Saturday, March 2, 2019

GAT & Sports

Is it appropriate to pursue a sport, and if so, at what age? At your age, you need to be active, but what about a 6 year old? Since the release of test scores in Chicago is a few weeks away, and we're all totally stressed out, let's talk about sports.

Sports is a complicated question. At a macro level, the data aren't helpful at all. Macro data is rolled up statistics that cognitive and education researchers look at. Using macro data is why their research is so bad and should just be burned. Micro research is a single child, and generally clear. Macro-micro data is a sample size of about 1,000 data points, but behind each data point is an actual child with parents. Once education researchers get out of their office and meet actual children, we can finally fix all the problems in education, which they caused.

Macro-Micro data

There is no correlation between sports before middle school and academic success. In every program from a sub-par neighborhood elementary school to the top GAT program in the country, there are kids who do sports 30 hours a week and kids who don't do sports at all. In this range, the kids randomly fit different academic profiles and have test scores anywhere between 50% and 99%. I rarely work with kids below 50%, but it appears to be randomly distributed there as well.

For an individual child, academic success depends on art, reading, science projects, cognitive skills, and a home that values education. These are easy to correlate and make nice graphs. A 5 year old who is driven from one hockey game to the next who sits in the back seat reading Chaucer is going to do well in school. Data on sports participation is irrelevant to predicting academic success.

There are a few exceptions wherein Macro-Micro data is helpful. Parents who are totally into their children's sports, enjoy winning, send their child to sports clinics to develop 'technique', and sign up for traveling teams are going to produce a kid 2 years behind by high school with a probability of about 98%. In 2% of the cases, the child quits and hates their parents. When my children were young, the sports culture was rampant at nearby schools, so I made a concerted effort to avoid sports early on, and it was the correct decision. All I knew about GAT at the time was that it was rare, so I only did the opposite of what everyone else did until I figured it out.

It's heartbreaking to watch kids get to high school after a career of team sports. If I were in charge of public policy for the US, I would ban sports before middle school and remove all sports teams from schools at any level. Personally, I'm probably at the 97 or 98% in sports (effort and time, not skill or ability). Clubs, park districts, city sports would be great. But until schools actually succeed at academics, they have no business being distracted by sports.

Micro first principles

Let's run through the guide of parent decision making. The part of your child's brain dedicated to decision making will be completely formed at a age 25, so if you ponder letting your child make their own decisions, think again. The part of your child's brain in charge of knowing cause and effect outcomes over a 30 year period will be fully developed by the time they have grandchildren, so again, you're going to have to step up and do some life coaching.

  • Principle #1
    Academic success depends on reading, art, math, social skills, music, and being active.
    This sounds like the definition of 'well rounded', but it's really just the list of prerequisites of academic success. It's hard to concentrate for 6 straight hours on a boring science lab if you're not in fairly good shape.
  • Principle #2
    All of these activities are fun until the parent cares. Then it's just work.
    I've got a son with 2 or 3 good friends who love little league. They stink at baseball and sit on the bench a lot. They also enjoy a variety of other sports that they also stink at. But they're active, participate, win the good-attitude awards.
    In addition to making it known that I personally think baseball is a waste of time and sports are stupid, I make sure they sign up, go to the games, am totally overwhelmed with joy when my son doesn't drop the ball, and occasionally sneak into the race line to talk pre-game smack.
    If I applied my preferences, we'd train for Iron Man competition or full contact fighting. But for my child's development, I think the social skills of low calorie burning activities like baseball are more important.
  • Principle #3
    Sports is not limited to organized team sports at the park district or school. You can take 6 mile walks (which I like to announce as the day's death march) and 50 mile bike rides at an inappropriate age. This winter in Chicago, it was negative eleven degrees, so naturally we had to take a 3 mile walk on that day.
    Would you be happy if your child was at the 50% in academics? Of course not. That's the reason why your child doesn't do what everyone else does, like play video games all day. In the same way, you need to look beyond what other kids are doing in sports and think creatively.
  • Principle #4
    If your child has a slow metabolism and likes to eat your Doritos while you're trying to teach him advanced math, you need sports. This is why I invented Principle #3. Similarly, if you are falling behind on other areas of personal growth, like art, you need to step up your game there as well.
  • Principle #6
    If you overdo any activity by pushing the child too much, they will learn to hate it and likely not do it ever again once they are old enough. Don't ruin sports. Sports is something that can be important in high school, college, and especially after college so don't ruin it early.
  • Principle #7
    No, I don't see a contradiction at all between walking 4 miles a day every day and not over doing it, so stop thinking that. I'm not raising butter beans.
  • Principle #8
    Whatever activity that your child does, they are going to want to quit at some point. Wanting to quit is a characteristic of children under the age of 15. There is a brain lobe in charge of wanting to quit that is slowly replaced by the brain lobe in charge of decision making. Don't let them. But you don't need to do anything organized 12 months a year, and you don't need to do 3 sports when 1 will do, and you don't need to sign up for basketball camp in the summer just because your child plays basketball in the winter. Sign up for something else.

The final word

There is no strong correlation between sports and future academic success. But there is a strong correlation between reading or music and future academic success. There is an even stronger correlation between how many correct answers your child gets above the 99% on the MAP test and future academic success. And there are only so many hours in a week.

Put these things together and the decision is obvious. You need sports for basic health and social skills that round out the last check boxes on a college application, but you don't need it right away, and you don't need a lot of it.

Does your child like soccer? Then do it. Do you like to sit at a little league game with other parents? Then do it. Is your child chubby because they spend too much time programming? Demand it. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Taking the SAT at age 4

In this article, I'm going to link our work on the COGAT at age 4 to the work on the SAT 6 or 7 years later. It's identical.

Did I say SAT at age 4?

We've kicked off SAT practice. I'm struck at the continuum of learning between age 4 COGAT practice and age 10 SAT practice. If you consider our other insane activities like Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten or accelerated vocabulary up to 2nd grade, you'll appreciate the doable-ness of the latest experiment. No, it's not age 4, but it's the exact same experience all over again. In this learning continuum, I don't really see anything new developing at the base of the skills pyramid. It's quite surprising that the subskills are the same as well, they just morph with changes in topics.

Our approach

You will find a PDF of Practice Test #1 on the college board website. On page #38, the math test begins. The reading tests can wait until a less age-inappropriate age. We started with question 1, and here we are a month later on question #15. We did questions #12 through #15 last weekend, and did them again yesterday; my son did not recognize the material from the prior week. Last night, after a few hours, I think I figured out how a child is supposed to do question #15 in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm still stuck. We tried question #15 7 times and failed 7 times.

So far, our success rate on all questions is about 25%, and we're averaging about 20 minutes per question. You don't get this experience in school, in an after school program, or with a tutor. Flying along on a worksheet of doable problems bypasses a variety of learning experiences.

The first few weeks of math or reading or COGAT test prep with most children seems like a futile exercise, especially if they are not ready, which is the best time to start. What do I hope to accomplish?

What I hope to accomplish

I've done this type of thing many times, and this will be the second time I've gone through the SAT with a child who is the wrong age. I know exactly what to expect.

  • I expect to take off time to study things that we need to know but don't. In the case of the SAT, it's pre-algebra. In the case of the COGAT, it was studying shapes and shape transformations. In the case of EDM Grade 2, it was how to subtract.
  • I expect the pace to pick up slowly between now and the end of 6th grade. We'll never get to the point where the child can do all 15 or 30 problems from one section of the SAT in the time allowed. We'll probably get up to 5 problems in on 30 to 60 minute sitting with a score of 60%, 80%, or occasionally 100%.
  • By next year, we'll be taking some time off to cover Geometry theorems or basic trigonometry.
  • During this process, my child will start to learn shortcuts. What is the objective of math, after all, but highly refined cheating? Sometimes he'll just plug in the answers and prove to me that this is the best approach. I'm more impressed when he shows me that if you look at the problem the right way, not the equationy way, the answer is obvious.
  • Finally, I expect him to sit for the actual SAT, and despite never having done more than 5 problems in one sitting, make a fairly good show. It's amusing to see a 12 year old standing in line with a bunch of high school juniors. I have mixed feelings when the same 12 year old scores in the top 3rd of college bound juniors.
Counter Intuitive Pedagogy

I have a hard time convincing the Kumon crowd that my way is better. After all, if you drill your child daily on grade level or grade level + 1 math, your child is going to do pretty well. During 2nd through 3rd grade, we took the Test Prep Math approach (see the curriculum page) and avoided routine math and worksheets at all costs. I can't argue that our 99% is better than your 99%. I can argue that spending most of our time developing cognitive skills is much more valuable than mastering math concepts, but most people don't get it. How can I promise that the best way to academic success is to avoid arithmetic in favor of confusion and mistakes?

If you are just starting out, I just gave you a glimpse of the future. If you're beyond the COGAT, join the fun on my other website The current issue is philosophy, which is a 4 year project in the works.

If you have any insight on question #15 from section 3 in practice test #1, feel free to share. We're stuck. If (ax + 2)(bx + 7) = 15x2 +cx + 14 for all values of x, and a + b = 8, what are the two possible values for c? I can see what's happening mathematically, but I can't see how a high school junior is supposed to address this quickly without the brute force approach. Otherwise, I'm going to sit this question aside on the watch list for another shot in 6 months. There are, of course, answers on the college board website, but I'm more interested in the learning process than the knowing process, so don't look there. That's cheating.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cognitive Load Theory

Here is the COGAT in a nutshell. It is the direct application of Cognitive Load Theory under the guise that children with a learned aptitude for academic material generated the ability to handle cognitive load.

Start with this quote I found in this article on the website It's a great website if you're in to that sort of thing. The quote is in a brief summary of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). I wish I spent more time researching CLT, but researchers are really frustrating. More on that later.

Complex novel elements will overload working memory, so the complexity of a task needs to be pitched at the right level. As new information is incorporated into [long term memory] and new cognitive schemas arise, it leads to less load on cognitive resources and the level of complexity can increase.

The way cognitive skills tests measure cognitive skills, aka aptitude for academic work of all kinds, is to present never before seen novel tasks which are complicated. Complexity is defined by multiple relationships at once. The "right level" is the level way beyond the one your child can achieve with success in a reasonable amount of time. Long term memory is not in the picture in one test sitting, so it's all working memory on the COGAT.

Minor Implications

The classic way to beat the COGAT is to practice COGAT type questions, taking the 'novel' out of the equation. The classical approach is good for about a score of 85% to 90%.

The superior approach is to feed your child a steady stream of overly complicated working memory taxing exercises - regardless of the similarity to an actual COGAT question. This approach is good for 90% after just 6 weeks. Imagine what you could do with 12 weeks.

Wondering whether or not an activity or toy or game will help prepare your child for academic success? How complicated is it, how many things are happening at once, and how many skills does your child have to develop in order to finish the task? In general, the longer it takes, the closer the task is to the desirable mix of attributes. Bonus points for an activity that is fun enough to keep your child's interest while the skills are developed.

For example, is piano more desirable than the clarinet? Certainly at age 4, because the clarinet is way beyond the piano. The piano has 2 hands and two staffs. The clarinet is 2 hands, the mouth, cheeks, tongue, the tips of 10 fingers stretched in a way to create squeaks; none of these body parts are developed enough at age 4. Feel free to complain below about my bold assertion. Both of these rank below reading, which has at least 62 things going on at once. That is why reading comp is such good preparation, and why math in word problem format is 10 times as powerful as math in equation form. Is gymnastics better than soccer? It is if it's more interesting to your child. Like the clarinet, there are dozens of activities that are wonderful in later ages that parents push their children into at age 3 or 4.

The major implication

If you provide your child a steady stream of qualified activities, their working memory becomes a powerful weapon, and they will develop a host of sub-skills to deal with complicated tasks.

