Another strange similarity between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes

By far, my most popular post on this site has been my list of similarities between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes.

This is probably due mostly to the success and popularity of those shows rather than anything to do with my post.

But nonetheless, it remains popular, and I thought I would expand on it.

There is one more similarity between the two characters, and this one really is strange: Bee Keeping

In the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock Holmes retires to a small farm, and takes up bee keeping as his primary occupation. An odd retirement perhaps for someone so steeped in adventure and mystery for his adult life.

And in “The Name of the Doctor”, The Doctor is contemplating his impending death, and reflects on where he thought he  about what he might do when his too old for adventures, or when he retires: “Maybe I take up watercolors or beekeeping or something. Or, not.”

This could just be a throwaway line, or it could be more.

I think Steven Moffat sees the connection between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes and explicitly picked bee keeping as an homage and a nod to the parallels between his charges.

Another interesting connection: Matt Smith actually auditioned to be Watson on the ‘Sherlock’, but Moffat decided he was too eccentric, and would be too much like ‘Sherlock’. (Check out number #18 here)

So, should we just be watching Sherlock as a lost season of Doctor Who, when he decided to spend more time on Earth and solve mysteries? I think it works.

Parental Controls Required?

Miss E. is now insisting on using the washroom all by herself, not even letting us in the room with her. Which is great, except she’s not even three, and there is the certain fear she’ll make a very big mess.

But, you say, you’re her parent. Why allow that? Why not just tell her you are going to help her? In part because we want to encourage her independence.
And lately I’ve started to wonder how much control should a parent exert? Is it really worth the struggle?

There are times when I catch myself telling her she has to do something, or not do something, or move quicker, or slow down. And then I wonder; why? Is it worth getting anxious or upset about?

Yet, sometimes we catch ourselves trying to turn decisions over to her, like what we should have for dinner, or do during a day. We do this in part to ensure she’s actually eat the dinner we make, and don’t generally make her input the defining part of our decision-making, but we still ask.

When your child is a baby, your focus is basically making sure they are fed, and clothed, and safe. Their very existence depends on you being in control of the situation. And that can seem daunting, especially when you have other things going on in your head or your life, or have another child around.

As your baby grows into a toddler, and a little person, you want to teach independence, and teach them how to make their own decisions, but sometimes it’s easy to fall back on the default position of “I’ll do it, I’m the parent,” or the “Listen to me, because I said so.” (Partially because their decision making process doesn’t always seem to make sense.)

I am not sure if this is typical for parents, but I imagine trying to find the right level of control is something that continues as children get older.
It is a delicate balance between wanting to teach your children to be independent and self-sufficient in certain areas, and ensuring you still have the authority necessary, and the ability to keep them safe and making the right decisions.

But children learn from your example, in so many things, and I don’t think it’s healthy to set the example that one person is innately correct. Encouraging discussion is a good thing. I just have to remember she’s a toddler and sometimes discussing with or explaining to a toddler will take a little bit longer than I would typically like.

Wow…I’m already a pushover. And she’s not even three. I better get this figured out before she’s thirteen…

Engendering un-gendered toys

Nail polish in the truck bed.

Do toys need to have a gender? Miss E’s has found a delicate toy balance; nail polish in the truck bed. This is where she demanded it be stored.

Do toys have gender? Are there some toys meant for boys and girls?
There shouldn’t be, but it’s undeniably the case.

Walk in to any toy store and walk by the “Pink Aisle”, full of pink-strewn toys.

The company GoldieBlox has made a name for itself by playing on this, and introducing building toys for girls:
And even their toys have a heavy-dose of light pastels.

Christmas is done and wrapped up for another year. The toys are open, the treats are mostly eaten, and we’ve moved on to making new years resolutions and looking forward to the next break, and it’s a good time to reflect on the gifts given and received.

This list made the rounds before Christmas, giving a handy gift-buying guide that parents would love to provide to people but are probably afraid to.

As I mentioned in a previous post while you make plans for raising your child and presenting a certain world view, society and other people often comes in and plays the role of spoiler. Gifts play a big part of this.

We have tried not to give specifically gendered toys to Miss E., and hope to do the same for Mr. J.

And despite requests, sometimes people just can’t help but get pink or frilly or princess-ridden things. And some of that comes at the request of Miss E.

I know I sound ungrateful for gifts, but we do truly appreciate everything the kids get. And sometimes Miss E. decides that she really likes that doll, even if it isn’t what we would have bought her, so who are we to argue with that?

So far, Miss E. seems to have established her own balance.

She likes to dress in pink clothes and party-dresses (she wanted to wear the same dress for half the holiday break), likes to wear her bracelets and nail-polish and she likes to have tea-parties and play house.
But she also likes to play with trains, and trucks and tractors.

She also likes to help Dada fix, and loves playing with blocks to build, and mostly destroy, towers.

Fixing

Miss E. likes to help around the house, including help Dada fix things. And that’s why we built a workshop.

Last year, we built Miss E. a play kitchen (check out the steps here). She really enjoys it and will pretend to bake or cook.
This year, we added a workbench on the back of the kitchen, and she was very excited to start using her tools.

The important part about this play-centre is that is lets her explore different things and different aspects of dramatic play, and based on the examples we provide, it isn’t really gendered.
I do about half the cooking in the house, and we share the house work, so the kids shouldn’t grow up with the idea that cooking or cleaning is a job for a specific gender.

The idea of gender has shifted over time, and there seems to be more of a focus on breaking away from gendered toys, or at least more people talking about it.

Yet, as this post points out some toys have become more gendered than they were 40 years ago, and toys are more likely to be explicitly labelled for boys or girls.

Non-strongly gendered toys, or specifically, non-girl focus toys, are better at encouraging creativity and physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills. We tried to focus on toys that would encourage imaginative play, giving Miss E. the ability to build or create.

So what can be done? Encouraging and buying non-gendered toys helps. Focusing on things that encourage creativity and dramatic play, toys that allow kids to be kids, and discover the world, as opposed to toys that put children into pre-designed and pre-determined boxes, whether those are gender barriers, or pop-culture tie-ins like Lego sets directly tied to movies, or heavily branded clothing and toys. (Of course, we fall victim to this too, as Miss E. love Thomas the Tank Engine and we buy her Thomas books and pajamas.)

Does the tea-set and baby carriage need to be pink? Does the ball with Spider-man on it bounce better?

We don’t want her to fall into any toy-makers vision of what a little girl should be like. She can decide that for herself (although I guess the point of this post and my previous post is that this is a difficult expectation).

And hey, if we fight the gendered toys, Miss E. and Mr. J. are more likely to play with the same toys, making it easier (and cheaper) for us…although it might mean more fights around sharing.

Ah parenting…there’s always so much to look forward to.

Creating a kitchen, and building a workshop

For Christmas last year, we built Miss E. a play kitchen.

We took an old night stand, slapped on some paint, used a little elbow grease, some ingenuity and some various real kitchen parts and made her a place to build her own fantastic food  creations.

This year, we decided to build on it and added a workbench on the back. It was less work, and quicker all around. So now she can go from making a souffle to sawing some wood in a few short seconds.

I meant to add some of these pictures last year, but here are some photos to re-count the process.

Step 1

Step 1: Start with an old night stand

Step 2

Step 2: Slap some paint on it

Step 3

Step 3: Add some fixtures: a sink, a faucet and some burners

Step 4

Step 4: Add a door, some more fixtures and some decorations and it’s almost done.

Step 5

Step 5: Ready for play-time

Step 6

Step 6: What is it? The big reveal!

Testing it out

Testing out the plumbing

Oven light is on

The oven light is on, and ready for baking.

Look at that!

Wow, look at that!

Checking out the new tools

Checking out the new tools

The next addition

The next step; adding the workshop on the back. A backboard with hooks, and a work bench.

A new toool box

A workman is only as good as his or her tools.

Checking out the measuring tape

Checking out the measuring tape

Working in the shop.

Not exactly standard worksite approved clothing, but it will pass.

Re-writing history teaching

A better History class

This Bizarro cartoon gives kids a good reason to learn history.

What was the USSR? That question came up during a family Christmas.  As someone who did their Master’s in History, and who once had plans to teach history, this question was shocking.

It was made worse when it wasn’t just a high school student asking that, but a 20-something as well.

And it made me realize how much of a dis-service to students, and to society, is happening with the standard approach to teaching history. People don’t know their history, and generally aren’t interested in history.

I’m in the minority when I say history was my favourite course in school. Most people generally say they were bored by history class, or forget most of what they learned. And this is a problem. Beyond the old idea of “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it” a knowledge of history is vital to understand so many conflicts and situations facing the world today.

I think the standard approach, starting from the beginning and trudging through years, and dates, and names, doesn’t quite work for most people. So is there a solution?

Reverse Chronological Order

Most history courses are taught, starting from one date, and moving forward in time. This makes a certain amount of sense. Time is a progression and events follow each other. That’s great. That’s how we think, that’s how most stories go, and that’s how history happens.

But is it the most interesting approach? I would think people are more interested in knowing about events that happened in their life-time, which we are still seeing the effects of, or for which their are still living witnesses. But with the standard approach, modern events are rarely touched.

I personally remember taking more than one Canadian history courses where we barely get to Confederation before we run out of time and a 20th Century history course where we barely got to the Second World War. I know it’s important to understand events that lead to the next event, but if the events are never connected to the student’s life, the lessons won’t stick.

So what if we start with modern history to get the students hooked, and then go backwards from there? It could either be a full backward course, or you could jump back and forth. Granted, this could be fairly confusing for people who like to keep things in order, but it could help provide more context for events. It could also make learning history more like unraveling a mystery. You know the outcome, so then you look at what caused it.

Thematic

While this is sacrilege to people who like the “great man” type of history teaching, we could approach teaching based on the interests of students.

In university, there are already thematic history courses, but why not bring this down to high school? It doesn’t have to be a full course devoted to, say, urban history, but it could be a course on “The Revolutions that Shaped our Society”. This would show students the ties that bind history together. Or even local history courses, showing connections to the rest of the world.

Or, perhaps history could be worked in the other courses of the curriculum. Often, my major projects for my science classes ended up being papers on the history of that particular science.  If someone isn’t interested in history, they might at least be interested in the history of their favourite topic. And this would give them a deeper appreciation of where what they are learning came from.

Current Events and Root Causes

My high school history teacher often asked us to bring in current events to discuss. This was great as it gave students a chance to talk about the history being made, as it was being made.

What if an entire history course was taught taking current events, and looking at discussions of the cause of those events, the motivations and inspiration for the players, and perhaps even connection to other historic events?

Granted, this type of teaching would be completely disjointed and confusing, and would take a lot of work to prepare. But it could be good for senior level high school students, letting them define where their learning develops.

Pop-History done right

Popular conceptions of  history is a problem for teachers. Accepted myths, history taught by television and film and history as understood and conveyed by politicians inform how many people understand history. And this understanding is often shallow and mis-guided.

The fast-talking John Green and the Crash Course History team provide a great example of how pop-history can be done right. Through a series of 10-15 minute You Tube videos, Crash Course provides quick history courses, but they don’t shy away from providing deeper understandings of history, and they gladly challenge accepted beliefs and myths.

As a great example, take a look at their video on the American Revolution:

A combination perhaps?

Are any of these approaches better than the standard approach? Or is a combination called for?

In the end, I’m not a teacher so I will have little influence, but I’m interested to hear from current history teachers and professors, or people who are still on track to enter the profession. What do you find works best to get students engaged in learning history?

Shocking revelation: Parents and children don’t always see the world the same way!

We're looking at the same sight, but I think we might be seeing different things.

We’re looking at the same sight, but I think we might be seeing different things.

Miss E. has recently started to craft arguments, but she doesn’t quite have her rhetoric down yet.

A typical case might go something like this: “Dada, want to watch t.v.”

“Not right now”

“But want to watch t.v. cause…um…want to watch t.v.”

It’s hard to argue with the cuteness, but not hard to see the flaws in her logic.

And this leads to my most striking revelation yet…children are not logicians. In fact, children don’t respond well to logic at all.

I try to be a logical person; so much so that many people have referred to me as a robot. So despite knowing a child’s brain works in its own mysterious way, I find myself getting a bit frustrated from time to time when trying to get Miss E. to do something or to make a decision.

She will often make a decision or ask for something and mere moments later decide she wants to do something else, and then will often go back to that original decision.

When I try to explain something to her in a logical manner, it often ends with little result except me having just wasted my breath. Silly me for trying to use logic on a child.

I was thinking about that this weekend a bit, and wondered if it ever really changes; that is, do parents and children ever start to see things the same way, even after the children grow into adults, and have children of their own?

Why was I thinking this? Because we went to a family Christmas and what better defines a family Christmas than having awkward conversations revealing how different member of the same family can have divergent opinions and viewpoints.

The disagreements this weekend included things close to home and personal, like what is the purpose of a wedding, and who should get to decide when and where a wedding happens, to larger issues like the power of words and the reason terms once considered ok are now not.

As I said, I try to be logical, or at least think I approach things in with some semblance of logic, but I will admit that I am also probably needlessly adversarial about my viewpoints, intentionally picking at subjects to get a reaction, or to show how much I know about a certain subject.

There were lots of words exchanged this weekend, mind you none really in anger or spite, but in the end nobody really changed their opinion on anything.

But as I was driving home, I was thinking about both these things: how I can’t understand how or why some people have the beliefs or opinions they do, and how a child processes things. And it made me think that maybe I should be a bit less stuck in the mud with my views and approaches, because in the end, while I can express my opinion, having a strong or loud conversation isn’t really the way to change someone’s mind, and maybe it’s just part of being a parent – not understanding your children.