Learning Styles in action – watching a child prove psychologists (sometimes) know what they’re talking about!

One of the real pleasures of getting to spend so much time with Junior is really getting to see him develop, and learn things. I’m lucky that this period appears to be one where he does develop an awful lot – his mobility alone has increased beyond recognition, he’s almost certainly going to start walking on my watch, and then there’s all the vocal and intellectual development that is going on as well, from making new sounds to being able to sort shapes to associating actions with words.

One of the advantages of working in the civil service is the encouragement it gives staff to develop and particularly be self aware. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do lots of this, and have developed an interest in it, as well as finding it really useful personally and to work with others better. There’s probably three observations based on this I’d make about Junior, two about learning style and one about personality.

The learning styles stuff is actually more academically disputed, particularly the first one I’ll mention, which is about “how” people learn. According to the theory there are three types of learners: aural, visual and kinaesthetic. Aural and visual are pretty self explanatory – people with these preferences will both respond better to input in their preferred format, and will store their memories in this way too. So for instance an visual learner will prefer to see things, and will store information in a visual form. Kinaesthetic is the same, but basically means through their body – so it’s about physical sensation. I recently discovered that this was in fact my preferred style, having thought for years it was visual. It was the memory part that made me realise – my best memories, while having visual and aural elements, are mostly about the physical feeling I had at the time. I’m still to fully come too terms with this knowledge, and how to use it. But watching Junior, it’s clear already that he has a major kinaesthetic element – I wouldn’t want to say his preferences are set already, but he really only gets things when he feels it – he doesn’t really learn through watching (although it helps), it isn’t until he’s done it and felt it that it sticks. Looking back to my childhood, I should have realised from the endless hours I put into repeating sports practice, mostly to the detriment of my father’s lovingly tended lawn…

Secondly, there is a reasonably well-founded theory by one David Kolb, adapted by Honey and Mumford to describes four basic styles, set out simply in this article. While you can be a combination of these, and may use all of them in your life/career, you generally have a preference, and you can normally figure it out quite quickly. They are:

  • Activist – Learn by doing something
  • Reflector – Learn by observing and thinking about things
  • Theorist – Learn by understanding the theory
  • Pragmatist – Need to see how to put any learning into practice

Junior is without a shadow of a doubt predominantly an Activist. While I think elements of the others show through, he already clearly prefers just trying something – he might then not like it (sand, for instance), but he’ll go full bore until he’s tried it. Which is what makes him so much fun, whilst also being quite a danger to himself – not for him the life of quiet observation…or us for that matter!

Lastly, in terms of personality. The theory here is much better grounded, and goes back to Carl Jung. My preferred model is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, which I pride myself on being pretty accurate at guessing. I won’t describe all of it, but the two traits I’d pick out already are to do with where he gets energy, and his attitude to achieving things, the first and fourth letters of the MBTI descriptor. I think the other two will require more time to determine.

He is clearly an Extravert (note, not extrOvert, this is about where people get energy from – within is intraversion, externally is extraversion – obviously there are similarities with the more usual terms, but it isn’t quite the same). Junior is never happier than when he is receiving lots of stimulation from outside, ideally around lots of people. He isn’t necessarily always demanding attention, but he really comes alive when in a high energy environment. This should help with settling into things like nursery, although it depends on quite a lot of other factors. Mostly I think it means he’ll be wired at the end of the day when we pick him up!

I also have a feeling he is more of a Percieving that Judging type. He doesn’t really seem to be that focussed on the end goal, he’s more interested in doing stuff to see where it might go, and enjoying the ride to get there. He doesn’t get particularly frustrated when things don’t work or get interrupted, instead moving on to the next thing quite happily. This isn’t to say he doesn’t get annoyed when his walking truck gets stuck in a corner, but I don’t think that he’s aiming to end up somewhere specific, he’s more interested in just keeping moving. So by my reckoning he’ll be an ExxP by MBTI type. Which is actually the same as my ENTP.

