "typical" here.) In his book, Thompson quotes Jane Katch, a teacher and author of books about kindergarten. Katch says that kindergarten
"doesn't work for boys. What happens is that they come into school thinking they are okay and they immediately discover that the things that are valued by the teacher are the things they are worst at: fine motor coordination, word/sound discrimination skills, hearing the beginning, middle, and end of words. They can't come up with them or recognize them. They will in six months, but they can't now. They aren't as good at coming up quickly with answers to questions, so they don't raise their hands. It is much harder for them to sit still, so they're told they're restless...And we've cut out everything they are good at. Boys at this age have terrific skills at making big things happen together, as a group--cooperating, communicating, being a constructive group together to make exciting things work."

Later, Thompson says this about the difference between girls and boys in kindergarten:
"Because reading, sitting still, and taking school seriously are so strongly developmental, the boys on the younger end of the development arc are most at risk for difficulty or failure in an academic kindergarten, although all children are shortchanged by a curriculum that pressures them to move forward too quickly."
So, there you have it. Our case for holding Charlie back. This has been a decision I have agonized over. It's hard to buck the system and do something a little different from what other people are doing. I think it will turn out great for Charlie, though. It certainly can't hurt him.

For the next post, I'm hoping to divulge our plan for next year! I'm very excited about Charlie's "gap year." What a gift to have an extra year with my sweet boy! :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rocket Birthday Party

With a kids ages 6, 4, and 17 months, birthday parties are quite the hot topic at our house. I thought it would be fun to post about birthday parties we've either had or have thought about having or would like to have in the future. Please feel free to share your own party ideas. I'm almost as birthday-party obsessed as my kids are and I would love to hear your ideas!
For Charlie's 4th birthday, we had a rocket/space-themed birthday party. It was a blast! (ha ha)
Here's what we did:

Decorations: I displayed space books around the kids' playroom (where most of the party took place). Books are a fun (and cheap) way to decorate and they double as a quiet party activity. I also had little astronaut figurines and any other toys having to do with space out on the playroom shelves for kids to play with at their leisure. The big centerpiece of the party was the cardboard rocket playhouse my parents gave Charlie as a birthday present. We let the kids color it with crayons and play inside it during the party.

  • Activities: For parties, I always set up different centers for the kids to pick from when they arrive. I know I can feel uncomfortable when I go to parties...and I'm a grown up. I figure kids feel this way sometimes too, so it's nice to give them a choice of activities to get them feeling comfortable and in the party mood. Plus, when you're talking about young children, you can never make them all do the same activity at the same time. It's too hard. Giving them options is the way to go. For this party we had a playdough table, a craft table, books and space toys scattered around the playroom and the playhouse rocket. I was also brave and put the computer on a kids' space website for tech savvy kids to explore. Our computer is in the middle of the kids' playroom, so it was easy to monitor their use of the computer while the party was going on. I made sure to expand the screen on the computer so that no other toolbars/windows would be accessible to a preschoolers' wandering mouse. To do this, just go to your browser's toolbar and click "view" and then click "full screen."

Playdough table!


We made planets by coloring round coffee filters with water-soluble markers and then spraying them with water. After our planets dried, we glued them to black paper and added star stickers. Too bad this picture is so bad, because this craft turned out really cool. Using blue and green markers makes the planets look like Earth, using red and orange can make them look like Jupiter? Mars? Who knows...the point is, they look planety and that's what you're going for.


Rocket sandwiches with baby carrot rocket boosters, stars and planets cheese and crackers.


Your basic chocolate cake decorated to look like space. Adding plastic space guys and a space shuttle hopefully distracted from my less than professional cake decorating skills.

Grand Finale: We walked to a field near our house (one without lots of power lines or low-flying planes) and blasted off a real rocket! I had no idea these rockets even existed until one day when I was at Michaels getting supplies for the party and saw an aisle there labeled "Rockets." I was giddy with excitement to go down that aisle, let me tell you. These rockets are serious business and not for people like me who are afraid to open up a can of biscuits. Thankfully my husband was not scared to light the tiny little sticks of dynamite that are required to launch one of these babies.

Here's a video of our rocket launch:

Party Favors: Astronaut ice cream, of course! And I made a mix CD of songs about space using iTunes' "genius" feature. Just go on the iTunes website and it's pretty self-explanatory how you can find music that is about certain themes. I had fun picking the music for our "Space Jams" CD and it was great background music for our party as well. Here are a list of the songs on our CD if you're interested:

  1. Rocketship Run by The Laurie Berkner Band

  2. Nine Planets by Justin Roberts

  3. Backyard Spaceship by Justin Roberts

  4. Rocketship by Justin Roberts

  5. Great Big Sun by Justin Roberts

  6. Blast Off by Mikey's Band

  7. The Solar System by Joel Media & Crew

  8. Blast Off! by Rocknocerous

  9. Pluto by Rocknocerous

  10. Fly Me to the Moon by The Laurie Berkner Band

  11. You Are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell

  12. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Elizabeth Mitchell

  13. Down to Earth by Peter Gabriel

  14. Outer Space by Relax Kids

Did I mention that this is when my secret music crush on Justin Roberts began? Sigh...

Here's a picture of the actual Space Jams CD. I took a picture of some of Charlie's space toys and made a cool personalized label. Can you tell I live for this stuff?

Here's a video taken during the party when one of the space jams was really pumping. This will give you an idea of the space party milieu, if you will. That's me with the baby and the wet hair.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Query Letters

So, I finally finished editing my manuscript and it's in the in-boxes of my fabulous writing group ladies. By the way, if you are a writer and you don't have a writing group, let me urge you to run out and get one as soon as possible. I don't know what I would do without mine. They are such a source of strength, encouragement and laughs.

So, now the time has finally come to start researching literary agents. Yippee! I started by looking at the Agent Query web site, typed in "women's fiction" in the search bar and then that gave me a whole database of agents who are accepting submissions for women's fiction. Woo hoo! I think I have spent about two hours looking at this stuff and so far I've made it through three agents' web sites. One agent had a really helpful blog with "must read" posts about writing query letters, submitting, etc. I found it really helpful. Here it is if you're interested.

So, the first thing I need to do is write a query letter. All agents pretty much require that you send them that first. And then they ask to see your manuscript if they like your query. Here is the definition of a query letter from the afforementioned Book Ends Literary Agency's blog:

Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to attain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book. A query letter is your introduction and sometimes only contact with an agent and should not be taken lightly.

Basically, a query is your one-page pitch that will entice a literary agent to want to see more of your manuscript. It should read like the blurb on the back of a paperback book.

SO, this week I'm going to write a query letter. And make a list of agents that I want to send said query letter to. There is even this cool little query letter tracking device that you can use to track all of queries! Can't wait to start filling this baby in!

Anybody out there have any tips on finding an agent? I'd love to hear them! Right now it feels a little needle-in-a-haystacky trying to find the right person to send to.

I'd love to spend all morning on the internet reading up on literary agents, but, alas, we are out of milk. Gotta run!