I accidentally discovered that the transition from working memory to long term memory starts at about 3 (mostly painful) weeks and eventually the child grows the capacity to instantly store items in long term memory that should meander close to the event horizon of their working memory. Short term memory is a brief sorting area for things that are sucked into working memory and things that are worth discarding, like the term 'trapezoid' which never seems to make it.

At some point, you reach the limit of the skill set of the child - not in their actual skill set, but in the material that is suitable to throw at the child. How many gladiators does the coliseum lion need to eat before he's bored? Not many.

In my ongoing series of diabolical experiments, none were as effective as those performed at the beginning of reading and math, where CAT took 3 weeks, as did the first page of Every Day Math . Both were Herculean tasks of brain growth.

Then I discovered fields, like trigonometry, chemistry, and philosophy. In throwing these at the child at an inappropriate age, and once they get beyond the phase of the minor implications of CLT, there is no such thing as an inappropriate age, I observed a whole new dynamic in cognitive skill develpment.

When you throw an entire field at your child in a short period of time (like one sitting), the process of understanding material and transitioning it to long term memory is too much. Instead of taking bits and pieces, which at first glance is what you think you might observe, the child lays the foundation for the next pass. I call this effect 'bucketing'. The child creates brain buckets for the material. It looks like they are not learning, but when they eventually see this material in class, it's all 'Ah ha!' instead of 'What?'.

For this reason, I'm transitioning from 'how to cheat your way into a gifted program' on this website to 'how to cheat your way through high school AP courses' on the next website.

A note on research

If you read the article linked above, you will see 'objective measures of cognitive load are difficult to obtain'. This makes me wonder, yet again, how much time these researchers spend with actual children. You just have to look. It usually occurs at the 15 minute mark with newby's and the 25 minute mark with advanced children. They heave a heavy sigh after reading a question for the 13th time, missing words like 'three' that are in plain sight. Researchers need to look for 'cognitive exhaustion' and measure performance up to that point, and they will have their proxy for cognitive load.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Principles of Competitive Parenting

I think I'm ready to write the book.

When I first started this blog in 2011, I could write a one page article that included a complete extract on the topic at hand and adequately summarized my research. Now, it would take 30 pages to bring readers up to speed on a sub-topic of reading, math, test prep or character development.

I'd like to wait for graduate school to pan out before writing the book. "How to Cheat Your Way into a GAT Program" has a nice title, but I've got something much bigger in mind.

Here are some snippets from my notes, roughly in order.

Get your child into a GAT program at all costs

If you follow my recipe of test prep, getting to 94% is doable. 99% requires a bit of extra effort. "All costs" refers to redefining the values and activities in your house so that your children walk the walk and talk the talk for the rest of their lives.

I realize that not all GAT programs in all school districts are created equally. Any GAT program is better than none. We continued our GAT program at home just in case. But in our case, the education was way beyond my expectations. One of my children is in a reading program that tackles books that I struggled with as an adult.

While no books have been written on this topic, one of the permanent articles (never finished of course) on this website provides the recipe.

Reading must dominate their time

We no longer live in an industrial society. Even if you have no intention of producing future lawyers and writers, the thinking skills bred by reading are the ones that will pave the way for the rest of education and future professional success.

There are plenty of good books on this topic which I've cited before.

Vocabulary is everything

Vocabulary is not just the driver of thinking ability and test scores, it's the driver of personality, determination, and speaking ability when you use the Word Board. Unfortunately, once they develop photographic word memories, vocabular ceases to be an area of work. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Projects are the best teacher

Projects, crafts and art are the best teacher. At age 3 or 4, these teach executive functioning skills. In grade school, the GAT programs are all projects. If there is a text book of any kind involved, the kids read it outside of class time.

I lump music in to this category.

A corollary to this principle is that one long math problem teaches more than 500 short problems.

Every child should be challenged every day

This was my very first victory as a parent. If children learn to read by daily reading at home, how do they learn to do advanced math? Every day I presented my children with some math that challenged them. They're not going to get this at school, even in a GAT program, and they will not get this from a school math book even 2 or 3 years ahead of grade level.

After about 9 months of this program, I redefined daily math to be something ridiculously insanely hard. This is why reading dominates their time: insanely hard math exhausts the brain in about 25 minutes. That leaves plenty of time for reading.

There is no book on this topic. There are great programs for competitive math that come close, but few children are qualified by the right mix of interests, disposition, and geekiness. Both of my kids are into competitive math, but only by virtue of training.

Problem solving skills are gold

Most of my research and most of my original ideas fit under this heading. When I read through education and cognitive psychology journals, I'm confident that I'm still at least 25 years ahead of other researchers.

In 1945, George Poyla synthesized 3000 years of research on how mathematicians solve problems and applied it to high school sophomores. In about 2011 or 2012, I applied this to 4 year olds, then to calculus, to the SAT, to high school chemistry, to reading, and a host of other topics, all before 7th grade. We're now working on other applications like how to ace a test for a class you didn't attend.

After 4th grade

I've dabbled in research topics for older children on this website, but recently started another blog to cover them in more detail. Assuming 5 years of At Home Academic Training goes well, and it has, we're focusing on much more important topics like chores, theater, not quitting, overloading your schedule with activities and hard classes, and not being the slightest bit stressed by anything ever.

In the early days of this website, I argued for this principle: We are not doing any activities, especially ones that involve me driving my kid to some organized program. No soccer at age 4, no outside math tutoring, nothing. Despite this - or maybe because of it - both of my kids are slowly filling their schedules with groups and clubs.

There is so much more you can do with the Power Five problem solving skills with older children.

I've read so much about kids being overwhelmed by the stress of high school, what with 4 AP courses each semester and all those extra curricular activities. Tackling this problem is one of my current interests. I made my kids watch parts of How To Succeed in Busies Without Really Trying. We all want our little kids to get to high school fully prepared for hard work. I've got something much bigger in mind.

A note on leadership

I've never written an article on leadership. I think we work on a fairly comprehensive list of qualities or skills that a leader has, but I don't yet see the step from 'has' to 'using' leadership skills.

My kids are involved in a comprehensive list of activities. They have fun, they participate, they organize, they pull their own weight. They don't really lead. Perhaps this is because adults overdo the leadership thing. Nonetheless, I don't see any hint of a drive to be the best. I see plenty of adequate. Both kids like to perform, but they have fairly low standards and adhere to the adage 'Done is better than perfect'.

I think I can leverage that, parenting wise. If you need a crack team that includes the top math person, top scientist, writer, researcher, athlete, artist, and inventory, which role is not mentioned but always required? I'm 2 years from this line of research and it will definitely be in the other blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Anti-Kumon Experiment

I'm wrapping up the Anti-Kumon program I started 9 years ago. Although it's been a big success, I need to add one more element to the program.

I started the Anti-Kumon movement by listing the skills that I found by reverse engineering the COGAT, skills that determine academic success. These skills are reading complicated questions, holding multiple elements in working memory, organizing the work strategy, plodding through permutations, getting the wrong answer repeatedly, and checking the answer because you know you got it wrong. These skills require long complicated problems 2 years in advance. COGAT test prep and reading comprehension also work.

Kumon is a training program that is nearly the opposite of these skills: speed, memorization, one step problems, known material from last year. This approach targets academic work which is more of the same. No wonder or schools are failing at the University level. (Note - since I started the Anti-Kumon tirade, Kumon has added more advanced problems to their regimen, no thanks to me.)

The results were beyond my expectations, not just in math, not just on school work, not just in test scores. My children have attention spans from 4 to 9 hours on high school level AP work that they won't see for 4 years (depending on how boring the subject is). Projects tend to go overboard. Chores have escalated from 'clean your room' to 'clean the house' to 're-tar the roof'.

You become what you practice. I need a pithy way of saying that, like 'Fake It 'til You Make It' which is what it was in the early days when they got everything wrong and only did 1 or 2 problems a week from a book that expected 20 problems a day.

Here's my conclusion. When need to practice math facts the summer before eighth grade. Math facts are killing us.

Math facts are killing us

My kids are so slow in math. This works great when we covered calculus one weekend in 6th grade. It stinks on a timed test for high school entrance or high school placement. It's not helping in math competition.

There are numerous reasons to avoid math facts at all costs. Whatever the kid does - counting on fingers, counting on paper with little dots (like my sister and I did on the SAT) or counting in the brain - this builds number sense and other skills necessary for graduate school. Math facts work sheets are like video games - it's no so much what you're doing but what you're not doing, like complicated number theory that needs trig. Having to do double digit anything without a crutch requires holding a 3 part problem in working memory as opposed to mindlessly letting the pencil do the work.

The oldest turned in blank home work assignments during pre-algebra. I lump pre-algebra in with math facts, so we skipped it. The youngest just shouts out from the basement 'What's 120 times 16?' and I shout out 'What's 120 times 10? What's 6 times 100? How many times to I have to shout this out?' I don't think he needs it but it's nice to be included in homework.

One parent pointed out that Kumon really helped his kid in the following way. Not getting stuck on arithmetic errors provided more time for problem solving and higher order thinking. My response is that we've been doing high order thinking since age 5 and they can take as much time as they want. We're not racing our way to an accounting clerk position that's already been outsourced to a computer. If my child brings home a D in math in 5th grade, but does 8th grade math at home, someone has a problem, but it's not me.

I've written about Anti-Kumon on this website in the past. My 8th grader kicked off Anti-Kumon by doing 2nd grade math during Kindergarten. He's going to be doing arithmetic worksheets this summer.

If you read my articles from a few years ago about the skill set mentioned at the top of this article, and you want to know how these skills mature as the kids get older, the next edition of my other blog is dedicated to competitive math. These problems are perfect examples of how impossible math paves the way to a well written English paper.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Battle of the Gifted

There is a political battle ranging right now between gifted funding and funding for students at the bottom in urban school districts. Chicago has been exempt thus far thanks to a status quo mayor and a governor who refused to do anything because there's no money to do it. This is all going to change quickly thanks to a new governor and soon to be a new mayor.

To gear up for the mess, I've been reading up on the last 5 years of failure in the school districts of Newark, California, Washington DC, and New York.

The race to the bottom

At the bottom of the pyramid are dysfunctional poor families. It seems hopeless. The schools that serve poor cannot educate their children while diverting a huge portion of resources from education to a variety of other causes, like community, jobs, politics, bureaucracy, and corruption. The schools that made a concerted effort to focus on education, starting with Kindergarten, found that 70% of the kindergartners left the district by 3rd grade. Violence, drug addiction, broken families, and instability are a way of life for the poor and negatively impact the child's ability to learn.

The middle of the education bell curve includes a remedial education level about 2 years behind preparation for college. Parents in wealthier districts send the kids to school reading a year a two ahead. Parents in not-so-wealthy districts send their kids to school ready to read. Parents at the bottom send their kids to school unable to recognize the difference between a letter and a word.

At the top, the 3 warring factions are a) parents who expect a decent education for their children that only exists in a gifted and talented program, b) gifted educators who are cynical about parents, and c) poorly done research that contends the best education for gifted is to put them in a classroom of kids who don't place a high value on education at home.

The fatal flaw in a mixed classroom is the requirement for material that is suitable for a mixed classroom, and a teacher who is trained and motivated to deliver this material to students of mixed abilities.

The way forward

The shining exception to the mess is Jo Boaler, a professor at Stanford, who is determined to produce and accumulate effective material and train teachers to use it. I hope she succeeds. In the mean time, I love the material and it's great for At Home gifted education. Her website is and I encourage you to turn your printer on and visit the website to take advantage of the free material. Please take note of her course on Algebra for kids of all ages, especially if your child is over the age of 9 and you want to head over to my other website,, where I'm putting together a strategy to get the TestPrep kid into Stanford. Granted, I have an article from a few months ago explaining why I would not waste $250,000 on an undergraduate degree, but I'd be more than happy to pay $250,000 if I could stop by the math department at Stanford during student orientation week and meet Jo Boaler. It would be worth $250,000. I've got at least one child who might study in her department.

Here is an example of the material on her website. This 'worksheet' is for ages 5 to 11.

There are 3 things to note. First, a child of age 11 (of normal math skills) will get more out of this worksheet, like 5x3+4x4 than a child of age 5, who will probably use it to learn how to count or basic adding. Next, if your child aspires to be gifted in math, you can start with the 5 year old usage and just keep going to the 4th grade level. Boaler has successfully used her material during research to turn D and F middle school students into A and B students. That directly implies that you can use it to teach advanced math to little kids. It works.

The third thing to note is more of a warning. A few years ago, when our 6th grade gifted math teacher in our gifted program sent home a worksheet like this (although slightly harder involving exponents), parents were both baffled about what to do and outraged that they had to do it, and the teacher was run out of town. I frantically emailed parents about what to do but it was too little too late. How dare our teacher expect our gifted students to act gifted. It turns out that parents where heavily involved in homework - heavily, if you know what I mean. The replacement math teacher is probably good, but I don't know for sure, since the middle school team instructed students in very strong terms not to tell anything to parents ever again about homework. Good for them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Tiger Cub Parent

I am going to prove that being a softy parent will product much better results than being a strict, demanding parent.

I will admit that in the early days, I was a bit impatient and frustrated trying to get my useless under-qualified children to do productive academic work. It's hard to be a parent. You give your 5 year old a simple problem like 5x3 and they sob because they don't know why the plus sign is turned diagonally.

Why I'm a Softy

Every academic experiment that I have subjected to my children to has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Every experiment. I've done dozens of these in all academic areas. I'm going to use the classic Every Day Math Grade 2 experiment as an example, but every single one of these challenges proceeds in exactly the same way:

  • Child spends 3 weeks getting through the first page.
  • Child spends the next 3 months getting most problems wrong and only doing a fraction of the problems that a child at the appropriate age would do.
  • Child starts to get things right and tends to work with less help for next few months.
  • By 8 or 9 months, child is starting to get most problems correct, albeit slowly, so we quit.

We've repeated this process in all academic areas over 8 years now and it always starts the same and ends the same.

It doesn't matter whether I'm demanding or not on the outcome. The child always gets from the first step to success just by doing a little each day. If I make comments like 'You're not trying and I'm disappointed' then an argument or more tears will ensue and we'll lose the whole day. Being demanding (or showing any emotion) tends to make it more painful, but doesn't change the outcome. I don't show negative or positive emotion. Positive emotion is equally counterproductive because when the child is getting everything wrong, you don't show positive emotion, and the child interprets that as the same thing as yelling and gets upset.

To repeat - the outcome is independent of whether the parent is demanding or not demanding. Being demanding wastes time.

Soft Limits

I have 3 soft limits. The first one is that our daily material is probably going to be ridiculously hard. The second is that each child has to do a little every day, like 15 minutes or an hour (for older kids). The third limit is when you ask me 'Can I use the computer because my friends are doing such and such right now' my response is 'Did you do your math today?'

These limits are soft because I've been doing this consistently for years. Of course a normal kid doesn't want to do ridiculously hard math. Of course a normal kid would rather just play. I am not personally offended by the inevitable complaining and begging. Do your math. I'll just say it softly, for the 13,567th time. No math, no computer.

The computer saved me. Before age 7, there was no computer option. I had to say things like 'you can go outside and play with your friends after you get your math done', or 'we'll leave for your T-Ball game after you do 3 problems'. Mostly, I had to sit there the whole time while we did it as a team. Before age 5, I had to keep a bag of skittles at all times.

Being a Softy Parent has long term benefits. I won't prove them here, but in short, the kids do lots of chores without being asked twice (they're like a Marines special forces unit in charge of household chores), they do their academic work on their own without my involvement, and they don't hate me. Plus, we exercise together, because of those skittles.