Sunday, 4 September 2011

Geek Dad recommendations

I know I'm doing something right. The three year old last night, for the third night in a row, asked to play Rime of the Ancient Mariner in the bath. We have three plastic boats: one for the Mariner, one for Death and Life In Death, and one for the Pilot; we also have two rubber ducks: one is the Mariner, the other is the albatross. I tell the story, getting him to fill in gaps; he makes the actors play their parts on the water. He especially likes the Mariner shooting the albatross and things sinking like lead into the sea. The initial storm is also fun. I'm going to have to get some other bath toys for the slimy things that lived in the shallows where the Mariner was becalmed [a three year old saying "becalmed" is also awesome].

After the bath, he requested Rhinegold for his bedtime story. We got through the first two acts.

How can you too achieve such magnificent results? Your two big recommendations for the day.

First: StoryNory. Before the earthquakes, our commute was 25-33 minutes from house to the University's daycare. Ira demanded I tell him stories on the commute, so I had varying length versions of Rhinegold, Walkure, Star Wars, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and a few others at the ready. If traffic was light, I skipped detail; if heavy, I provided more explanation. Kinda like lecturing; storytelling and lecturing are strong complements.

After the February earthquake, we had three big problems. First, the commute lengthened to 35-70 minutes [now down to 22-50 minutes]. Second, because I had no office, Susan was usually dropping the kids off before heading to her office while I tried to work from home. Third, because the roads have been unpredictable, diverting attention to story-telling became more hazardous. So I searched around for audiobooks for kids. From StoryNory I downloaded a ton of Greek myths; Knights of the Round TableBrothers Grimm; Hans Christian Anderson; 1001 Arabian Nights; Kipling's Just-So Stories; Poems (including Mariner); and other good stuff. Once he's well enough versed in the Norse, Arabic, Greek and Eastern myths, we'll download some of the Christian ones.

Second: Graphic novels. Ira's particularly liked the first two operas in the Ring CycleThe Odyssey, and The Hobbit. We've picked up a few others, but nothing that's held his interest like those ones; the Ring Cycle is his favourite. It's win-win with these at bedtime: the kid gets a story with which he can follow along in pictures; you get to read something worth reading.

I really really don't get folks who choose instead to play Wiggles CDs in the car. There's a basic set of myths that are necessary for cultural literacy. They show up as metaphor all the time. Why not spend the commute making sure the kid really knows those basic prerequisites rather than making yourself angry by listening to the Wiggles?

The NY Times has been featuring economic lessons in children's literature. A few I've liked:
  • Tales of the Arabian Nights. Lots of great material in there, even if you have to editorialize every now and then.
  • The Lorax. It's all kinds of fun working through the ways in which The Lorax was a complete idiot. Had the Lorax just reminded the Once-ler that failure to replant meant that the factories would fall silent, appealing to the Once-ler's self interest instead of his altruism, he'd have had a shot. And lots of great stuff on the importance of property rights. All of that requires a lot of editorial intervention though; I wouldn't touch it without the editorializing. 
  • Little Red Hen (obviously)
  • Make up your own! Ira regularly gives me the parameters of the story that he wants, then I work it through with him. One fun one from almost a year ago now: Ira wanted a story of IraMan (a regularly occurring superhero) with his rake and his shovel and his motorbike fighting a bad guy. As he was watching old Spiderman cartoons on YouTube, I gave him LeafMan - a villain like SandMan, but composed of leaves. Ira was perturbed when City Council refused to grant him resource consent to burn leaf litter, and so LeafMan just kept coming back to do evil.

1 comment:

  1. We never had any commute to speak of and didn't know about StoryNory: it looks really cool. At home we had a no-Wiggles policy (mum and dad can't stand them) and were thrilled to miss all their videos, shows, books, toys, etc. If you think about it, they would be a great example to teach a kid about branding and marketing.

    We enjoyed Dr Seuss's "Oh, the places you'll go" and "The Lorax" was fun, but the sudden truffula tree scarcity never made sense. "The adventures of Tintin" worked wonders to introduce our son to reading for pure enjoyment.