Posted in education, know better do better, mindset

Keyboard skills

When I was in college, the phrase “keyboard skills” evoked many negative reactions from many of us.

Learning to play piano was, succinctly, not a good time.

But even at the college level, we weren’t handed a Beethoven piano sonata and asked to plunk it out by whatever means necessary.

This is what we’re doing to kids in schools. On the other kind of keyboard.

Technology is a big deal right now, and many people clamor for more and more technology.

Testing is also a big deal, and the majority of the Tests are computer-based.

But at no point are kids being taught how to type. Not in a slow, systematic way that actually yields students who can touch type.

Maybe they’ll be shown where their fingers go and it will be explained some. But kids in kindergarten are being asked to log in to computers, and the only way you can do that is to type in your user name and password.

(What they’re doing after that varies. Working with a mouse or a track pad seems appropriate maybe.)

We didn’t even have computers in school until I was in late elementary school. (Shakes fist at kids on lawn.) And yet we learned to use computers. People my age and older are not in short supply in the tech industry.

Children don’t need to be on computers from when they’re young to be able to learn them. Children do need to be taught to type if they’re going to be effective using keyboards. (I have so many thoughts about what we should and shouldn’t be doing in the lower elementary grades and younger, but that’s a series of rants for another day.)

I was talking to a friend who does IT work. He said that they have young programmers who hunt and peck. Pretty quickly, but still.

Delay computer use in schools. Teach keyboard skills.

Posted in education, meandering, mental health, mindset, parenting


“Every time you learn something, your brain changes.”

Whether you learn it correctly or not, whether you learn something big or small, something important or not important, something loving or hateful, it physically changes your brain.

I heard this somewhere a couple of months ago, and it stuck with me. (Happy to cite if you heard it, too, and know where it’s from!)

A solid reminder to filter, to some extent, what’s incoming.

Posted in education, know better do better, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness

Donations through purchases

The Kid mentioned to me the other day: “Mom, did you know Tony the Tiger donates money to keep sports in schools?”

We had a short conversation about it, and I told him I’d look up the details.

Here are the details: you buy a box of Frosted Flakes. You upload your receipt, and Kellogg’s donates $1* to an organization funding school sports. I didn’t look for further details about the organization or what they’re doing—I didn’t think our conversation would be that in-depth.

Did you notice the asterisk? I did, and I had to zoom on my screen to be able to read the fine print.

Max donation is $1M.

So we talked. He was happy about it at first—$1 per box seems pretty good. (We also talked about how sports and sugary cereals don’t really go together.)

But then we talked about the upper limit. And we talked about all the people who could potentially buy the box, thinking they’re donating to school sports, and they’re not.

“But Mom, they’ll stop the commercial [that I saw] once they hit a million, won’t they?”

Well … I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. And we talked a bit about how ads are purchased. (Didn’t even get into nefarious intent, just “we bought two weeks’ worth of ads so they run for two weeks, regardless.”) So they might still be running after Kellogg’s has donated their million.

“That is the crappiest thing I’ve ever heard! Oh my goodness!”

Lesson learned: if we want to donate to a cause, donate to it directly.

Posted in differences, education, know better do better, mental health, parenting

The Kid’s advantages

Three things that came together recently:

1- The Kid had a sleepover the other night. Big fun!

They played with LEGO, jumped on the trampoline, drank hot chocolate, read about sharks, played in the yard, and might have even slept in there somewhere.

At breakfast, I was making pancakes, and they had made up and were singing to each other a song asking how many pancakes they could eat.

This led to a conversation (between them) about really big numbers. Sextillion. Googol. Googolplex.

They’re in second grade.

2- While going through Facebook memories, I found one from several years ago where I was showing gratitude for having the education and the means to know how important preschool is and to send him to a good one. (No rigor or that bullshit. But that’s for another day.)

3- I read a piece that another mom wrote, talking about how her 8-year-old daughter often asked to bake or cook, and the answer was often no, because it was going to make a mess or it wasn’t safe or any one of the myriad of reasons tired parents say no.

And then the mom went to see what the girl was doing instead, and she was watching an episode of Chopped, Jr.—same idea as the regular version, but with kids. Apparently some of them quite young.

The mom had an epiphany that the girl can’t do those things because she, the mom, had been saying no and not giving her the opportunity. She changed that and while the kitchen was often messy, her young daughter learned to cook really well in a fairly short time.

How does that all come together?

The Kid has such an advantage over so many other kids. Because his parents aren’t stressed about basic necessities. Because he’s been read to his whole life. Because when he asks questions—regardless the topic—he gets answers. Because we’ve been able to say yes to most of the things he’s been interested in. Because we have enough self-awareness to let him pursue his interests instead of pushing him to pursue our interests (whether current or from our youth).

And you know what? I want that playing field to be more level. Not just among disadvantaged groups, necessarily. But I want kids—all the damn kids—to be given the opportunity to learn and imagine and become, not just because they go to school and get what they get at school. I want home to be a place of nurturing, of growth, of learning, of exploring, of safety. So kids can feel confident and stable and loved. Which will allow them to be kinder to others. Which would lead to a whole ton of adults who were emotionally secure and aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Nothing but good can come of that.

Posted in education, mindset

Teaching, especially beginners

In the media, and in conversations with believers of said media, you will learn that anyone can be a teacher, that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” that passive learning from a video is the same as learning from a dynamic teacher. Basically, teaching is not a skill.

I’m here to tell you they’re wrong.

Now, there are some people who will learn from whatever you put in front of them. But we can’t make the exceptions the rule. (And typically, this applies to only one type of learning—the same person rarely can learn both book skills and kinesthetic skills from non-interactive instruction.)

There is value in connection. This is true in all parts of life, not just teaching. Why do you think, in certain situations, we’re trained to see people as “other”? It breaks our connection and makes it much easier for the people in charge to pit us against them.

There is value in being able to ask questions. If you went to college, surely there was a difference between a large lecture and a more intimate class. Or — there’s a reason for office hours (beyond asking for a better grade that you didn’t earn).

There is value simply in body language. A large portion of the feedback I get in classes I teach (to any age) is from body language and facial expressions. Sometimes it’s clear right away that what I just said isn’t making it. Or they’ve checked out and whatever I’m saying isn’t being received.

All that said, teaching beginners is a further specialization.

Every skill has technical language that goes with it. If, as the teacher, you aren’t aware of these words (that you’ve been using fluently for years, maybe decades) and define them ahead of time, your students are going to be lost. (Have you ever had a conversation with a person in a different field who isn’t aware of their field-specific acronyms?)

Human brains (again, any age) don’t absorb everything in one pass. It’s going to take more than one explanation of some of that vocabulary before students get it, and longer than that before they’re also fluent. Different students will remember different details first.

Skills need to be broken down into component parts, and those parts need to be offered in a sequence that makes sense.

And flow of information needs to be regulated. Too much too fast and your students are lost. The skills might seem simple to you, but how many years of practice with the skill do you have? Offering way too much information over and over doesn’t help most students to learn. If you’re in a position of being overwhelmed and the same volume of stuff comes at you repeatedly, does that help you to get a handle on it? If yes, it’s because you pick out one or two things from each wave and incorporate just those. Which is what you, as a good teacher, need to do for your students.

This is why people who teach preschool and kindergarten have a harder job than people who teach high school. Sure, we all know the content for preschool and kindergarten (probably?), but we definitely can’t all teach it.

Respect good teaching (whether it’s in a school, in a training, in a workshop—context is irrelevant). Remember that teaching is a skill, it’s something you get better at over time with intentional practice, and no, not anyone can do it equally well.