My Little Dependent Variables

The other day I took Mia and Zoe to participate in a research study at the University of Arizona.  Personally I love to say that the girls were in an experiment but my husband thinks that makes them sound like lab rats.  I also think it’s hilarious on the days of the study to say that the girls are going to college because they need to work on their research project.  I know, I’m a dork.

Mia checking her brain waves during a hearing study.

Mia checking her brain waves during a hearing study.

This most recent study dealt with language development and was pretty interesting.  One at a time I took the girls into a room where they sat in a little chair infront of a computer screen and next to the grad student running it.  There was a camera to film it all and a seat for me out of the way.  The researcher pulled out a puppet named “Sheepy.”  Sheepy had trouble pronouncing words and it was the girls’ job to help her.  Together they looked at pictures of animals on the screen–a dog, cat, bear, etc.  If Sheepy said the name correctly they gave her a little plastic treat and if she said it wrong they gave her a black rag that she coughed on which the girls thought was funny.  After the familiarization round they then learned completely new animals.  These were ones created by the researchers that appeared on the screen multiple times teaching the girls and Sheepy the made up names.  After that Sheepy was quizzed on the new names just like before with the girls deciding if she said it correctly.  Finally, after a brief break, the girls were quizzed themselves naming pictures on the screen.  For all their hard work they each received a certificate and a toy (both chose a little pony).

This was by no means our first study.  The first time we went the girls were about four months old.  Since then we have made over 20 such visits.  Many have been performed at the same lab or their sister lab with the girls returning as they reach different age ranges.  One required multiple visits over the course of six months.  Another included a home visit.

Why do it? 

The girls usually receive a book or toy, occasionally monetary compensation.  Still that’s a lot of effort for a board book and not why I do sign us up at all.  So, why?

P1020599To be perfectly honest, the first time I did it becuase it was some place that seemed to welcome newborn twins and I needed to get out of the house.  But the main reason we kept going is because I love exposing the girls to higher education.  I love that college (and the University of Arizona) is already part of their vocabulary.  I want my children to be lifelong learners and value education–exposing them to the university and research early on supports that goal.

I also learn more about my own children.  This is a different environment with activities different than what we do at home.  I like seeing how the girls respond and it helps me pick up on subtle differences in how the two learn.  For instance, in this latest study, I was able to see that Zoe is a little more verbal, repeating the names of each animal even though she didn’t need to, whereas Mia is a little more careful, trying to check her answers with the researcher.

Zoe doing baby sign language

Zoe doing baby sign language

And it’s interesting.  I think the studies are neat to see.  One time I was reading a book that referred to studies going on that we had been a part of and I just kept thinking “How cool is that?”  I find brain development fascinating (just check out some of the books on my booklist).  Babies are so little that it’s amazing what they can do.

For instance, did you know that babies understand the laws of physics?  When shown magic tricks, things that appeared to violate the laws of physics, babies were surprised.  They were shown a block floating in midair, objects that disappear and reappear somewhere else, and a box placed behind a screen that had disappeared when the screen fell back.  Babies will look longer at the magic tricks than they did at the similar scenes that followed physical laws.  They know that what they are seeing is not right.

And did you know that babies can do basic math?  When they watch one doll placed behind a screen and then a second doll placed behind the screen, five-month-old babies were surprised to see one or three dolls when the screen dropped.  They knew it was not right.DSCN1559

Baby studies have also shown us how compassionate they can be.  Babies respond more to the cries of other babies than to a recording of their own crying.  And starting at about one year old, they will try to soothe others who appear in distress by patting them or handing over a bottle or toy.

Babies can tell right from wrong.  In one study nine- and twelve-month-olds were shown movies of geometrical characters interacting with one another.  In one, a red ball would try to go up a hill.  Sometimes a yellow square would try to help the ball up the hill and other times a green triangle would try to push the ball down.  Afterwards when the ball approached the hindering triangle the babies were surprised and looked longer than when the ball went over to the helpful square.  Later babies were shown the same scenario but with puppets.  Afterwards the puppets were brought over to the babies, almost all of whom picked up the helpful square.   Similar studies have even shown that in addition to telling right from wrong, babies will reward the good guy and punish the bad.  They also prefer others who reward the good or punish the bad.

There are also studies with more immediate practical applications.  For seven months we made regular visits to the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences department that included observing how the girls respond to certain sounds and measuring their brain waves while tones were played.  Researchers are studying infants with normal hearing in order to develop methods to identify and help infants with hearing loss.  Results from studies like this will help doctors develop a hearing test for babies and will tell us if their hearing aids are working.

How do we sign up?

I’m sure you are thinking, “That’s cool for you, but how do we do that?”  Okay, maybe you aren’t.  But if you are, I recommend contacting your local college or university.  Most of our studies have been done through the psychology department, specifically the child cognitive lab.  Once you get on one list, you usually can be contacted by other departments and labs as well.  It also helps to just keep your ear out.  Maybe friends are already participating (I’m also telling people they should sign up) or ads are listed with your local parenting group.

We actually had paperwork included in our packet when the girls were born asking if we wanted to be put on a contact list.  That’s how they first found us.  But when we did the first study we again filled out paperwork where we could initial that other studies could contact us.

My girls in a brochure for one of the labs we've attended.  I was such a proud mama when I saw their picture in it.

My girls in a brochure for one of the labs we’ve attended. I was such a proud mama when I saw their picture in it.

I don’t know if the studies my daughters participate in will produce breakthrough results but I like that they are contributing to science and human understanding.  And I like that my children are being exposed to higher education and to people dedicated to learning since I want learning to always be a part of their lives.  I know that these studies won’t make my children any smarter, but, from what I hear, babies are already pretty smart.

Half Birthday!

Yesterday we celebrated the girls’ half birthday.  We P1010970love holidays, well, I love holidays, so it should be no surprise that we celebrate half birthdays.  Today we had some fun family time playing games and watching a movie.  The girls did get a present–it’s usually nothing expensive, just something fun.  And the best part is that we enjoyed half a cake!  (I just baked a small cake cut in half to be double layers).  Oh and of course we had candles and sang “Happy Half Birthday to You!”

P1010967Some people think that this is over the top, but it’s not like we throw a big party or anything.  It’s just a family celebration.  And you know what?  It’s fun.  I am a firm believer that childhood should be fun.  It seems like it is getting shorter and shorter.  Why not make it magical and fun?

It is also a chance to celebrate your child.  You should be your child’s greatest fan and this is a great way to show that they are important to you.  But aren’t we ruining our children by constantly praising them for nothing?  Yes, I completely agree that we have a bit of a false praise problem.  There have been studies showing that college students are more narcissistic than ever before (just click here to read more) and praising them for doing nothing means that a child never learns the joy of a job well done (DSCN1842or click here).  But this is different.  It’s not praise just for living, it’s a celebration of milestones they’ve reached.  A family dinner is a great time to look back on how much they’ve grown and what new things have happened in the last six months.  Besides, it’s not like I’m suggesting you shower children with cake and presents every day.

I’m just suggesting you find what’s special for your family.  For us it’s a homemade cake and a small gift–nothing fancy, just family fun together.  And itP1010975 is fun.  The girls were so incredibly excited.  They insisted that friends attend birthday celebrations so they brought a bunch of their stuffed animals to the table and sang all kinds of songs.  Maybe for your family it will be a family outing or a day when the half-birthday child gets one-on-one time with Mom and Dad.

Whether it’s a half-birthday or something else, it’s important for your family to make its own traditions, find special things for your family to do.  It will make your children feel like they are part of something special and feel more connected.  While that is important when they are little, I also look at it as an investment in the future.  If your children feel a strong connection to their family, they are more likely to turn to you when there is trouble and they won’t seek those close bonds with others.  But equally beneficial is that it’s just plain fun.

Sharing a Love of Reading

My post yesterday about the Goodreads reading challenge prompted a conversation about sharing your love of reading with your 560581_4169830516604_1861102797_nlittle ones.  As I said yesterday, we agree that reading is important and that parents are children’s best role models, so it’s important that parents role model reading for enjoyment.

But with active little ones in the house, it can be very hard to show that you read for pleasure.  I read their books to the girls, but how do I show them how much I love to read?  It’s not like I can just sit around the house reading all day.  (Hmmm, or can I?)   When it comes to reading, of course reading aloud is the most important thing you can do for your child.  But here are some other ideas to show your young children that you yourself are also a reader:

  • Have your books out where they can see them.  In addition to our bookcases filled with our books, we also leave our books around the house and let the girls know that those are the ones we are currently reading.
  • Talk about books.  I love books and talking so this is very easy for me.  At the dinner table, we talk about what we are reading, interesting tidbits.  We also reference books that we love.  (I’ll be honest, in our house that means a lot of Harry Potter references).  And of course we talk to the girls about their books as well.
  • Read when your children read.  At first I thought this was impossible with little ones.  Now when the girls are looking at books, I get out my book to read.  I try to sit with them during their quiet time at least a few times a week and read my book as well.  They especially love laying on our bed looking at books together.
  • Let them look at your magazines and books.  Of course you want to be sure that the magazines are appropriate for them to look at but the girls love flipping the pages in my magazines and making up stories.DSCN1198
  • Share books that used to be yours.  If you have any books leftover from when you were little, share them with your kiddos and tell them about how much you loved them.  If you don’t, see if you can find copies of your favorite childhood books and share those.
  • Show interest in your children’s books.  Usually the girls choose which books we will read, but sometimes my husband or I pick the books.  We will talk about which ones are our favorites or why we want to read a certain book.  It’s hard to make your children interested in reading if you show no interest in the books they choose.  And try to not sigh or complain if you hate a book they like.

But what if you aren’t a reader yourself?  Well, then this is one of those times you fake it until you make it.


Start your year off right… Read!

It’s the start of the year so it’s also time to kickoff a new reading challenge with Goodreads.  Last year was the first year I did the reading challenge and I loved it!  You set your goal and then as you read books you add them to your Goodreads account.  Here’s mine,

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Mrs. E has
read 1 book toward her goal of 32 books.

Last year I had no idea what to make my goal so I just chose 25 books thinking that sounded good.  After our beach week with my sister the super reader I had to adjust it to 30.  This year I’m aiming for 32.  (I know that’s kind of arbitrary because of text size, etc. but I still think it’s neat to see how many pages you’ve read.  Just in case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, I read 14,051 last year).

Since now is the time for making resolutions, a wonderful one would be to read more this year.  We all want our children to be good readers.  And we all agree that parents are children’s best/first role models.  And yet, many parents do not role model reading for their children.  Maybe you don’t like to read yourself or feel like you don’t have time, but if you want your children to be good readers then you need to make yourself a reader too.  Find something you enjoy reading and make time. (One of my favorite times to read is while blow drying my hair.  Of course, this might also explain the many bad hair days I have.)

If you do join Goodreads, feel free to friend me!  🙂

Summer Vacation?

Mia posing underwater

I’m back!  It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged regularly and I have to admit that I have missed it, although we have also been super busy with fun things—travel, family visits, birthdays—so I am really not complaining.   But now our summer vacation has official come to a close and it’s time to get back into the daily routine again.

Wait, summer vacation?  It seems like whenever I talk about it being summer someone has to point out that my kiddos aren’t in school.  That doesn’t mean we can’t have summer vacation, right?  My friends have suggested that it is because I’m a teacher so maybe that is why I’m so set on the summer vacation mindset.  And maybe that is true.  Most of my life has followed the traditional school schedule.  Even when I was not yet teaching, I was a nanny and followed a school calendar.

But really I think a big part of it is that I like taking a break from our regular routine.  It’s fun to do different things and helps get me recharged for after the summer.  I think it is so easy when you are staying home with the little ones to get stuck in a rut and miss the magic.  Heck, I think that can happen to anyone, really everyone at some point.  A break gets you out of the rut and allows you a chance to get back on track for afterwards.  I treat it just like a New Year’s

At the Outer Banks with their Nanny and Papa John and cousins, Katie & Jack

Resolution or starting a new school/job/etc.  This is a chance for you to get back to how you want to be.  I want to be more organized (a constant goal to be honest).  Now I can get jump start on that.

Taking a break also takes the stress off.  This summer we traveled back East for nearly a month, we visited family in Northern Arizona, had family come stay with us, and threw the girls a big birthday party.  Then throw in other little trips here and there, day visits from my parents, swimming lessons for a month, and it is hard to keep a routine.  Instead of worrying about doing all the little things we typically do, calling it summer break, lets me relax a little and not stress about the change in schedule and routine.  This doesn’t mean that the girls get to do whatever they want or that we allow bad behavior.  It just means that I don’t get hung up on things that don’t happen.  For instance, normally we try to read at least an hour every day.  We still read this summer, but when things got crazy I didn’t worry about that hour, I didn’t even keep track of what we read.  And if bedtime was later than normal, that was okay too.

Exploring while my sister, niece, and nephew were visiting. I discovered Colossal Cave during a “staycation” years ago.

While I know I’ve enjoyed our break I think my girls have too.  Everyone needs a chance to relax at some point.  We also notice large jumps in the girls’ development whenever we travel or do different things.  It pushes them outside of their comfort level a little and lets them try new things, which can only be good.  And you don’t have to travel to do that.  Even when we were home during our summer break, we did different things than usual.  We swam more, had less structured activity time, and explored local attractions.

I know a big worry for some is that if you take kids off a schedule they will never go back.  And that might be true for some, but I think it’s all in how you approach it.  We travel quite a bit with the girls so we have really tried to teach them that vacation is different than normal.  It was our big family trip last fall where we first really started teaching the girls this idea.  The whole time we talked about our “vacation” until the girls were talking about it too.  And then when it came to things we don’t really do at home, we would just say, “Remember we only get to do this on vacation.”  You know, things like staying up late, stopping for ice cream, going to the beach.   Okay, that last one might sound silly but I kept worry that we would get home and they would want to go back to the beach or Disneyland and not get that we can’t just go whenever.   By the end of the trip, the girls would say it too and they really didn’t have a problem getting back in the swing of things when we got home.  Ever since, that’s been how we approach our trips and breaks.

Zoe playing with Grandpa (my dad) at Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ

So, now our vacation time is over (well, for now) and while I am so sad to stop visiting people, I am also excited to get back to normal.  It will be nice to have the house clean and start doing our regular activities again.  Instead of feeling like I’m going back to the daily grind, I’m recharged and excited about what I’ll be doing with my girls.  I guess my point is that even if you are a stay-at-home parent or your little ones aren’t in school, it doesn’t mean that you can’t give yourselves a break too.  Everyone needs it.

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