Saturday, January 23, 2021

How to Teach your Kids not to Beg

I'm a proponent of the Ross Greene approach to to parenting (and teaching, disciplining, etc). If you're not familiar with Dr. Greene, one of his core arguments is that the behaviors we want to see from kids are skills that needs to be taught and practiced. Scolding or punishing a child do nothing to help him or her learn the skill they are lacking. 

I titled this post How to Teach your Kids not to Beg but in the Ross Greene way of thinking, an alternate (but wordier) title would be How to Teach your kids the skill of seeing something they want and walking away from it

Humans (big and small) do not learn new skills well while under emotional stress. Our brains simply do not take in new information when we're angry, scared, tired, etc. Trying to teach a skill to a child during a tantrum is all but certain to fail. Instead, you need to intentionally practice the skill when the child's brain is in a ready-to-learn mode. 

With my children, we do lots of practice walking through toy aisles and not buying anything. Whenever we go to Target I tell my kids, "we can look at toys, but we will not be buying anything." Almost every time we go shopping, we spend 5-10 minutes looking at toys and not buying them. This process gives my kids practice walking away from things they really want. 

This practice has paid off over and over. My six year old has been saving money for a new bike for months, but was willing to go to the bike shop, look at bikes, and walk away empty handed multiple times. 

If you're interested in our bike purchase story, check out the video below!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

My LEGO Statistics from 2017-2020

Continuing this month's statistics theme, I also spent some time looking at my LEGO purchases over the last few years. During each of the past few years I've purchased between one and four thousand LEGO bricks. 

Bricks purchased per year

I am a very price-driven LEGO buyer, and it is rare that I purchase a set with a price-per-brick higher than $0.09. My per-brick expense has not varied much since 2017. I included some low-piece-count Technic and Duplo sets in this dataset, so the average skewed high in most years (this is why, in general, median is a better datapoint than average). 

Average and median LEGO brick price from 2017. 

LEGO pretty regularly turns over their product offerings, which means that popular sets become scarce a year or two after their first release. I compared my initial purchase prices for my sets to the the current lowest price on Amazon (not including shipping). 

Price change for sets purchased in a given year to current lowest price on Amazon. 

This chart makes it look like LEGO would be a great investment, but note that what I'm comparing is the asking price on Amazon, not the actual sale price. There are also significant fees when selling items on Amazon or eBay. Here's another look at the price change, this time by series. 

Price change for sets purchased in a given year to current lowest price on Amazon, by series.

LEGO Star Wars, Harry Potter, Technic, and BrickHeadz increased in value most consistently. The highest price increase, 885.30%, was actually for a Harry Potter branded BrickHeadz set, Harry and Hedwig (the only Harry Potter set I purchased in 2017). 

This is a relatively small data set, but it does not appear that LEGO sets increase in value significantly in the years following their retirement. Sets from 2017 that are now retired are not consistently listed for higher prices than sets from 2019. I suspect this trend will continue until the ten or twenty year mark, at which the nostalgia factor will kick in

If you're curious to see the individual set details, you can see the full spreadsheet here. I am really pleased with Google's improvements to their pivot table implementation. 

If you enjoyed this post, you should subscribe to our YouTube channel, Bricks and Bikes!

Friday, December 25, 2020

My 2020 Reading Statistics

2020 was a strange, stressful, and busy year, but our family did quite a bit of reading. The year isn't quite over, but it felt like a good time to assemble some statistics.

Words read/listened in 2020

Like many people, I worked from home much more in 2020 than in prior years. This cut my audiobook time down considerably (I listened to the a substantial portion of The Wheel of Time, approximately 2.5 million words, in 2019). 

2020 was also the first year my kids got really into chapter books. We read every evening before bed, and in 2020 we transitioned from re-reading the same children's books over and over to reading chapter books. (a transition that brought me much joy!) We worked our way through 18 books.

Words read with my kids, by genre

The total word count of Pok√©mon books is likely skewed high, because the word count from for most of the Pokemon book series is based on page count. 

We read The Hobbit in 2019, but this year showed that books with kids (or dogs) as protagonists really appeal to my family (we tried to start The Fellowship of the Ring, but the kids weren't into it). 

Words read/listened by myself, by genre

My preference for personal reading is clearly fantasy, though my stats are skewed a little. First, I read a lot for work, which is not reported here because I often read parts of reference books (rather than reading cover-to-cover) and such books do not always have word counts available. I also opted not to include word totals for books I have not finished, which is why Non-Fiction/History is at zero (I am about 60% done reading The Defender).

Monday, December 7, 2020

Week Three Themes

 We had some amazing submissions last week! This week's themes are Warm and Fuzzy and Where do you see yourself in five years?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

LEGO Competition Season Two!

 It's time for another LEGO competition! This time it's for adults and kids. Tag me or email me your submission photos by 4pm Thursday. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Looking for a counterpoint to Little House on the Prairie?

I have fond memories of reading Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder's other books as a child. Their episodic stories of frontier life fit my third grade attention span perfectly, and the descriptions of ingenuous living off the land were captivating.

Photo via Birchbark Books

When I picked them up (starting with Little House in the Big Woods) again a few decades later to share with my children, I largely found them to be as enjoyable as I recalled. However, when we reached Little House on the Prairie I was startled by the racism Wilder expresses so clearly toward the Native Americans her family encountered.

Jack hated Indians, and Ma said she didn’t blame him. She said, “I declare, Indians are getting so thick around here that I can’t look up without seeing one.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. Little House on the Prairie (p. 214). Kindle Edition. 

Reading aloud to my kids, I addressed this by doing some on-the-fly editing and by encouraging my sons to reflect on the Native Americans' perspective (random white people showing up in their land). However, after we finished 'Little House I decided we needed to try something different.

Googling for alternatives, I came across The Birchbark House by Minnesota author Louise Erdrich. Set in approximately the same time and location as 'Little House, The Birchbark House (and its sequels) meet the standard Wilder set for episodic, child-friendly adventure and provide a fictional Native American (Ojibwa, specifically) point of view on the westward movement of white families.

The ogimaa or the president of all of the chimookomanag had sent a message to the leaders of the Ojibwe. That message was simple. They must leave their homes. The ogimaa said that the government now owned the ground they lived on. It was needed for white settlers. He had issued a removal order. He had decided that land payments would be given out in a new place in the west.

Erdrich, Louise. The Game of Silence (Birchbark House) (p. 23). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Its protagonist, a girl named Omakayas, is of an age with Laura and experiences many similar struggles (e.g., relationships with siblings and parents, rough winters, etc). However, Erdrich addresses the affects of smallpox head on, which is far rougher territory than Wilder ever touches. It was an apt discussion, allowing me to describe the differences and similarities between smallpox and COVID-19.

I highly recommend The Birchbark House.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Board Book Self Publishing FAQ

I've had a handful of people reach out to me asking for advice on self publishing a board book. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but here are my answers to come of the common questions.

Q: Should I Make a Board Book? 

I would not expect to make a profit by self-publishing unless you have an established audience or a strong niche connection. It is very hard to get large retailers to carry self-published books, and self-published books are difficult to market. I have written and self-published four books and only Goodnight Server Room made money.

If you are not confident you can hit the sales needed to cover the cost of board book printing, consider using print on demand services (e.g., Lulu, CreateSpace) as an alternative. They can't do board books at a sustainable margin, but if you don't expect more than 500 sales, using them to print paperback books is likely the only viable path for self-publishing.

Q: If you did your project again, would you still do a board book?

Yes! I would absolutely make it a board book again; I think kids in the 2-3 age range engage better with books with which they can freely interact.

Q: Did KickStarter work as you hoped?

Yes. The things that helped me most were 1) I was speaking to a niche audience and 2) I was filling a space that had few other offerings. KickStarter didn't cover all the manufacturing costs, but it covered a good chunk of them. KickStarter's funding model (only funding your project if you hit your goal) also works well because backers get a safety net on their commitment.

When you do your KickStarter, make *sure* you have catchy, polished artwork.

Q: Are you satisfied with the books you ordered from China?

Yes. The quality is indistinguishable from American-printed books.

Q: Do you sell more books on Amazon or Etsy? 

I sell more on Amazon, but the profit margin is better on Etsy, because Etsy takes a much smaller cut of each sale.

Q: Any guidance you have for me on sales goals (how many books you sold in your first year..)

For Goodnight Server Room, I sold approximately 700 books in the first year and about 500 books over the following two years. If I recall correctly, I broke even about 16 months after starting the project.

For my other book projects, I have not broken even (my other projects haven't found a niche audience, as mentioned above).

Q: Assuming you're storing the books yourself before distribution: could you estimate the volume of 2,000 freshly printed board books?

I received ~20 boxes of 96 books each for a total volume of approximately half a cubic meter. The total weight was about 300Kg.

Q: Can you share any insights on what percentage of your orders came from outside the US?

Approximately 5% of the KickStarter orders were from outside of the U.S., primarily from Canada and Europe. Most of the subsequent orders have been from the U.S., though I got a burst of international orders when @SwiftOnSecurity tweeted about it.

Q: Do I need an ISBN and a barcode?

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for your book. In my experience, most retailers require both an ISBN and a barcode to sell a book. For Goodnight Server Room I purchased both through Bowker.