Mental Models and High School English

A mental model is the way we think about the world. They are beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings that we have about the world that have come from our society, our culture, our family and our friends. They are things that we don’t question because they have become part of who we are. This isn’t a bad thing. It is part of being human, however it is important to understand our mental models so that we can choose which models are the best for us. For example, I am Australian so I am very flexible about time. I am currently living in Japan which has a very rigid perspective on time. Since I am living in Japan I have found it essential to change my mental model knowing that if I don’t I will upset the people around me.

An amazing part of travelling is that you get a chance to question those mental models. When we visit another country we see a country with a different set of mental models. Some are similar to ours but there will always be differences. When we come into contact with another culture we can reflect on our own and learn more about ourselves and how we think about the world.

Not all of us can travel though, but we can still learn a language. A language is a form of mental model. It holds the way a group of people see and think about the world. In learning a language we can learn about different ways of seeing the world. In doing so we can understand our own life and upbringing. In this we can come to better understand our culture. We can appreciate the cultural ways of thinking that bring us a happier life and we can shed the ways of thinking that haven’t.

One of the interesting things about learning English is that it holds a wider range of perspectives than usual languages since it is truly a global language. Every nation with English as its national language has its own unique culture that changes the way English is used. Australians, people from the US, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Singaporeans to name a few all have their own mental models. You don’t just learn about one culture or one way of thinking. When you add that to the number of countries that learn English as a second language then you really gain a sense of just how many cultures are contributing to the mental modes available in English.

This brings me to the second part of this article’s title, high school English. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to observe the way English is taught in high schools in Japan. One of the things I noticed is that English language despite being a different way of seeing the world is being taught as a way of reinforcing Japanese perspectives. To repeat that, the subject English in Japan is used to teach Japanese moral education. I would not be surprised to find that that our countries treat language education the same way.  This means that a major benefit to learning a language, the chance to reflect on our own society and our own ways of thinking, has been removed.

To conclude, when you teach a language you should include the way that native users of that language think and why they speak the way they do. In doing so we can work towards creating a better way of living in which we combine the mental models of the world’s cultures.


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In the shadow of fatherhood

When i was younger I hated my father. The kind of hate born of love. I suspect that had I been a physically stronger person; eaten properly and worked out, I probably would have attacked him. Although my brother was stronger and he never did so perhaps I wouldn’t have. As a parent now I sometimes feel the shadow of my father creeping over me. When i feel anger, frustration, or rage I can feel my father’s presence. I’m terrified of repeating history. I don’t want to be my father. Those feelings rising up there are my own though, not my fathers. They belong to me. How I decide to act on them is who I am. I am not my father. I wonder if he felt the same way. By all accounts his father was a true terror. Did my father have such doubts? Did he fear that he would be just like his dad when he was raising us kids? As a child I often told him he was just like his dad. That was my vengeance. I wonder now if that hurt him more than I could have imagined.

It is the duty of the next generation to improve on the parenting on the previous. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it right? To raise my children in such a way that they look back and think ‘I want to raise my children the way I was.’

Media Addiction and kids

We live in the age of media addiction. Find me a person who isn’t addicted and I’ll show you someone who was born ninety years ago. Whether it’s TV, computers, smart phones we all want it. So what about the next generation? They look to be primed to experience instant media gratification at any time. Thanks to Youtube and smart phones, if you have a whinging child you can just chuck their favourite show on and plant them in front of it. Is this a good thing though?

My first daughter is a media addict despite our best efforts to avoid it. If it was up to her she’d watch her favourite show all day long. When she watches she really watches too. I’m not talking about having it in the background. She is glued to that screen. As a parent you may think that sounds fantastic. What a great babysitter. It’s not though. Three months ago we were having a constant battle about it. She’d beg for one episode of her favourite show. We’d relent. At the end of the show she’d scream and cry for another episode. If we relented again her behaviour and attitude would visibly get worse. It was obvious to us that the more she watched the crankier she got. It made no sense to us to let her watch anything.

