We have all had those days, where your child(ren) need a little something more, you need a reboot... my son and I experienced one of those this past week. Middle of grading for courses, middle of planning another course, the middle of "stuff"- but in that middle-ness, I knew that we needed this. Oobleck.
We were scientists, and gathered our simple supplies- corn starch, water, and a bowl. I had a great set-up, all clean and pristine- but clean and pristine is not practical when you are a scientist. Science is messy, and we are okay with messy. If you have never made/experienced this mixture that is a solid and a liquid- you must try it. It will teach you about life. Really. The process, the mixture, it was one of those moments that I was so grateful that I just let happen, instead of trying to control it or direct it.
When you put your hands in and feel the mixture, it is hard, you can pick it up, you can tear it, but then the heat from your hand melts the mixture, and it gets runny and flows. The more I implored my son to keep the mixture inside the bowl (poor planning on my part- should have used a large plastic basin or at least a larger bowl), the more he wanted to go outside the bowl. We ended up pouring the mixture on our driveway. The look on his face was one of pure engagement- he was experimenting and playing and trying to make sense of this new strange mixture.
For me, the experience effected me on a deeper lever. The more I try to control things and force them, the less it actually happens the way I want it to. The times that I just let go and enjoy the experience and go with the flow, the better it is for everyone, including myself. I can try to grasp at things and hold them, but they eventually change and slip through my fingers, just like that oobleck. We are here on this planet for such a small amount of time- I would rather enjoy these moments and experiences and allow them to flow, and just be what they are, instead of trying to control it all. Trying to control everything is tiring. I don't like the person that I am in those controlling moments, I don't like the mom I am in those moments, I don't like the partner to my husband I am in those moments.
This is the image that I hold on to--- letting go, allowing the seed pods and grass to mix in with the mixture, my son totally immersed in the experience, totally content and at peace, and engaged. Going with the flow doesn't mean checking out and just letting things happen. I will still be active and involved in the experience, but I won't try to micromanage everything. