Conversations About Death

How do I set the tone for this post?

 

While everyone else is writing about determination and resolutions, or anti-resolutions and sending images to remind you of hope and happiness in the new year, I want desperately to tell you my story.  Because as much as the new year is about what’s to come, it is also tied to thoughts of the past.

 

Today is the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death. Anniversary seems like a stupid word for something so sad, but it is an accurate enough one.

 

Earlier today, I was driving away from the park and drove right past a cemetery. Instantly, I decided that today I would take the girls with me to visit my brother’s cemetery.

 

I can’t really explain what reason I have for visiting the cemetery, which is probably why I don’t do it that often. It’s sad when I go.  Seeing how all the surrounding stones have birth dates from the early 1900s while my brother’s is from the 1980s is hard. Those people had long years and most likely full lives.  It’s hard.

 

The girls have been to the cemetery with me before and with my mom as well. At three and four years old, there are many experiences the girls have had, but a year later it’s like it’s the first time again.

 

Greysen (4 years) remembered the place and the general circumstances, as well as the routine of our visits. Moon (3yrs) did not. She had very specific questions.  With the same bounce in her step as she had at the park, Moon wanted to look around. She wanted to talk about the flowers, trinkets, and photos that decorate the grave sites.

 

Moon wanted to know about how my brother died.  Also not uncommon of many 3 year olds, she wanted to ask me the same questions over and over.

 

Several variations of the same story later, the husband asked, “Are you OK or should I shut her down?” – his playful way of supporting me and letting me know that he would let them know I could answer the questions later.

 

I instantly replied, let them ask. Let them know.

 

They were curious and wanted to hear the simple truths of what had happened. Children need honesty from us. It’s something we can overlook or easily avoid by telling ourselves that they are too young or that the truth is too sad.

 

The simple truth is that children deal with sadness all the time. We may not feel that their reactions are always proportionate to the offense, but there are many days when children feel hurt, disappointed, and sad at some loss that is very personal to them.

 

Talking to them about my memory of that sad day was a start. My explanations to them may have been an outline of the greater story I will one day share with them, but it was a whole story nonetheless.

 

Like most varied book collections, the girls have books about death. I bought them Tough Boris and Sophie by Mem Fox before they were born.  The girls talk about death and things dying the way most young children do, with a basic understanding but also with a few specific inaccuracies.

 

While books and story lines (theater, movies) makes the idea of death accessible, it doesn’t really help make the subject meaningful at this point in their lives.  Books were something I made a point of buying, but eventually I expect that it is our conversations that will really be the resource for my children when they one day have to cope with sadness from their own losses.

 

So, I guess in the end this was a post about hope after all. Hope that all we do in our honest efforts as parents will one day be something for our kids to hold onto – that our conversations will become reference points for navigating their own paths through the sad times.

 

Facilitating the Learning Process

HomeschoolCoopMain

HomeschoolCoopMain

Right around mid-May, I started to get anxious. There were only a few more weeks left of school, and I was worried about how we would all adjust to this change in our routine. The girls (3 and 4 years old) attend preschool twice a week for four hours each day. It’s not a lot, but it is a significant part of their lives.

 

Simultaneously, I was also starting to hear about the schools our 5 year-old friends would be attending in fall which led me to realize that by this time next year we would need to know what school Greysen would be attending. One of our options is homeschooling.

 

The appeal of homeschooling my daughters is the opportunity to provide them with an education that strives to keep their passion for learning intact.

 

Over this last month, I met weekly with different groups of children and parents for the mutual benefit of our children, but my ulterior motive was to figure out what I really wanted for the girls if we were to participate in a homeschooling co-op.

 

I will be sharing over a series of posts what I really value in a homeschooling co-op experience. There are lots of other guidelines I have for schooling on our own, but these are all relevant to the benefits of children learning in groups.

 

If I were to narrow down all the things I care about regarding education to a single thought, it would be that I want my children to be active partners in their learning.

 

Thus, I’ve come up with my five rules for educating during the early years, which I’ll share throughout a few upcoming posts. Let’s get right into the first:

 

Refrain from being the all-knowing teacher.

 

Adults can easily fall into the all-knowing teacher role for many reasons. Most often it’s because that was our experience as students. From their seats on the rug, children still often watch their teachers at a blackboard or easel as they direct the learning and impart knowledge.

 

There is another way.

 

Consider a comparison between two teaching styles.

The Authoritarian Teacher

What do children learn when I teach?
• Facts and information
• I (the teacher) will have the answers
• How to sit still and listen

 

Learning facts and information is great. Kids love to learn about the world around them. We have these kinds of learning opportunities all the time, but its only part of the way children can experience learning.

 

There are many areas of our lives where my children look to me and my husband for the answers. Mike and I do provide guidance and flat out limits when it comes to our daughters’ health and safety, so there is no discussion in that arena. However, anything else is pretty much fair game, and we encourage them to research topics in which they are interested, which often necessitates a trip to the library or a seeking out an expert in the chosen subject matter.

 

When children are fascinated by something, they can stay engaged for a long time. Sitting and listening develops with maturity, and occurs when children are capable of doing so on their own.

 

The Facilitator

What can children learn when I don’t teach (and instead assume the role of guide)?

• Facts and information
• I can help them find the answers, but won’t provide them
• How to listen and lead
• How to hypothesize and think of possible solutions

 

Facts and information are important to learning, which is why I try to help children learn that there are many ways, in addition to using me as a resource, to find answers. It’s a valuable life skill!

  • We regularly make use of reference books, and the library in general.
  • Occasionally we use Internet resources, especially to find images of something we are learning about. I fully expect that we will further incorporate the Web as a resource when the girls are older.
  • We ask experts. Asking others what they know about something is a great way to get information.

 

In addition to meeting community members or speaking to professionals about their questions, we also look to the children as relative experts. When a child asks you a question, we might suggest speaking to another child who might have the answer. Every child is an expert at something, whether it be at building the highest tower with blocks, writing, or helping other kids feel better. Learning that children can be a resource can develop confidence and foster relationships between children.

 

Homeschool_Coop

 

We Learn How to Listen.
Children learn how to listen and express their ideas when they can practice speaking within a group of children. Hearing other children’s ideas may inspire their own. By explaining themselves, children can develop communicative skills integral to leadership and participation on society at large.

 

We Learn How to Hypothesize
When children are not taught a lesson, but rather are proposed with an idea, they have time to hypothesize. A group of children can generate ideas that a lone child might not think of.

 

To illustrate between a lesson taught with the teacher as an expert versus a teacher as a guide, here is an example lesson on the life cycle of a frog.

 

Scenario 1: With the teacher as expert, the teacher would explain the life cycle of a frog, likely using visuals or realia. The children would participate in a follow-up activity of some sort, coloring a life cycle worksheet, or reviewing what they had just been told in some way.

 

Scenario 2: With the teacher as guide, the teacher may start by gauging what children may already know about a frog’s life cycle. In letting children talk about what they know first before teaching, the teacher finds out if they have any questions or misinformation about the subject. Most importantly, the teacher guide can find out what the children are most interested in learning about pertaining to the frog’s life cycle. Perhaps the group will be most excited about how the frog spawns eggs, or why some animals have tails and others do not – aspects of the frog’s life cycle that the teacher expert may not have even included in the lesson.

 

When children participate, they learn to find the solutions to the questions they have. Which animals have tails, and which don’t? They may take a survey by going on an observational walk of animals in their neighborhood. They might research a reference book, or seek an expert’s opinion by asking a vet to come in and answer their questions… The possibilities are limitless, and so is the learning, which cannot as easily be said for when teaching as the expert.

 

 

“For Dewey, education also [had] a broader social purpose, which was to help people become more effective members of democratic society. Dewey argued that the one-way delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in democratic society. Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.”
-James Neill

 

 

For me, the first priority in the early years is how children are learning. Learning about a frog’s life cycle is valuable, but teaching in a way that best helps retain that information and how to find that information again is a skill that they can use throughout the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

REFERENCE
Neil, James. (2005). John Dewey: The Modern Father of Experimental Education

A Peaceful Toddlerhood

RIE Peaceful

RIE Peaceful

 

The outdoors are immeasurably valuable to young children’s growth and development. Developing a connection and awareness of nature and wildlife is a priority for my daughters’ childhood.

 

When my daughters and I go outdoors, I have no intentions for “education” to happen, though it always does.

 

This week the lesson was for me.

 

As Greysen and Moon (3 and 2 years old) age, I find myself occasionally reviewing the RIE Principles. These tenets were easier for me to see and understand when the girls were infants and toddlers, but now I find myself trying to figure out how I can support the development of an authentic childhood as they get older.