Zero tolerance didn’t work. She was cranky about not watching TV and worse after watching it. What to do? Our child is now two and a half. She’s reached the stage where she understands cause and effect reasonably well. It’s such a difference. So we’ve been using media as flat out bribery. We wanted her to go to bed early and get up early mostly because we wanted a break after 9.  We told her if she gets up before 7am she can watch two episodes of Peppa Pig, 5 minutes per episode. Now at about 8.30 she says to us If i go to be now and get up early i can watch Peppa pig. Actually she says it in Japanese which is only four or five words. The next adjustment we wanted was toilet usage. She was going well with her toilet training but suddenly stopped using the toilet in the house. She was fine everywhere else just not in the house. So we made a chart. Every time she used the toilet we’d draw a picture of Anpanman on her chart. When she gets three of them she can watch an episode of Anpanman, 10 minutes. That means she should be able to watch at least one episode a day. On the weekend she gets a free episode of Moomin, 30 minutes. So far it’s worked really well. She says it’s time to finish watching herself and rarely asks for another episode. When she does we don’t relent no matter how cranky she gets. To my wife and I the TV is a babysitter who gives our kids alcohol and cigarettes.

For our second daughter we’re trying for zero exposure to media for her first few years. After all if you don’t get exposed to it you don’t feel the need for it. What does a one year old gain from watching TV? For that matter what does a two year old gain? How about a three year old? Before you say they are experiencing language in use, think about what you are doing when you watch TV. What are your thought processes? If you are anything like me your brain is running purely on cruise control if that. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me while a TV is on can attest to that.

Funny thing about all this is that it makes me feel like such a strict parent. Everything you do for your child though should be factoring it what it is doing for their development. What’s better, her watching TV or her playing with her toys or with one of us? The answer is pretty obvious to me.

My ideal lifestyle part 2: reading to my children

This is part two of my ideal lifestyle.  It was never a question whether or not I’d read to my children on a regular basis.  We have a large children’s book collection for my children. When it comes to story time my daughter is always the first there and the last to leave.  This is a point of pride for me. So why do I consider this part of my ideal lifestyle?

There are several reasons each building off each other.The primary reason is of course that I value reading itself.  I can’t imagine how dull my life would be without reading. Especially since I wouldn’t be interested in being a writer if I wasn’t interested in reading. Since writing is a major part of my life I’d say without reading I’d be a completely different person.  So I like reading and want my children to like reading. That’s not all there is to it.

The main reason I regularly read to my children, and even feel guilty when I miss a day, is because your reading habits are determined by your experience with books as a child. Reading a story is a skill. That may seem like a strange concept to some people but there is more to reading then understanding the alphabet and how words relate to each other in a sentence. There are three skills used when you read. They are skimming, scanning and detailed reading.  Skimming is when you are just reading for a general idea. It tends to be quick. When you skim you’ll probably skip words and even sentences you deem unnecessary for getting the general idea of the story.  Scanning is when you are looking for specific information. I often read a novel by skimming. I’m a plot person. If your novel is reliant on me enjoying they way you have strung your sentences together I’m probably going to lose interest really quickly. Since I tend to skim I’ll sometimes miss a point and have to go back through the pages scanning for a piece of information I missed. The third type of reading is called detailed. It’s pretty obvious what it means. Detailed reading is going through sentence by sentence. It’s how we often read textbooks or works of non-fiction. These reading skills are naturally leveled up through our reading experiences. Like any skill the more you do it the better you get. Similarly the earlier you start the less difficulty you’ll have later on in life. Reading to my children helps set the framework for their reading habits and skills when they are older.

Imagine a person who was never read to as a child. That kid would have no reason to pick up a book in the home. They’d be exposed to books for the first time in school. It would take them that much longer than a child who was exposed to books in the home to get into books. Since their parents didn’t value the reading experience they too wouldn’t. Of course there would be exceptions.  They’d struggle to get interested and would be easily distracted. By the time they are adults they may pick up a book once a year if that and take a month or two to read it. They’d probably just wait until it’s made into a TV show.