However, all of this may just be projection on my part, wanting him to be like me – and as Mum has pointed out, his current preferences are also likely to mostly be driven by his developmental ability, and the fact that for instance touch is one of his more developed senses. So check back in 17 years time and we might have a clearer answer!

The discrimination of mothers against men – @JivaHealth yoga is now the frontline of the gender debate

I’m still slightly, well, shocked by this, so this may be somewhat less measured than I’d like, but I think you’ll agree that I have some grounds on which to feel somewhat cross.

As previously mentioned I started going to a Mum and Baby yoga class at Jiva Health in Wimbledon. To recap why, a couple of years ago I developed really bad sciatica, that was stopping me do any exercise. Yoga was basically what got me last this. And I enjoy it! It is hard work but rewardingly different to the sports I play. And as parents will understand, fitting any evening class in around work and bath/bed time is hard. So the opportunity to start doing yoga once a week whilst on APL is really quite a luxury, and one that’s good for me to boot.

Although Mum didn’t understand why, before I just turned up at the class I called ahead to ask whether it would be OK for me as a Dad to come – after brief consultation with the teacher, they agreed. I did that precisely because I could see that they might object. All the staff I met in the 5 classes I attended were very supportive and welcoming of me, and another bloke even turned up at one point.

However I’ve had a (very polite) email from Jiva Health this week saying that after women had made a couple of enquiries relating to both Junior and I, they are going to enforce the “Mum and” bit of the class’ description. The complaints were two-fold:

  1. Junior now being a very capable crawler, he is apparently making a mother feel uncomfortable by encroaching on their mats. This is the one that particularly gets me. HE IS A BABY. JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER BABIES IN THE CLASS. The class is described as being for babies up to 18 months. Most babies will be walking by that point. So any mother who is uncomfortable with a crawling child is in for a real shock when her little darling – currently lying placidly wherever she is left – starts going, well, everywhere. Would this mother be as concerned if it was Junior’s Mum who was attending? I doubt it – so why not admit the issue is with a man attending, instead of blaming my completely innocent son? Especially given there are other equally mobile babies in the class.
  2. That as there are new mothers they are uncomfortable with a man being present when feeding, or presumably talking about women’s issues. I understand this, and that is why I asked if it was OK in the first place, and why I’m not going to push to keep going. However, I do have a few comments.

I am (quite clearly) a father as I am looking after my son, and hopefully a supportive one at that. My girlfriend gave birth to said son, I was present, and have seen and talked to her about any and all of the issues that are likely to come up in a public yoga class. She breastfeeds, as do a number of the other NCT girls. As a guy breastfeeding is slightly awkward when it’s not your partner, but I hope we are all grown up enough to realise that all women have breasts, and that I’m not using it as an excuse to take a sneaky-peek or anything. Obviously others’ feelings are difficult to anticipate and I can sympathise that a strange man could feel intrusive, especially in the early days when a mother is still trying to build confidence in breastfeeding – it took my girlfriend a couple of months to become fully comfortable with feeding in public (and now thinks nothing of sticking Junior on the booby with only the smallest concessions to “modesty” – which I utterly applaud and am very proud of). Hence why I’m not going to demand a place or do anything drastic.

However, I’m still left feeling disappointed that although equality is still talked about, it isn’t accepted by everyone, on both sides of the gender divide. How can men be expected to consider themselves equals in childcare while there is still the veil of “women’s issues” to hide behind? While I’m not for mandating discussion of gynaecological complaints in public, as for any other medical issue – but is it so hard to believe that men can at least listen and empathise, if not truly understand? How many women see a male doctor at some point in their pregnancy? Won’t men’s understanding only increase when they’re part of the conversation?

I’m also disappointed with Jiva Health. I understand their reason that it is described as a “Mum and Baby” class, and they want to keep it that way, not least as the custom of 2 young mothers is likely to continue long after my 3 months is up.

A Solution?