 

RIE Peaceful_01

 

Last I looked at the list of characteristics of children who experience an authentic childhood as explained by RIE, the word “peaceful” jumped out at me. As infants, it was much easier for me to see how the children were serene, but now as toddlers? Let’s just say that when I think of my children, it is not in the top 10 list of words that come to mind. My children are great, active, enthusiastic, loving, curious, connected, conversational, and challenging – but peaceful?

 

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Last week I kept asking myself how I could create the circumstances that would allow for my children to feel peaceful. In time, I realized that as we went about our regular days, they experienced this type of engagement regularly.

 

 

 

Just like me, Greysen and Moon were most peaceful when:

  • We were outside. There is something about being surrounded by natural beauty that young children connect with.
  • They have autonomy.  When the girls had the opportunity to direct their own play, games, etc., they were peaceful. Peace in toddlerhood very often happens while children are engrossed.
  • They had regular periods of uninterrupted time to play. When the girls play they need a fair amount of time to get their play going or to just hang out.

 

 

In childhood, peace isn’t always serene or calm, though it absolutely can be. Greysen is absolutely joyful here, but I suspect that there could be peaceful feelings teeming underneath.

 

RIE_Peaceful_Joy

 

What does peaceful look like in the life of your toddler or young child?

 

 

 

The Critical Step of Acknowledgement

Acknoledging_Children's_Feelings

My path to understanding how to acknowledge my children’s emotions has been a long one. I don’t know why something so simple was SO hard for me to incorporate into my parenting practices.

 

Acknowledging children’s emotions as I learned in my RIE 1 class felt uncomfortable and unresolved. I felt like I wasn’t helping. When Mike first heard me “acknowledging” Greysen’s feelings by sportscasting, he questioned the technique. I don’t remember what he said exactly but it went something like, “Doesn’t she know what just happened? Why are you saying it again?”  Valid point. Why was I?

 

The answer to his question is something that I did not yet understand.

 

Responding to High Emotions
I rarely take the girls to the grocery store anymore. With some planning, I am able to go a couple of times a week on my own. However, last week I tried to bake a cake a Frankenstein cake, which crumbled when I tried to take it out of the pan. So to the store we went for three ingredients. With just three ingredients to get it seemed like it would be an easy trip.

 

We walked along, picking up our things and went to the self checkout registers. From her preferred position of the grocery cart seat, Greysen had a view of everything I was doing.

 

Greysen:    Can I do that? (Referring to the scanner)

Me:             No, this machine is for adults to use.

Greysen:    Mom, can I push the button?

Me:             No, I need to pick the right numbers.

Greysen:    Mom, look at that. (She points to a lollipop display on the counter) Mom, can I have one?

Me:             No, we are not buying candy today. (Not surprising, as I never do.)

Greysen:    NO!!!!! BUY ME THAT NOW!

 

My cheeks burned red with the attention that her screams surely raked my way. Frustrated with what selfishly felt like an unfair situation, I start an autopilot calm voice response, “Stop screaming, take a breath.”

 

This helps me do the same. I breathe. I remember, I can do this  . . . and I believe it. I need to start again.

 

I lean down, breathe and say, “You want a lollipop.” I wait. She clenches her teeth and throws her neck back, grimacing and groaning. I kindly continue, “I said, no.”

 

She cries and kicks. I lean close, no longer afraid of letting these emotions be, “Do you want a hug?”  She falls into me.

 

Before prioritizing acknowledgement as suggested here, my strategy would have been to start with, “Stop screaming and talk to me in a regular voice.”  Truthfully, I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have said more. I would have tried to work through her upset feelings rather than taking the time to accept her emotion first.

 

I have been working on establishing acknowledgement as part of my every response to upset feelings since I was at a recent lecture by Janet Lansbury. I came to shift my practice by coming to a new understanding of acknowledgement.

 

 

How I Started To Acknowledge My Child’s Feelings

 

 

Acknoledging_Children's_Feelings

 

1. Acknowledge the situation the child is in.
State the circumstances/facts. This is a factual statement about the challenge your child is experiencing. “You wanted candy and I said no.”

 

2. Before saying more . . . stop right there.
Take a breath and wait for your child to respond before saying more – if you decide there is more to say. It is really hard to stop at number one. When I stop at that statement, my daughters usually respond to that statement alone. More often than not, it’s a nod or cry and a motion for a hug. It ends there.

 

  • Consider why I wanted to say more. We so often want to say more. We spend so much of our time as parents of young children explaining the world that it seems only natural that this circumstance would be no different. I spend a part of each day answering “why” questions about minutia, so doesn’t something as significant as a display of intense emotions deserve some conversation? Perhaps, but in my experience, this is not the time. I still have a very strong urge to explain the “why” of what is happening. ” I’m not buying candy because . . . “

 

  •  Hold off on presuming an emotion. I naturally want my children to know that I understand them. I want them to know that I can see that they are sad, hurt, disappointed, or angry as a means of accepting those feelings. “I can see that you are upset about not having a lollipop right now.”

 

  •   Don’t immediately look for a solution. When we focus our efforts on allowing our children to have their feelings rather than on moving through those feelings, our efforts become less about a solution and more about acceptance. This still astounds me. There are likely many solutions around that would make my daughter feel better, but were I to start working towards a solution this critical step of acceptance might be missed.

 

 

In her lecture, Janet shared story after story about children expressing their feelings. These tales centered around the expressions of upset infants and toddlers. Janet did not offer explicit instructions on how to resolve a conflict between toddlers or guide an infant through sad emotions, although she taught me to do exactly that.

 

The examples of acknowledgment revolved around acceptance – allowing expressions of sadness or frustration to be expressed, and accepting those feelings so that our relationship emerges deepened by the connection of our shared experience. I needed to hear several stories about emotions and not about solutions to understand that I needed to redefine what acknowledgment of someone’s feelings means in practice.

 

I didn’t always believe that we would get through these instances without tears (mine or my Greysen’s).  Her intense reactions still often trigger feelings of anxiety and fear, but they are fleeting.  I am beginning to understand how to accept my daughter’s emotions as a pivotal point in responding to feelings that used to very easily overwhelm me.

 

 

When Young Children Don’t Want to Wear Costumes

Kids_Don't_Want_To_Wear_Costumes

Involving our children in holiday traditions is arguably one of the most anticipated things about having children. Ornaments painted with endearing sayings about our “Baby’s First Christmas,” and bibs with witty holiday related sayings are a way to share what we know to be the memory making moments of our lives.

 

There can be as much anticipation and excitement around Halloween as any of the other major holidays. Trying to decide on a funny or cute costume for our children is a big part of the Halloween fun but sometimes, despite our thoughtful choices and prepping, young children may be unwilling to wear their costumes.

 

Disappointment in missed photos and perceived fun can lead some parents to try to get their children to dress up. Parents can make promises of enjoyment and bribes of candy that may get a child into a costume, but for whose sake?

 

What if instead of making a child wear a costume parents . . . just didn’t.

 

 

No Costume, No Problem
For several years now, my friend Kimmy’s son has been uninterested in wearing a costume, but it never seems to hinder his or their family’s enjoyment of the holiday and surrounding Halloween parties.

 

Kimmy is always prepared with a costume, bringing one along just in case. And while all the other children are costumed, her family contentedly joins in the fun without any attempt to coerce and sneak part of the costume on, not even for a photo.

 

I have admired her respectful approach for some years now and so I asked my friend Kimmy to share her experiences and thoughts about her 4 year old son’s reluctance to wear a costume.

 

 

How did you feel when C did not want to wear his costume?

Kimmy: “When C didn’t wear his costume in previous years, I felt that it was probably uncomfortable for him (physically, and perhaps something new emotionally, causing discomfort) and that perhaps he just wasn’t ready for it yet. In his time, he would be. Last year was the first year we trick or treated. He was ready for it, but we didn’t try before that because he wasn’t interested yet. Last year was the first year he wore his costume as well.

This year he is more excited and even though he didn’t wear his costume for long at a party, he was excited to help make it with Daddy, and wears it for short periods. I noticed that the boys were the only ones who took off their costumes at the party. I wasn’t bothered by it because I felt like they were more comfortable without it on and they weren’t bothered by not wearing it.”

 

 

Why did you not ask C to wear the costume anyway?

Kimmy: I didn’t push him to wear it because I put myself in his shoes. Would I be comfortable wearing it? Maybe not. If he doesn’t want to wear it that is fine. I want him to enjoy the celebrations in his own time and in his own way.
 

How did you help him stay included in the Halloween festivities without a costume?

Kimmy: To stay included in the festivities this past Sunday, we asked him if he wanted to participate in, for example, pin the nose on the pumpkin, the crafts, the piñata, and the parade. He only chose to participate in the piñata. I was happy for him that he enjoyed the piñata. Even though he chose not to participate in any of the other activities I knew that he wasn’t bothered by it. I was glad he tried one when he was ready for it.

 

I think the main thing is that I want the boys to feel comfortable and to explore what they are comfortable exploring. They were really interested in the train table at the party and eventually after about an hour, C felt comfortable enough to try a Halloween activity.

 

Last year, when we trick or treated, C had a friend who he was comfortable with and they went up to the doors together. My husband started out helping him walk to the door, but by the end of the night C was able to go alone with his friend while we waited. C didn’t say trick or treat at the start of the night, but he did say it quietly at the end.

 

I am all about celebrating little moments and small victories, especially with C. No small victory is ever really small in our book. Because many situations are more challenging for him and cause him to be more uncomfortable to start, we try and do it all in baby steps. We start slow and offer a lot of support and encouragement, and he gradually comes around.

 

I also reflect back on my childhood and things that I was or wasn’t comfortable with. Many of these things are similar to what C encounters, and so I really try and put myself in his shoes as I remember how hard certain things were for me, and that helps me to better understand what he is going through and how I can best support him in that.

 

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Thanks to Kimmy for sharing her perspective and experiences with us. Hope you have a Happy Halloween with or without a costume!

Parenting Worries

deliberateparenting11

The Bell Curve of Worries

For the most part, I do not worry about most of my parenting decisions. I try to be intentional when it comes to parenting, and making mistakes is part of any relationship. I do my best. There are a few things I feel like I have a pretty good handle on; decisions that are right for my family and that we all feel good about. Then there are a few things about parenting that I worry about pretty much all the time.

 

While there are only a few things that I am preoccupied with, those things I fear have, over time, come to affect my parenting. Inspired by a friend to take a look at those fears, I decided that I wanted to face them once I realized how much of my daily life I was planning around avoiding things I feared might happen.

 

These fears are day to day ones, like being out with the girls when one of them decides to go into a full tantrum due to being tired. My solution? We’re home every day at nap time, no matter what. If I have an urgent errand, it will wait since avoiding a tantrum is an even higher priority. If I’d like to buy some milk and it’s noon? I’ll go to the store when the girls wake or after they rest (Greysen is not always napping these days). This may sound absurd to some parents, but to me doing without is a small price to pay to avoid all eyes being on me during one of the kiddo’s meltdowns.

 

I’ve had enough with the worry, but it’s a tough habit to break since I was raised to worry about everything. It is how I process and understand some things, and I think it helps me to be a more thoughtful person. However, I have decided that I want to lessen the things that I worry about when it comes to my daughters, because I want to model a different approach to worries than I was brought up with.

 

Ready to start small, I recently took a deep breath and headed off to a monthly local event that I have put off attending for well over a year.

 

The community event was at a local farm. While some parents may worry that their young children may trample the garden or wander off, I was worried about me. I was worried I’d be overwhelmed. What if I couldn’t watch the girls and help with the harvesting? What if my daughters were aggressive with the other children? What if I looked like an incapable parent? The worries, in my mind, outweighed my will to participate.

 

After running through a list of excuses in my mind that morning as to why it wouldn’t really matter if I went, and allowing the girls to lollygag their way through the morning, we went anyway. It was, of course, a lovely day.

 

Having faced that fear, I began to question what other things I have prevented myself (and my children) from doing.

 

The “what ifs” with children are endless. Some of those “just in case” decisions and “better safe than sorry” efforts can cause us to be unnecessarily cautious at times. I realize that I have not trusted myself to experience my life to the extent that I have wanted to. Going to the store at noon may not seem like some grand freedom, but the weight of that worry is more than I need to carry. It is not only my life that I am curtailing, but I am also limiting some of my daughters’ experiences unnecessarily.
It’s not cool for us parents to worry about average childhood experiences, such as when kids fall. We are very often encouraged to revel in their play and not worry about everyday things. And no matter how deeply parents may know that unfettered play is good for our children or how common tantrums can be, it can be difficult to set our concerns aside.

 

 

Do you have parenting worries? I’m not referring to those very real things that we need to worry about regarding our children’s healthy and safety. I mean the worries that keep us preoccupied when maybe we don’t really need to be.

 

 

I’m letting go. To try to lessen my worries, I’m going to do something with my daughters that I have been too worried to try. I’m going to tackle those worries over time and face a fear today, this week, and this month, working my way up to a play date – something I fear above all else.

 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I tackle one scary park date, playgroup, or noon time errand at a time.

Why I Didn’t Step In When Kids Told My Daughter to Go Away

Kids_Rejecting_Kids

Children pick and choose play partners. Their willingness to meet and play with other kids is not necessarily hampered by whether they know these kids.  Play groups form naturally whereever play occurs. From school yards to playgrounds, children’s play is critical for practicing how to get along with others, how to make friends, and really just how to keep on keepin’ on.

 

A Girl Rejected. This weekend while at a birthday party, my three year old daughter, eager to play with kids as usual, climbed up a small backyard slide with a deck and stood politely among three older children (between the ages of 5 and 9). I was sitting alone at a table nearby for the purpose of keeping an eye on her. Though I was about 15 feet away, I could tell by her solemn face and stiff body that they were not having a friendly interaction. As the older kids shooed her away, Greysen stood wide-eyed and unsure, but steady.

 

I had to decide right there, should I come closer or stay out of it? Having intervened with this group of children at a previous birthday party in July, I was familiar with their routine of “get away kid, you’re bothering me.” The other thing I kept in mind was that while they were older than my daughter, they were children too.

 

The last time they asked her to leave, my daughter stood alongside her cousin, and together they played through the group of older children, not taking much notice of their dismissive ways. By my moving in closer, the children quieted, and my daughter and her cousin naturally moved away.

 

This time was different. My daughter stood alone and was acutely aware of their feelings.

 

As the children continued to speak, my daughter turned to me. I nodded and said, you can tell them, “No, I’m playing here.” Perhaps there were savvier words that I could have suggested, but that’s what I went with.  Fueled by my encouragement, she turned to them and said so confidently. The kids regrouped and talked some more. She stood waiting to get access to the slide, but now she was gripping the side of the structure. She looked at me while they spoke. Her face didn’t seem alarmed or hurt, but rather unsure. I stayed where I was, focused and available should she seem to need me. She looked back to the children and continued to wait. Within moments they spoke to her again and she responded to them again, this time with more determination -“NO.”

 

She wasn’t looking to me to be rescued, but rather for reassurance. So, despite the ache I was feeling for my daughter who was being told to leave, I stayed put waiting for her to indicate she needed more from me than she was getting.

 

The children spoke some more amongst themselves before one moved positions, climbing down. This spurred movement amongst all the children, and my daughter took this opportunity to slide down the slide.

 

She jaunted over to see me. I sat and waited, swallowing my urge to ask whether she was ok, and what did they say, etc.

 

As she twisted her leg to free her foot from her boot, she had three things to tell me:

1. Those kids were telling me to go away.
2. I’m going to play in the jumphouse now.
3. Can I have a red sugar candy?

 

Kids_Rejecting_Kids

 

I leaned down for a hug and held her for just the briefest moment, in which I felt a sting of the idea that there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.

 

Had I walked over to intervene, I could have spared Greysen two more instances of confrontation. I could have even possibility facilitated some play. There was a remote chance that I could have even helped her gain entry into their play.

 

Had I intervened, I could have taken over all those children’s play. I could have taken Greysen’s opportunity to stand up for herself, to bolster her tenacity, to negotiate, and to really listen to when she needs help and when she doesn’t.

 

The idea to not ask my child the 50 questions I had read was inspired by this post by Robin Whitcore and a response of approval (when I shared this post) by Lisa Sunbury.

 

The need to process and analyze may not be their need, but ours. At that moment, I chose to trust my daughter and our relationship. I gave her permission to take the lead of her emotional development since it was a manageable instance, and to not ask her to placate me with details.

 

What purpose would those questions have served other than to reassure me? When she has questions, she asks them. When she is upset, she cries. If she needed to talk, she would have.

 

That was that for her. Thus, that was that for me.

 

 

5 Overvalued Signs of a Good Preschool Classroom

traditional_classroom

With the start of school, I have had many conversations with parents who are visiting preschools for the first time or looking for recommendations from other parents.

 

Parents may look for and want very different things from programs. Some may have a general desire for their child to learn about science and math, while others may look forward to hanging some of their child’s art on the fridge. In either case, parents may look for things in the program that are not really useful things from which to judge a classroom.

 

Here is my list of five things parents look for in a good classroom that are really not helpful ways to critique a classroom.

 

5. A good director means a good classroom. A good director is absolutely essential, but parents all too often meet with the director and assume that the eloquently described practices are the run of the school. And while that is the case in many schools, it is also JUST as important to meet the specific teacher. A teacher should be able to simply and confidently explain the practices of the school and speak of those practices in alignment with the director.

 

4. A blue, yellow, and red classroom is a good children’s space.  Somehow, primary colors have come to dominate early childhood classrooms. From rugs to chairs, many ECE classrooms are doused in these three colors.  These brightly colored rooms have come to be what many think of when they think of when they envision a good ECE classroom.

 

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More and more, preschool classrooms are moving away from functional looks and evolving to more home-like settings, with muted colors and less stimulating decor.  Some parents may feel that natural wood furniture and muted colors aren’t fun or are too boring, but just the opposite is often true. As children are spending many of their waking hours in ECE programs, ECE professionals are acknowledging that children need spaces that are calming, comforting, and evoke feelings of home.  Of all the many children’s rooms I’ve seen “pinned” for their creativity and beauty, none of them have ever been primarily RED, YELLOW, and BLUE.

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A good classroom should feel like a good place to be, instead of an overwhelming, overstimulating hodgepodge of bright colors.

 

3. The more toys the better. A good school will have safe and interesting things for children to play with. A classroom with buckets upon buckets of toys may keep children entertained, but an overstimulating environment can also overwhelm. A few well-chosen toys based on the abilities and interests of the children is more valuable than wall-to-wall toys any day of the week.

 

A good classroom will have toys stored away, and rotate toys in based on the curriculum and children’s interests.

 

2. No art coming home is unusual/worrisome.  In the early years of school-based education, it is not always easy to get accurate or detailed accounts on how our children spend their days. Very often, the first words uttered when asked about a child’s day are, “I don’t know.”

 

Parents are often eager to reunite with them and hear about how they spent their days. At the end of the day, we as parents are looking for a way to connect to our children.  Besides being a starting point for conversation, artifacts such as art or other projects are evidence that our children spent time in some sort of meaningful activity.

 

Lots of art coming home can feel like evidence that our children are learning, playing, and, more specifically – doing something at school. When children spend their day dressing up, playing outside, helping to cook, or singing songs, the evidence of their learning and time well-spent is not as easy for us to see, especially when they can not yet talk about it.

 

And finally, number one. Though this is not something I have ever heard a parent say exactly, parents have expressed how important traditional academic materials are to them.

 

1. An alphabet on the wall (or rug) means my child will learn the things that matter. This may sound silly to some, but I have been asked while giving a school tour why we didn’t have an alphabet on our classroom walls. Academic information like alphabets, calendars, and word charts are very often things that adults look for in classrooms.

 

Are these types of posters or rugs really intended to teach children, or are they simply decoration?

 

If they are intended to teach, I say . . .

 

ABC posters cause me to wonder, are these educators able to take children’s perspectives?  Any information that you as an adult have to look up to see is not going to be seen, much less learned, by a very young child who learns best by having materials in hand. Was this environment prepared with children in mind, or simply by traditional standards?

 

Charts and posters are not the only ways in which children learn this type of information. I’d go even farther and argue it is also not the best way for them to learn the alphabet either. If you’d like to know how children learn the alphabet or about the passage of time (e.g., days of the week) in the classroom and don’t see these things around, ask the teacher. The best classrooms make children’s learning visible to parents by the use photographs or notes in newsletters or on bulletin boards.

 

And if these posters are intended for decoration, I say . . .  see number 4.

 

What do you look for in an early childhood education classroom? What types of things don’t matter to you?

 

 

IMAGE SOURCES

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Letting Go of My Inner Parenting Snob

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DeliberateParenting01

 

I’m not sure when it was that I first felt like a parent. I don’t think it was during pregnancy. I think the feeling settled in sometime after she was born and I was feeding and changing this small person, my daughter.

 

At the time, being a parent was about the relationships between the two of us. This often idyllic, sometimes confusing relationship between her and I was how I defined parenthood.

 

Our twosome soon expanded. Not by plan or design, but in time. We joined other children and parents at playgroups, at the park, at the library, etc. I came to know other children and care for them and their parents.

 

My definition of parenthood was being rewritten.

 

In the first years, I seldom meet other parents that thought like I did. I proudly wore my decisions and efforts as a parent like a badge of gentle parenting. I was quick to see differences and to write off others for their parenting decisions, until one play date with the “anti-me.” I realized that I was reserving that gentleness that I kept for my daughter for only other like-minded parents, instead of all parents.

 

Comrades. My friend Michelle sometimes calls us parents “comrades” in e-mails. This is the perfect reminder that we, as parents, are all in this together.

 

Committing to gentle, respectful, deliberate, intentional parenting – or however you refer to it – means embracing  principles and applying them broadly to humanity, not just your child. Ideas like respect, listening, and encouragement are avenues to building relationships with our children because we see them as people. Why, then, is it so much more challenging to extend these practices to other adults?

 

Abusive parenting aside, there are few parenting decisions that really cause a great divide between other parents and I. We may not feed our children the same way or discipline them using the same principles, but I’ve come to learn that parents whom I have encountered negotiate their decisions the same as I do.

 

There are parenting principles that I hold dear, but most of these decisions are not more important to me than the parent behind them.

 

Our relationships as parents are broader than those between ourselves and our children. To truly cultivate authentic children, they must see in us that which we expect of them.

Parenting Styles Do Not Define the Parent

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Toddler in Garden

 

As a stay at home parent, I try to balance my kids having time at home and time with family and friends. To broaden our social circle, I joined a parenting group after my daughter’s birth.  While the group was mostly positive, I had some unforgettable negative experiences. I felt out-of-sync when it came to relating to the other parents. No one was familiar with RIE or Reggio Emilia, which were the two philosophies that were guiding our parenting decisions.  In my daughter’s second year, I considered starting a parenting group based on my parenting practices and values rather than continuing on in the community based one I belonged to.

 

After researching and contacting a holistic parenting group (which seemed fantastic), I decided against it.

 

The more I got to know the other group members, the more I could relate to them as parents. I learned that the parents I admired most were the ones that based their parenting decisions on how they impacted their children. It wasn’t the conversations about baby-led weaning or cloth diapering – things that I continue to highly value –  that I ended up needing. Rather, it was the good-natured, child-focused parents that reminded me of the kind of parent that I want to be. They are my greatest supporters – even if only by example.

 

 

I have met some wonderful moms and dads whose love for their children is blinding. From the father who plays ring-around-the-rosie with his two year-old daughter for the eighth time despite the scorching heat, to the mother who chooses not to attend a good friend’s party because her son would be overstimulated by the chaos that is essentially a bounce house discotheque, they have helped me see the kind of parent I want to be.

 

I expected to need other adults in our life – especially other parents – so that I could have someone to bounce ideas off of and help me work through parenting struggles. What I didn’t expect was the impact other adults have had on my daughters’ greater sense of belonging.

 

 

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I have come to rely on the other adults in our lives to be part of my children’s understanding of this world.

 

I rely on other parents – especially those in my parenting group – to share who they are and what they know with my daughters. The parents who garden, for example, are passionate and knowledgeable about their craft. They have shared their expertise and their veggies. They have found a way for those of us less capable to still share in these experiences.

 

I think that it is the other parents in my children’s lives that have contributed to developing a healthy sense of trust in others. Parents who have taken the time to get down at eye level with my daughter to read her a book, or demonstrated how to finger knit, have contributed to her burgeoning sense of confidence. Based on her experiences, Greysen expects adults to be responsive to what she has to say. I credit those adults with instilling her with the confidence to order her own food when we are out, or ask questions to museum docents, business owners, and other adults we interact with in the world at large.

 

My daughters are as eager to see the other adults at playgroups as they are to see their peers.  Greysen, in fact, asks for them by name. Whether these adults eat organically or co-sleep is irrelevant in my daughter’s eyes. It is the generosity of their time, their respect for children’s ideas, and the gentleness of their hearts that draw my children in.

 

And so, I have surround myself with other parents. All types of parents. I’ve learned not to exclude myself from relationships based on parenting choices, but rather to look at their capacity to give of themselves by sharing their passions and spirit with my children. That is the world of adults I want my children to know.