So that’s why in my ideal lifestyle I read to my children. To prepare them for a lifetime of reading.

My Ideal Lifestyle Part 1: Playing with my Children

I was recently asked to write down my ideal lifestyle and ask why of it until I firmly understood why that was my ideal.

This is the first item; playing with my children. In my ideal lifestyle I spend time to interact and play with my children every day. I consider this important for their development. The main reason I want to do it though is because I want to be close to them and enjoy my time with them. This is important to me because I love them and want them to love me in turn. Which brings me to the crux of why I want to play with my children every day. Family is the closest relationship you will ever have. It should be one of love, friendship, trust and security. You have family for life.

Boys should play with dolls

Boys should play with dolls. In this blog I’ll write why I think so.

Yesterday I took my daughter to the toy store. She wandered around most of the store and played with a range of demonstration models. One of the toys she played with was a doll you could feed with a fake milk bottle. She did it very deftly. We don’t have any dolls in our house. Not because we are against it or anything just because we’ve never bought one. At the time I wandered if she had been a boy would she have picked up the doll and played with it? In my opinion he would have and I’ll explain why I think so.

Children are geared to learn how to be human. One of the major ways they learn how to be human is playing. Children copy what they see adults doing. My daughter sweeps and vacuums the floor. We never asked her to do this it was something that she copied from us. Similarly she puts the teddy bears to sleep by giving them hugs, shushing them, placing them on the bed and putting a blanket on them. She is basically practicing how to be a parent. Dolls, and in our household’s case teddy’s, are a good way for children to mimic being a parent. They see how we act towards them and mimic it to the doll or teddy. This is why dolls are a good toy. Children can practice being parents with them.

Given that dolls and teddies are a means for children to develop their caring and parenting skills why does our society tell us that boys don’t play with dolls? It’s not because they don’t. It’s because people don’t give them the option to. It’s considered something that girls do. Some parents will even tell off their boys for playing with dolls. This is essentially telling boys not to learn how to be parents from a very young age. Our society should encourage boys to practice their parenting skills. Boys should practice babying a toy. It’s a natural part of development and will give them the skills they need to be parents when the time comes.

Encouraging Creativity

One of the things I appreciate the most about my childhood was my mum’s encouragement in all things creative. She was particularly encouraging of music and writing. I never really developed much of an aptitude for music but writing is now a hobby I hold dearest to my heart. My mum encouraged all of us to write short stories and poetry in our spare time. When we finished she’d type it up, print it out, bind the story with tape and get us to illustrate it. There are still copies of these stories around the house. They were quite good. The whole process was very enjoyable. My sister and I both share a love of writing and my brother is a genius on the piano. Although I don’t know if my brother would attribute his love of music to mum. Writing was more her thing. I hope to do the same for my children and continue the creativity streak running through my family.

Travelling with a baby

Earlier last year I went to Korea with our baby girl.  She’s one and a half now so I guess I should be calling her infant instead of baby.  I went with my parents and my sister but was obviously the primary carer.  At the time I was going to write a blog about travelling with a baby but couldn’t think of anything particularly special to write.  My main feeling at the time was that it wasn’t really that different to daily life.  I did notice that I was a lot more worried about what I would feed baby but since I generally feed our baby what we are eating it ended up not being an issue.  Besides you can always go to the supermarket to get what you need.  We regularly stopped in to get bananas, milk and bread since those are baby’s favourite snacks.  Something to always keep in mind is; ‘what can baby do while I am there?’  One of the things I made sure we did while I was in Korea was devote a day to doing something baby would enjoy.  We found a kids land in one of the malls.  It was an amazing centre.  Overall she had a pretty good time.  It helped that I had my niece and nephew along.  They were a great help in keeping baby amused.

Last month we went to Australia.  It was a sixteen hour journey to get there; usually it’s a ten hour flight from Tokyo but we had to get to Tokyo first and that took six hours.  Baby handled it well.  She seems to like planes, this is her fifth time flying to and back from a place so she’s already a seasoned traveler.  I would give the following tips to anyone wanting to fly with a baby.  For starters its not like driving in the car or catching the bus.  You don’t have to buckle up except for on take off and landing.  Generally the trips are quite smooth so you can comfortably let baby walk up and down the aisles (or crawl).  Take a toy or two though since it can really help fill the time.  We did both a day flight and a night flight.  They’ve both got pros and cons to them.  If you are flying a night flight you can get the baby to sleep at their usually sleeping time and then hopefully sleep yourself or watch some movies.  That’s the dream anyway.  Day flights you’ve got to entertain baby for a significant part of it.  This doesn’t sound ideal but if you are like me and can’t sleep on planes it means you get to go to sleep at your usually time in a warm bed.  Not such a bad thing.  One thing I learnt which doesn’t seem to be well known is that you can designate a bag as a baby bag when getting on the plane and they don’t take out liquids.  You know as long as you aren’t crazy about it.  So flying with a baby isn’t so daunting.  I’d do it again.

As in Korea I found that going around Australia wasn’t so different as home life.  I had my standard baby bag with everything I need for an emergency; nappies, water, food, clothes and a toy.  Every place I met up with friends at in some way involved something that  baby could do.  Usually a playground with a swing.  This was a bit difference to my Korean visit since I didn’t know anyone there.  In Korea we mostly went to historical places and shopping.  Two things that aren’t exciting for babies.  In both these cases I just made sure baby knew we hadn’t forgotten about her and played with her on the go.  One huge difference I found was distances.  When you are travelling you tend to go that extra distance to do something.  Instead of doing a twenty minute car trip its more like an hour car trip.  This can make a bit of a difference for the baby’s experience.  Especially if they aren’t such a big fan of cars.  In my personal experience buses and trains are better for babies then cars.  You can give them more attention and they can share the experience with you.

Baby Competitions

Part Rant Part Adorable Baby Story Part Insight

Before having a baby I had no idea there were crawling races.  Now however I have been enlightened.  There are in fact crawling, walking, running and pushing a pusher races.  There are probably more but that’s what I know about so far.  Prior to having a baby I never thought I would put baby in one of these events.  However, we have put our baby in three of these so far.  You may wonder why.  It’s a good thing to wonder.

First up we entered our baby into two crawling competitions for the simple reason that she loves crawling.   The first time round she just sat their soaking up the attention.  Good on her though because she was very happy.   The second time round she even won the race.   For those who have never seen these races though you may wonder what it looks like.  The competitions are held in shopping malls to attract people with babies who would probably not have gone to the mall that weekend.  The course is usually five metres long.  There are five lanes and babies have to get from one end to the other.  There are onlookers all around the track cheering and generally having a good time.  Or just waiting for their baby’s turn.  Parents try to get their babies to crawl unassisted for the five metres.  This usually involves jiggling the baby’s favourite toy in front of them.  For us it was using the video camera because our baby loves cameras.  Tragically I did not press the record button.  Silly daddy.

You may think that this kind of event sounds cruel or exploitative.  I hadn’t really thought so until the weekend mainly because our baby always has a great time at these events.  We took baby to a pushing pusher race because she loves pushing pushers.  We arrived a little bit early so we had to wait for a few heats to finish before we could race.  The whole time we waited baby was desperate to get to the race track.  Next to the track was a playground area full of children but our baby quickly saw through this ruse and crawled straight for the tracks.  When it came to our heat I had to hold baby back from the pusher.  The announcer was going through the names and i was just thinking “Shut up and let us race.”  When she called go baby jumped onto the pusher and sped down the track to the finish line in less time then it takes adults to walk down.  I was tempted to turn her around and have her race back the other way since the rest of the group were no where near finishing.  She had a great time laughing and smiling the whole time.   Oh, there was no prize for coming first.  Just bragging rights and a cool video if you pressed the record button.  Purely for the fun of it.

