Early Childhood Development: Focus on Input, Input, Input

If you have read any of Doman’s work on early childhood education, you will be familiar with his strong recommendations not to “test” children on what they have learned. If you aren’t familiar, what Doman says is essentially this: children hate to be tested and it is the quickest way to put them off learning. And if you want your child to enjoy learning, don’t test them. So how do we know what they’re learning if we can’t test them? Doman recommends giving your child problems to solve rather than testing.

To be honest, giving problems to a child and testing seem almost the same to me, but here are some examples to differentiate the two based on Doman’s explanations:

What Constitutes Testing?

• Testing your child is pointing to a word and asking him to read it out to you.
• Testing is giving your child a mathematical equation and asking him to give you the answer.

What Does Giving Your Child Problems to Solve Involve?

• Showing your child two flashcards and asking him to point to the one that says “insert word here”. For example, you hold up the words “dog” and “cat” and ask your child to point to the word that reads “dog”.
• Showing your child two red dot cards and asking him to point to the one that represents “insert number here”. For example, you hold up the red dot cards for “twenty” and “twenty-one” and ask your child to point to the card that shows “twenty”.

Doman‘s recommendation is to give your child three problems to solve per session. This method of problem solving gives your child a 50-50 chance of getting the answer right so how do you know he isn’t just guessing and fluking it? Well, if he gets all three problems right, his chances of getting it right has gone from 50% to 12.5%. And the more problems he solves correctly, the lower the odds are that he fluked it.

Like I said, both methods still sound an awful lot like testing to me, but it works for some parents. It did not work for me. I stopped giving Gareth problems when he didn’t seem interested in solving them. For a long while it seemed like he was the “slower” one between him and his older brother. He even scored the nickname “Hercules” while his brother was dubbed “Aristotle” because he seemed to be more about brute force and less about intellectual prowess. There were many jokes about how Gavin would be the brains while Gareth was the brawn.

In our experiences, you don’t have to test your children to find out if they are learning. Through your day to day activities, your will eventually reveal to you what he has learned. All you have to do is be patient and keep focussing on input, input, input – especially when your child is very young.

Although I know the theory behind input and output, it doesn’t mean I never question it. I confess there were times when I did ask myself if Gareth simply wasn’t answering because he didn’t understand or he didn’t know the answer. Then I learned that Gareth didn’t answer because he didn’t want to answer. Although it could mean that he didn’t know the answer, there were times when he didn’t answer because he felt disinclined to do so.

There are times when Gareth will ask to nurse by saying “nen nen” which is the Chinese word for breast milk. Then there are times when he will indicate he wants to nurse by crawling into my lap, shifting himself into the nursing position and tugging at my shirt while saying “eh eh eh”. A couple of times I wanted him to say he wanted “nen nen”, so I feigned ignorance and asked him, “What do you want Gareth?” Instead of saying “nen nen” which he clearly knew, he continued to tug at my shirt and say “eh eh eh”. If I continued to pretend I didn’t know what he wanted, he would start to fuss.

Another example is Mickey. Gareth loves Mickey. He stops everything to watch Mickey and if you tell him you’ll put Mickey on TV, he will stop fussing immediately. But when I ask him to get Mickey for me or to show me where Mickey is, he’ll pointedly ignore me and continue about his own business. There are many similar incidences with words and objects I know he recognises but he refuses to acknowledge. And if Gareth is like this, then I’m sure there are many other children out there like him. So even if your child does not appear to be absorbing anything from your efforts to teach, I would persist because he really is learning.

And here’s a little inspiration:

Recently Gareth rewarded my efforts by demonstrating the recognition of the word “Dad”. Gareth and I walked past a painting that Gavin and I had worked on together while Gareth was napping. Gareth pointed to the word “Dad” and said, “Dad”. Although I have taught him the word “Dad” with flash cards, I did not tell him that the word on the painting was “Dad”. I was delighted when he read the word without prompting, but I kept my excitement under wraps with the possibility that he had fluked it. However, since that first time, he has been back to the painting on two separate occasions and repeated the word “Dad”.

This was the painting:

So this is my advice: do not be discouraged if your child is not like the children you see on Youtube who readily read words back when prompted. Stop testing, stop feeling frustrated and just focus on input, input, input.

How to Teach Your Baby Math: Little Math versus Doman Math

What’s the purpose of teaching your baby Math? I’m sure this sounds like kiasuism at it’s max. Why on earth would you teach a baby Math? Surely they have plenty of time to learn this when they are older…

According to Doman, babies have the ability to recognise quantities without counting. It is easier for a baby to learn the rules of Math and if they are given the opportunity in the right environment, they will. As they grow older, they begin to lose this ability. Doman and Shichida both believe it is easier for your child to learn Math when he is a baby than when he is of school going age.

As your child goes through school, he will eventually have to learn Math. He also needs basic Math for everyday life when he grows older. The fact is, Math is one of those subjects that he cannot escape. Since he needs to learn it, doesn’t it make more sense to teach it to him when it is easiest for him to learn it and at a time when he wants to learn it rather than wait until he’s older and hates having to learn Math?

So if you’re going to teach your baby Math, Doman recommends using the red dot card method. Expanding on the red dot card method, Shichida came up with the 65 Day method. Then BrillKids came up with Little Math, which is a computer program that takes Doman’s Math program yet another step further.

I’ve used the Doman red dot card method as well as Little Math and these are the pros and cons of both programs:

Glenn Doman math program

Pros:

• Face to face – parent and child are face to face when you use the flashcards.
• Parent’s voice provides extra bonding rather than listening to a recorded voice.

Cons:

• Fiddly – handling the cards can be cumbersome, especially when your baby grows older and starts to get more mobile.
• Older babies may grab at the cards and want to play with them.
• Need to arrange the cards in readiness for the next session.

Pros:

• Full year program pre-loaded.  No lesson planning required before hand – unless you specifically want to teach your child something unique.  You can run each lesson with the click of a button – no further preparation required.
• Flashcards are shown at random each time, so no shuffling required.
• There is more variety to the objects shown. Instead of representing quantities with red dots, you can have apples, planets, a baby’s face, etc. Different lessons show the quantities randomly scattered and ordered in different arrangements (e.g. in a grid). Although Doman believes this isn’t necessary, Shichida encourages it.
• Program records where you are up to so you know what you have taught even if you take a break from the program.
• Easily customised – if you want to make it more personal, you can use a picture of your baby’s face, or members of the family as the individual objects. I used Thomas characters for my older son and Mickey characters for my younger son. You can use your own voice recording if you don’t want some random voice saying the numbers.
• When your baby grows older and begins to be distracted easily by other objects, you can dim the lights to help your child focus on the flashcards.
• You can hold your baby while showing him the flashcards (you can even nurse him, if he’s still breastfeeding!) and this is very hard to do with physical flashcards.
• The basic Math program costs US\$159 which is cheaper than the RM1000++ I paid for the Doman math kit.  If you purchase the Doman math kit from Gentle Revolution, it costs US\$59.95 for the basic program (before shipping).  I don’t know how much shipping charges are but it will be costly because the cards are very heavy.

Cons:

• Run on the computer so no face-to-face element.

If you are interested to purchase Little Math, I have one coupon for 25% off that I can offer to one reader. Those interested, please leave a comment on this post and I will randomly draw a name at the end of the week.

Want to teach your baby to read?  Which kit should you get – the original Glenn Doman reading kit or BrillKids Little Reader?

I originally bought the Glenn Doman reading kit, but I have also tried using BrillKids Little Reader.  These are the pros and cons for both programs…

Pros:

• Face to face – parent and child are face to face when you use the flashcards.  It is said that babies learning to form words need to see lip movements.
• Font size – bigger than what you will be able to show on a computer screen.

Cons:

• Fiddly – handling the cards can be cumbersome, especially when your baby grows older and starts to get more mobile.
• Need to arrange the cards in readiness for the next session.
• No pictures – words for objects that a baby has never seen before will be meaningless, unless you are using the kit on an older child.

Pros:

• Full year program pre-loaded.  No lesson planning required before hand – unless you specifically want to teach your child something unique.  You can run each lesson with the click of a button – no further preparation required.
• Flashcards are shown at random each time, so no shuffling required.
• Program records where you are up to so you know what you have taught even if you take a break from the program.
• Flashcards can be shown with pictures or just the words only.
• A variety of pictures are shown to illustrate each word.  For instance, there are three different pictures of dogs to show what a “dog” is.
• You can view video clips and listen to sound clips to provide a multi-sensorial approach to learning.  For instance, your child can listen to a dog barking for the word “dog”.
• Easily customised – you can add your own pictures to make the flashcards unique to your child.  For instance, you can take pictures of family members to illustrate words like “aunt”, “brother”, “father”, etc.
• You can add content to the program to expand your child’s reading vocabulary, introduce unique words that interest your child that aren’t included in the curriculum.
• It incorporates a phonics program so your child gets the best of both worlds – whole word and phonics.
• The deluxe program costs US\$399 (basic program is US\$149) which is cheaper than the RM1700++ I paid for the Doman reading kit.  If you purchase the Doman reading kit from Gentle Revolution, it costs US\$92.95 (before shipping).  I don’t know how much shipping charges are but I’ll wager it costs an arm and a leg because the kits are very heavy.

Cons:

• Run on the computer so no face-to-face element.  However, the new deluxe kits come with hard copy flashcards as well to address this issue.

And now for a limited time only (until October 14, 2010), you can get Little Reader at 10% off.  Coupon code: BKAFF36716.

Testing Your Child’s Knowledge Kills the Interest to Learn

According to Doman philosophy, you should never, never “test” your child in an effort to find out what he has learned. Doman claims this to be the downfall of schools – testing children. Nobody likes to be tested, and least of all, the children. And if you test your child, Doman warns, you will kill off his interest in learning faster than you can say, “Read this please?”

You should never ask him to demonstrate what he has learned for others either. A common example is when your child is learning to speak and a proud grandparent keeps asking him to repeat his “new” words as a demonstration for friends and relatives. I’m sure this scenario is familiar: “Oh, he’s just learned to say ‘Daddy’. Darling, say ‘Dada’.” He might accommodate you a few times, but after a while, he’ll get sick of playing parrot. After that, you never hear him say “Dada” again.

So how do you find out what your child has learned if you can’t test him? Doman suggests that you give your child problem solving questions. Apparently, this isn’t considered testing. You’re just giving him a problem to solve if he wants to. In Doman’s example, if you wanted to find out what your child can read, you simply give your child a problem similar to the following: