Monday, March 6, 2017

Notes on Anders's "Education" age 5 1/3

At 5 1/3


We stopped doing the Kumon reading program in January. He had wanted to do their program, so I supported him, but I never liked it very much. After I read The Well-Trained Mind I was able to explain to him (and myself) exactly why I was not liking the program and why I thought he should stop doing it. Anders agreed to stop after he finished level 3A. Here is the post I wrote about that decision:

Sometime in January we went back to doing Hooked on Phonics. We reviewed the kindergarten program for a few weeks, focusing on mastering sound combinations. Anders flew threw it and really enjoyed revisiting books that he had read when he was "young." Then we reviewed the first grade program up to where we had been when we switched last year. It was quite surprising to me how quickly it all came back to him. We have been doing a lot more repetition this time through, reading each little book several times until he has truly mastered it before moving on. We are now about two weeks shy of finishing the first grade program.

We currently read at night right before bed. We read something hard (new) for ten minutes, something easy (review) for five minutes, and then do flashcards for five minutes and some brain quest (we finished the kindergarten one during this time period). Then I read to him until he wants to go to sleep.

I finally found a series of kids' versions of the classics that I like. It's called the Classic Starts series. It is much less dumbed down than the other series of classics for kids that I have read – I have been happy with the vocabulary level. They are short. They are like a quick intro course that enables us to cover more books and decide which ones we really like and want to read the longer versions of. For example, we recently read Pinocchio, Oliver TwistTreasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and The Story of King Arthur and His Knights in the Classic Starts series. The only one we want to read a longer version of is King Arthur.

We also recently read (the original versions of) Little Men, Swedish Folk Tales, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. All were hits with Anders, of course. The one I liked the most was Swedish Folk Tales. We have read many different books of fairy tales at this point and Swedish Folk Tales is the only one I have ever liked values-wise.

Another thing we have learned – several times, we keep accidentally repeating this experiment due to random circumstances: If Anders watches more than about ninety minutes of television (documentaries) in a single day, he will find doing his work extremely difficult the next day. It's cumulative too. If he watches no television for a few weeks and then has a television intensive day due to traveling, he will only struggle a little the next day whereas if he watches a bunch of television several days in a row, he will get progressively worse at his work each day until he is struggling to the point that we decide to forgo any more television until his brain is better.

What is different about his brain is his ability to focus. If Anders hasn't watched any television in a week, he can sit down and do five pages of math in one sitting. If Anders has had an overdose of screen time, he will do a half a page, stare into space, get distracted with something else, focus long enough to finish the page, and then decide he doesn't feel like doing his work today.


At the beginning of this time period Anders needed something to change with his math. He would say that he wanted to keep doing his math program, but for about two weeks he would never make time to do it. I couldn't blame him – there is so much exciting stuff going on at the farm all the time! I asked him if we could just put the program on pause as I didn't want to pay for it if we weren't going to do it.

That made him very upset, and he started doing the program again. After a few weeks I felt like I had to threaten him with cancelation of the program constantly otherwise he would not make the time to do it. That wasn't working for me.

I told him I was very confused about what to do. His words were saying he wanted to do the program, but not his actions. He told me to just make him do his Kumon, like the kids I used to be a nanny for. Thus began a very interesting discussion that lasted a few days: We try to have no force in our family, but is force okay if the other person gives you permission because they have a goal, but need help with their self-control? Anders thought so. He has helped me from time to time to limit my chocolate consumption, and I was always appreciative.

In the end I decided to experiment and see. I thought Anders might be curious about what it is like to be forced to do something and, when you are five, there is value even in negative experiences, provided they are not traumatizing. I didn't think it would be traumatizing, so we decided that the next day I would be "Anders's nanny instead of his mom."

So, the next morning I didn't let him leave his chair until his math was done, as I had done with many children before him. It was fascinating and depressing. He pulled the math out of his head with a slowness that I had never seen in him before. I have always marveled at how fast and bright he is, but that day he seemed slow and stupid. When his work was finally done, it was ugly, lots of erasing, scribbles, rips, and doodles. His behavior and the work he produced was virtually identical to the kids for whom I had been a nanny. All this time I thought he was so bright, but as it turns out he was bright because he was doing what he wanted to be doing. Shocker.

When his math was done for the day, I asked him what he thought about being forced, and he said, "It was fine. Will you do that again tomorrow?" I was feeling very conflicted. But the experience helped me realize what the problem was or, rather, what Anders needed.

The next day I told him I didn't want to force him. I told him that what I thought he might be interested in was something called self-control.

I said (something along these lines):

 "You used to do math for the experience of doing the math. You were learning something new, and it was fun. Learning new things is fun. But after you were done with the learning, it became time to master the math problems and have them so memorized in your brain that you never have to think about them again. That is your new task. And you are experiencing it right now as a boring task, because you haven't learned how to switch brains.

"In a way, we have two brains in our head. Our Long Term Goal Brain and our Right Now Brain. Most of the time, when you are five, your Right Now Brain is the boss. But as you get older, your Long Term Goal Brain starts to grow, and it wants to be the boss sometimes.

"Our Right Now Brains just wants to be experiencing the world, not memorizing things. In fact, it hates memorizing things. It hates it so much that every math problem is painful, and when doing work is painful, the work itself becomes ugly. Look at this work you turned in yesterday!

"If you can learn how to command your attention, by strengthening your focus muscle, your Right Now Brain will be quiet for a minute and your Goal Brain will take over. When your Goal Brain is in charge, doing your math will be easy; you will be fast; your work will be beautiful; and you will feel powerful and competent. For that reason it will be fun again. It is fun to feel powerful and competent.

"You get to decide what brain is the boss. It's called commanding your attention, deciding what to focus on, and then having a strong enough focus muscle to stay focused. Yesterday, when you did your work, you were in your Right Now Brain. That's why the work felt boring and miserable.

"Today, I don't want you to think about doing math. This work isn't about math. This is about your ability to be the boss of your attention. Not me. If I am the boss of your attention you won't get stronger. If you are the boss of your attention you will get stronger and stronger every day. See if you can give all your attention power to your Goal Brain, and just get this done. You will know you are succeeding when time disappears, and you find yourself just whipping out numbers."

This was exactly what Anders needed to hear. His goal became, not to do math pages, but to see if he could command his attention and strengthen his focus muscle. He started with just one page at a time. But he could feel the difference. When he was in his Goal Brain he felt powerful and capable and the math was easy to do and time flew by. When he lost his focus, there were suddenly lots of mistakes on the page, and he felt powerless and miserable. (Or at least, that is what he told me. It's entirely possible he was just repeating to me what I had said.)

It took about a week for him to get his focus up to five pages straight. The new game of "Can I Focus My Brain?" was so interesting for him that he started hopping out of bed in the morning and saying, "Give me my pages!" Then he would sit down and whip them out, five beautiful pages with no errors and nice handwriting. Many times there would be a section, around page two or three in which there would be three problems or so that were scribbled out, and I would say, "Look, I can see you lost your focus here, and I can see here you got it back here."

At the end of this time period: Anders continues to race through his math every day, impressing himself with his speed and memorization abilities and blowing me away with his persistence and determination. He is almost done with the long, hard unit of 3A.

After he is done with his Kumon pages we do one page in his logic workbook. Sometimes he thinks it is so much fun that he ends up doing ten pages.

Business Skills

It occurs to me that this should be its own section, as it is a major part of Anders's curriculum. Right now, we play Money Bags every day. In the past we have also played Monopoly. We recently read (again) all the Tuttle Twins Books, Who Is Bill Gates, Who Was Steve Jobs, Buy My Hats, Lemonade in Winter, Escape the Rat Race, Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Go to Market, Alexander, Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday, and Fisherman's Catch. In the past we read: Who Was Milton Hershey, Who is Richard Bronson, Diddle Daddle Ducking, Pelle's New Suit, and How and Economy Grows and Why It Doesn't.

Anders also goes to work with his dad once a week or so for two to six hours. Tom also takes Anders on special "business dates," in which they meet an important lawyer or car dealer.

I talk about gold, silver, dollars, and cordobas with Anders and we have been to a coin store where Anders bought himself some pieces of silver. For the solstice this year, Anders decided to forgo getting sweets in his stocking so he could have another silver coin.


Anders's favorite game is still memory, though he loves any game anyone wants to play, especially games that involve running like hide and seek and tag.

Social Skills

Anders thinks that calling people names is the funniest thing ever, so funny that he shrieks. What is funny to me is what he thinks is funny to call people: a hammer, a nail, a window, a block of cement, rice, beans, milk, an ant, a chicken, a dog, a pig. I assume his brain is learning metaphors.

We had a family visit us at the farm for a week. They had a five year old boy who was our guest. They boys butted heads a lot at first, but after a few days they learned how to get along and became quite good friends with almost no squabbles.

I don't really have anything else interesting to note. Anders seems quite competent, outgoing, friendly, bossy at times and kind at times, and struggles with things other five-year-olds struggle with.


Anders pretends: that he is on his way to an airport and might be late, that he is riding on Air Force One with the president, that he is a Jedi and has to protect his property from thieves, that he owns a farm, and that he has invented a new weapon that makes him super powerful. He has an endless fantasy life and is always playing games and talking to himself. He can entertain himself for hours at a time. On our recent long travel day from the farm to Los Angeles, he never asked for the iPad, he was too involved in the world around him and the game he was playing with his Legos.

The other mom that was visiting marveled at Anders's ability to entertain himself.

Eating & Nutrition

We read The Adventures of Andrew Price and I still talk to Anders regularly about why I make the food choices I do. I also told him that our taste buds are largely habit based, liking anything they have tasted twenty times. I asked him if he would start tasting various healthy foods and he happily complied. He generally announces that he loves something new after only the second or third taste. Many times he likes things the first time.

There is no force here. If he says he doesn't want to taste something I say, "Okay, maybe next time." or I argue with him, "But Anders, carrots have vitamin A in them which is so good for your eyes!" Generally any argument works and Anders decides to taste whatever it is I was offering.

Because Anders has been raised on real food (as opposed to processed food), if he eats too much processed food he will throw it up. I was reminded of this recently when he was served goldfish at a friend's house (and vomited them up the minute he got home).


One day I saw two fire trucks. Anders saw them at the same time and said, "Look mom! A ladder truck and a pump truck." I looked at the trucks and noticed that yes, one did have a ladder on it, and the other, well, let's be honest, they all just look like firetrucks to me.

Anders is interested in Star Wars because other boys are. He is also very interested in war, weapons, money, and Donald Trump. He continues to be interested in being stronger and finding a partner.

Average day at the farm:

6:00am Wake, do Kumon
6:30am Have breakfast as fast as possible, run off to play
8:00am-12:00pm Work with German or Erick or Elieser, weeding, trimming trees, stacking fire wood, digging swales, or do cooking project with Emelia
12:00pm lunch
12:30pm Play with friends, swim, run around, play Legos
5:00pm dinner
5:30pm get ready for bed, admire the stars
6:00pm get in bead, do Hooked on Phonics, play games with Mom, read
7:30pm sleep