Hang on though, I just mentioned that now I thought it was a little cruel.  My story sounds very positive.  Well for our baby it was but for the others there were tears and tantrums all round.  Why?  I couldn’t really figure it out at the time nor could baby.  She was looking at the babies enviously as they got to be on the track playing.  Don’t worry when the competition was over I let baby crawl all over the tracks.  As we watched a few more heats though I started wondering why the parents were here.  I knew why we were here but I didn’t know why they were here.  At one point I noticed one green shirted boy chucking a tantrum on the track and remembered him from earlier.  He had been playing in the playground area.  When I saw him he was crying his eyes out. I don’t know why but he was.  No one comforted him though.  He ran out of where he was and knocked his head on the doorway and cried more.  No one came.  He tried to get through the doorway again at the same time as three other kids did and he ended up on the ground crying.  Still no one came.  I was amazed though to see all the kids patting him on the shoulder saying it was OK.  However the parents were no where to be seen.  I was even tempted to go in there and comfort the kid but I knew the last thing the kid needed was some lanky white guy coming in and comforting him.  The mum eventually came after a good fifteen minutes of crying.  It may have been longer since he was crying when I had arrived.  So why did that parent bring her son to the race?  The kid didn’t have any fun at all.  He was balling in the playground and spent the race on the ground banging his fists.  I never asked the mum why she was there.  Maybe the boy was just having a bad day but he wasn’t the only one crying.

So why were the others crying?  Some stood there crying while their parents dangled toys in front of them.   In previous crawling competitions I’ve also seen the babies cry at the starter line.  It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.  There are a tonne of people around them and their parents just put them on the ground, walk away from them and sit five metres in front of them.   They probably feel abandoned in an overstimulating environment.  I don’t know about you but I find malls intense enough as an adult imagine what it must be like for a baby.

Other children that were crying were just lying on the ground not wanting to push the pusher.  When our baby pushes away a toy it’s usually because she’s playing with another toy, she’s getting sleepy or because she wants to do something else.  Of course I’ve never bothered trying to make her play with a toy she didn’t want to.  So what’s going on here then?  The kids probably wanted to keep on playing in the playground.  Or maybe they were just tired and overstimulated.  For me the point is really that if your kid doesn’t want to push the pusher don’t make them.  It’s meant to be a fun event.  In this guess pride or embarrassment obviously gets in the way.  You may wonder what i would have done in baby didn’t want to push the pusher.  I can’t imagine it happening but if she was there crying I would have given her a hug.

So overall what did I learn on the weekend.  I learnt that if your taking your baby to an event make sure you’re taking them because you think they’ll enjoy it.  More importantly though; if you’re taking your baby to an event that you think they’ll enjoy do what you can for them to help them enjoy it.  Play and interact with them.  Have fun with them.  It’s their day after all.

Water Baby

Our baby loves water.  She loves baths, showers, pools and beaches.  So I’ve been wondering what it was we did to get her to this point.  Was she just born to love water or were there things we did to get her to love water.  Obviously I can’t answer if her genetics predisposed her to liking water although she is Australian.

To answer these questions I’ll have to go back in time.  A time when baby could fit on my arm with her head resting in my hand.  As is the standard in Australia she got a bath the first night.  I recall that she wasn’t so fussed on it but she didn’t scream about it.  The nurse taught us how to bathe the baby telling us to put pointer finger to thumb and hold her around the arms with our other fingers supporting her back.  Ease her in and gently pour water over the parts that aren’t in the water.  She also told us that we only need to bathe her once a week.

With this information we went home and put off the bath.  We were both kind of terrified of it.  My mum, not babies mum, decided to help us out.  We gave baby her first bath since the hospital and it went well.  Baby didn’t cry at all.  Buoyed by this success we started bathing her regularly.  Perhaps this is evidence that she just had the genes for it.  One thing we did that may be different to others is that when we bathed her we did it in the bath not in the sink.  I’d get in their with her and hold her the way the nurse taught us.  One game that she loved was being floated towards the wall of the bath.  When it was in range she’d kick with all her might against it and I’d bring her back towards me.  She loved this game until she stopped wanting to be on her back.  She started rolling over in the water and insisted on floating on her tummy.  Thus the game became swimming her toward the wall.  Once she started sitting in the bath we got her some toys to play with.  It eventually reached a point where we could put her in the water with her toys and she’d play on her own.  Except that she always wanted us to join her.  What did we learn?  Make it a fun experience.  If only we knew how to make food time a fun experience.

Fast forward to the present.  We started swimming classes for her because we figure if she likes the water lets put her in there more often.  Part of the swimming class is putting your baby’s head under water.  A daunting experience for any parent.  Our baby had no trouble with it.  Other babies cried, ours just had a puzzled expression on her face.  So why does she have no issues with having her head dunked?

Jumping back in time again, we’re regularly bathing baby and she’s at the point where if we don’t give her a bath she gets grumpy.  Babies generally don’t like having anything on their head.  Our baby still hates wearing hats.  She certainly hates wearing the bike helmet we have for her but I digress.  Although if anyone has any hints on how to get your baby to like wearing hats I’m all ears.  Anyway, at first our baby hated getting water poured over her head but we always did it anyway.  Just because she doesn’t like it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  She continued hating getting water poured over her head but since it only happened once or twice during bath time she was OK with it.  Usually if I’m going to throw our baby in the air I do a count down.  3, 2, 1.  It reached a point where all I needed to do was count down and she’d laugh.  We made jokes that when she gets to school and they start teaching her to count she’ll start laughing.  So we started doing a countdown and then dunk water on her head.  The result?  She shuts her eyes by the time we get to 1 and afterwards she has a big grin on her face.    Lesson learnt?  Let her know what you are about to do.  She’s a baby but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what’s going on.

Pools are basically giant baths with  cold water instead of hot but what about the beach?  We’ve taken our baby to the beach three times now.  Before I go into any details about her experience I should say that the beaches we’ve taken her have no waves.  Maybe a little bit of a rise here and there but the water never breaks.  Her reaction to it is very interesting.  For one thing she definitely knows it’s different to being in a pool or a bath.    Her reaction is very reassuring actually.  She clings to me with an unbreakable grip.  At first I just sat in the shallows with her hugging me but she didn’t really like that so I went out with her into the deeps.  ImageSwam around on my back squid style, imagine breaststroke only on your back, with her on my stomach.  She started to calm down and enjoy the show.  The first time was without mum, baby’s mum, but the second time she joined us we were able to throw baby between us.  Safely of course, she never leaves our arms.

The Third time was just me and baby again.  At this beach there was a wall about fifty metres out.  Baby just kept on pointing to it.  So I walked out there.  The water was up to my chest.  I just floated her ahead of me.  We met a family out there with a five year old girl in floaties.  She was just swimming around happily.  Obviously quite comfortable in the water.   Everything I did they then did with their five year old girl.  The girl was very happy in the water and was chatting away happily.  She swam confidently.  It was generally a good time.  Baby loved it.

At one point she got her hat wet and was grumpy about having it on her head.  She’d tolerated it up until that point.  So i headed back.  On the way we saw another family and joined them.  They were all on floating devices and were amazed to see me just resting baby on my hand.  One of them asked their child if she’d want to do the same thing.  The child who was probably three years old shook her head in fear.  Lesson learnt?  Floating devices don’t get your child used to the water.  Floaties on the other hand do.

To conclude; while sometimes it may just be down to personality there are ways you can make your baby comfortable in the water.