March 02, 2007

Nature vs. Nurture?

The Washington Post parenting blog has a relatively civil exchange about the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. Are boys really more likely to be interested in guns? Are girls more likely to be girly and wear fluffy clothes? It's an intriguing question. Before my life with children, I thought it was a lot more nature. I couldn't really fathom how boys could be so filled with a certain kind of energy and curiosity that they would be continually fascinated by guns, destruction, and, well, fart sounds using their arms. I have now rethought this.

I remember reading Dr. Dobson comment on this within the last several years. He wrote that even if you don't give boys guns, they'll make them out of peanut butter sandwiches. I am not really a fan of Dobson, although I am thankful he has mellowed with age and the influence of his adult children. But that image has stuck in my mind.

My husband asks "What about life before guns?" My answer was that boys would still have that impulse for destruction, for curiosity, for those fart sounds. That's what the anthropologist seemed to conclude in the comments. It's more nature.

Well, I'm going to stop this because we're watching Buckaroo Banzai again. Wherever you go, there you are.

February 28, 2007

Handwriting and typing help

My son has been enjoying learning how to type with the SpongeBob Typing CD. I bought this several months ago and he liked it, but then found it frustrating. Now he is motivated to learn how to type because he is using the computer more at home and school, so he wants to use the keyboard. And he has better hand-eye coordination after piano lessons. So much seems to be having things in the house ready for him when he's ready...and I'm not always sure when that is.

He is quite intrigued by anything SpongeBob and this CD is very much in the upbeat, slightly silly SpongeBob style. There's a keyboard on the screen that he uses to help him find the keys as he types the words on the screen. He is up to 8 words a minute. (Edited later: He eventually clocked in at 11 words at minute and now must type even faster on his own while typing on Club Penguin.) We have tried other typing programs for younger kids, but this one seems both better and more sophisticated. Definitely worth checking out for a high tech parent.

(Additional: Check out this review chart of Top Ten Typing Programs for Kids: ) We use MacBooks at home, so our options were somewhat limited on which typing software to purchase. Still, I think that the SpongeBob works.

Another benefit to consider for those debating about their child learning to type: Typing using both hands. This is a good way to develop both sides of the brain and to get muscles going for playing the piano or other musical instruments. I am pretty sure that because I played the piano and learned to type in sixth grade, that I have more ambidextrous confidence.

After examining numerous workbooks and ideas on handwriting, we have found that the handwriting program that worked best for him is Handwriting without Tears. This program using an up-and-down, rather than slanted, style. The style is not filled with lavish curliques that make little sense for today's handwriters. Still, it flows together nicely and the results are pleasant and easy to read.

The workbooks are relatively inexpensive, nicely designed, and kid friendly. The program starts with activities for kindergartners and moves on up. I like that there are workbooks for printing and cursive improvement in fourth and fifth grade levels.

We found that going through the books was easily manageable in one to three pages at at time. We also bought the lined paper, which is different than the standard, three-lined learning tablets. The two-line paper is innovative but quite helpful. I would highly recommend the entire program.

Before we got into the HWT program, he practiced cursive handwriting using School-Rite's handwriting instruction guides. I bought these on sale at Kid's Palette (noted on side list) and was skeptical. But they seem to be working for him as he needs to feel the movement of cursive handwriting. The guides make letters that fit into paper lines that are about one inch, so this is large. Every letter has arrow directing the writer. We have both the uppercase and lowercase instruction guides, which I would recommend. The guides are heavy plastic that seem quite sturdy.

Edited in later: The guides don't follow the HWT modified style. In retrospect, the guides seemed like a good idea. But the HWT workbooks are the best and proved better in the long run.

February 26, 2007


For the Cultural Fair at my son's school, we decided to make kolackys to celebrate his Slovak heritage. My mom, who's not Slovak, used to make these frequently as well. The tiny cookies are made with a cream cheese dough and filled with a jam (usually apricot), poppyseed (using a can of Solo), walnut mix, or cheese.

To find a recipe, first I explored the 50-year-old Slovak cookbook from my husband's grandparents' Slovak Lutheran church. It had a whole chapter on kolackys and I discovered that the sweet little cookie treats I loved are only one version of kolackys. The other is more of a small, fruit-filled bun made with a yeast recipe. I also found my mother-in-law's recipe in my 3-ring notebook collection of recipes. It was the non-yeast version. She made them thumbprint style.

I decided to check out kolacky recipes on the Internet, which is where I've been going more often for recipes. I am even bringing my laptop into the kitchen these days.

I love the little hints I found for kolackys. The best was to use a baby spoon to dollop the filling into smaller cookies. My son thought it was funny using his old babyspoons. Another was to roll the dough into a log to easily cut rounds. Another good idea was to use powdered sugar instead of flour.

Some of my favorite recipe sites:
Epicurious (the site of Gourmet and Bon Appetit)
All Recipes (sometimes not particularly sophisticated, but often quite good.)
This is the link to the kolacky recipe that most resembled the one I ended up using.

I am so glad to be able to have this high-tech recipe source.