However, Jiva Health have just started another “Mum and Baby” class every week. My solution would be to call that “Parent and Baby”? This would make clear that men might attend, leaving a women-only class for those that are really uncomfortable with men’s presence, whilst allowing those small number of yoga-practicing, full-time Dads the chance to continue their practice? But that isn’t what’s happened. Sure, there may be many months when there are no men in the class – but at least give us a chance?

While I’m disheartened, this is but one unanticipated stop on the ride that is looking after Junior – hopefully we can find another yoga place, and we’ll try again!

 

A busy little bee – Auntie then Granny then Grandad Time!

I'm basically making excuses now for not blogging enough – but we've had a pretty busy couple of weeks, with lots of visits and visitors.

After Uncle came Auntie, with my sister making a flying visit to check in on the little man. We had a fairly quiet time, although we did make it to the British Museum (cue lots of “Mummy Issue” jokes in the Egyptian exhibition), which was ok for a pushchair, but not great. The biggest disappointment was that the children's area, including the bottle feeding facilities, was actually inaccessible by pushchair as the lift to the way in was broken. Junior then had fun crawling around on the lawn in front of the museum, chasing some more pigeons. I'm still not sure how he'd react if he actually caught one…

My favourite moment of the whole trip however was going into the disabled/baby change toilet (when we eventually found an open one) and finding this wonderful contraption! How life changes – very different to the types of vending machines I used to find amusing – “Herbal Viagra” anyone?

Then last week saw Granny (my Mum) come down – this was both pleasure for her and help for me, as I was in court (as a magistrate, I hasten to add), and we needed some childcare – which this being the first time my Granny has looked after Junior all day on her own, and the first time I was the one doing the leaving behind, as Mummy went to work as normal, was slightly nervous for all involved. But it all went swimmingly!

The day before we had been to visit the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. This is a small but pretty oasis in the middle of the parkland that is turned over to the types of tropical plants that you get in ornamental gardens and at Augusta golf course in the Masters. And this is the right time of year to go, with some very pretty blossoms out, with the whole plantation obviously fairly recently having had some development, as there was a lot of relatively new paths and signage. Junior wasn't the only small child there by any stretch (at least one nursery class was on a visit!), but he did get to look at some more ducks and geese. I'm not quite sure what he makes of them, but they do seem to hold some interest.

Then this weekend we made a flying visit to my parents house, which allowed Grandad to catch up with Junior, and for him to visit another National Trust garden, this time belonging to Croome Court. Grandad is a National Trust volunteer at the nearby Snowshill Manor, which Junior will love in a few years time, as it is full of interesting things, including plenty of toys, and hopefully in a couple of years time will have a model village and railway (if Grandad gets his way – he's trying to replace the train set we had in the loft as children…).

However Croome is quite a new NT property, apparently having been bought by a developer who wanted to turn it into palatial apartments, but rightly had his plans blocked by the local community with the NT getting involved to take over management. The house is open but apparently has nothing in it, as it is very structurally unsound – so in an innovative way what they've done is turn the huge amount of scaffolding around the house into a visitor attraction of its own, by putting a cafe on top with views out across the grounds and Malverns. As you can see, there is a LOT of scaffolding!

But the gardens are an early example of “Capability” Brown's work, and are quite pretty even now, and have the potential to be really quite something. However, as Grandad observed, it also has the potential to be a complete moneypit…but worth a visit if you're passing!

 

 

Swimming with the Fishes – one of the gifts I hope to give Junior

As I've previously written about, we are keen to give Junior the opportunity to learn to swim. So we've started taking him to swimming lessons on a Saturday, and we've also taken him a couple of times outside that.

While neither Mum or I are particularly confident in the water, Mum is at least a competent swimmer, while I'm definitely in the “get me on a life raft or I die” category – it is clearly a myth that humans naturally float!

The swimming lessons, at Dolphin Swim School in Mitcham, are fairly typical child fare to a certain extent – lots of singing of nursery rhymes and remaining very close to Dad/Mum (although the majority of those in my class at least are Dads – I guess because it's the weekend). However the thing that surprised me most was the emphasis on submersions – literally completely dunking Junior in the water. There are a number of varieties of this, the most basic being facing each other. The idea is to get them used to firstly holding their breath – they do this automatically when younger, but lose the instinct over time, and secondly to rise to the surface. The remainder of the lessons are more about then being able to swim to the nearest solid thing and hold on, although this will take longer.

Junior appears to take more after me when it comes to water, unfortunately. Not a natural. He doesn't really like his ears being underwater, which combined with his general aversion to lying on his back is making backstroke seem like a distant prospect! However the tactic is clearly to keep exposing him to the water, so I'm now going to try taking him during the week at least semi-regularly. And to my surprise, lying him back during his bath seems to be making quite an improvement.

We'll also try a number of pools, as SW London is well served by council leisure centres (mostly provided by the Better not-for-profitish organisation). Thus far we've only been to Putney Leisure Centre, which is quite good with a splash pool for small people – kept slightly warmer than the main pool, with a family oriented “Changing Village” that allows you to stay together as a family. And doesn't require you to have correct change for the lockers, but you do have to remember a padlock!

 

Time to myself – the other type of #Dadtime

My (very) good lady gave me the time last night to go meet up with my friends in Clapham – something that obviously doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but I’m lucky enjoy that she wants to make sure I don’t cut ties with people who are important to me, and perform an incredibly useful grounding function. For anyone who is going to become a parent (because this applies to Mum and Dad), I think it is vital to maintain some sense of connection to who you previously were. As at least part of this will feed into who your baby becomes.

As I was sat there, having arrived slightly early, I was reflecting on a couple of things. Mundanely, that I hadn’t blogged yet this week – mostly because so far this has been a “standard” week of Dads Club, Gymboree and yoga so far, so nothing interesting to report.

And more meaningfully actually how nice it is to just sit somewhere quietly on my own. It was only the train journey and about 5 minutes in the pub before my mates started arriving (The Merchant on Battersea Rise, ok recent refurbishment, giant yet relatively discreet TV screen, good if limited ale selection), but actually something that it is very hard to get when on APL. Because you’re either spending time with Junior, or in the short period when he’s asleep we’re trying to spend time together as a couple.

And both those things are really important, and you never get enough of the latter – but sometimes so is a bit of down time from it all. Recently I’ve been really enjoying train journeys to rugby matches on a Saturday, because it is exactly that, enforced down time when you can’t do very much. (Although I live in Wimbledon I play rugby in SE London/Kent, so some of the train journeys are quite long…)

Added to this is the fact Junior fits into the characterisation by “What to Expect” of an Active Baby, something we identified at about 2 weeks and is still revealing its full meaning. Unusually Junior is very tired and is right now completely sparked out on the bed beside me – allowing me free hands to write this – more usually he is almost constantly in motion when awake, and prefers sleeping on or next to us. Which is cute and lovely and completely understandable (who wouldn’t prefer to spend as much time as possible cuddled up to mum and dad?) but means managing yourself can be quite challenging…this being what I’m learning from my time at home – Mum did much better at getting other stuff than childcare done!

In summary then, my tip of the day – and as the best bit of advice I received before Junior was “don’t listen to any of the advice” a bit of a hypocritical one – is remember to factor some “Just Dad Time” into life. You don’t need as much as you used to have, as cuddles frankly are better, but a small amount just occasionally is important.

Quiet pint and reflections on 2 weeks of Dad Time #dadtime

Sat in the Boathouse pub in Putney (good for a glass and gleaming steel structure, best river view not in Wetherspoons) watching the crews practising for the Head of the River races this weekend. This being about as close to actually sitting by the Thames it is possible to get anymore, something to thank modern embankment builders for, this seems like a fitting moment to reflect on the last 2 weeks. Two weeks which will stick in my memory forever, for all the best reasons, and the odd slightly less positive!

I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, and definitely not a holiday. What I hadn't fully thought through was how having to use a completely new feeding method was going to add difficulty. We're still nowhere near figured out how to get enough food into him, and this is having impacts on all of us (including Mum). I reckon it's added about 15% (time, complexity and effort) to doing things over Mum. Before I started I thought I could imagine what it was like to be at home with him full time when he was younger. But I'm dealing with Junior at a stage where he is able to amuse himself for at least some of the time. As a result my respect for the job done by Mum has gone up even higher. Amuse himself like now, where we're playing a game of fetch – he crawls off and I go fetch him when he goes too far…

So what are the big things I've learnt? Here they are:

Lesson the First – Sleep is your Friend. Junior is the non-sleeping type of baby (there appear to be the 2 sub-types. For reference, Junior typically naps for 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day). I knew this before I took over. But until this week I didn't fully understand why it was so important to get him his naps. On Tuesday Junior had only had about 45 minutes nap, in the morning. When Mum returned I'm not sure she could tell which one of us was more tired and distraught. I think it was me, because I can't just sit their and cry. Or at least not if Junior's got there first. Lesson learned the hard way.

Lesson the Second – Play is really fun! We've done a few things in the past fortnight that he hasn't done before – art (finger painting), mountaineering (climbing on cushions) and experienced different viewpoints and gravity (backpack carrier and stuck things to the floor and got him to pick them up). All ideas off the internet, obviously. He might not always be smiling, but the pleasure he has in trying new things is evident from the serious look of concentration on his face. We even had a hello wave going for a few hours!

Lesson the Third – Little boys really do miss their mummy. While he is more than happy with me, and doesn't mind when Mum heads out the door (except for a couple of days where he'd hold her leg for the preceding 5 minutes then be right as rain once she'd actually left) the smile on his face when Mum comes throught the door is defintely wider than the one I used to get….

Lesson the Fourth – Dads do stand out. It is definitely still unusual to be a dad at home and I don't think this stereotype will go away quickly. “Mother and baby” is used to describe everything. You get some friendly and….lets go with sympathetic looks mostly from older women.

Lesson the Fifth – Other dads aren't like Morris Minor drivers. I used to drive a Minor, and you would always wave at any other Minor you saw on the road because (a) it's always good to see another one and (b) you both understand it might all go wrong at any moment and need help. Barring the guys at Dads and Littluns, when walking past other a Dads, even if they're not full-time, I expected a bit more engagement. Rarely even a smile.

Lesson the Sixth – You really can't do things you want when you want. For instance I'm now trying to finish this post at home, before Mum gets home, as we didn't last long enough in the pub.

Here endeth the lessons. But not the fun – in summary its been amazing. In 2 weeks I feel like I've got to know Junior better than ever before – I better understand his moods, even if I'm still not sure what to do about them. I think I've seen him develop based on things I've taught or encouraged him to do. We've been lots of places and done stuff that some/many/most dads don't get to share with their kids.

Let's see what happens in the next 2 1/2 months!

 

Reflections on a first day’s solo flight

Well, that was alright. Not sure what Junior would say – I reckon I got good marks on the home entertainment/living climbing frame front, less good on the feeding and sleeping. And terrible on the toy provision while out. My two big lessons for the day were:

  • We both need to get better at figuring out when he's tired and when he's hungry. Mum assures me there is a difference, but I didn't get it today! This lead to a number of attempts at both napping and feeding that left him confused, me covered in food, and a fair amount of wasted milk – mostly the formula, thankfully.
  • Check the nappy bag before leaving the house! Junior had managed to extract a couple of key items (wet wipes!) and ensure there were no toys in it so when we stopped in the hostelry I was defending their menus from being throughly gummed because he had nothing else to play with. No doubt a cunning ploy to eat paper, his favourite food-group.

Tomorrow should be different again – earlyish Gymboree that will hopefully be sandwiched by some serious napping. A statement that with Junior is always accompanied by some of these…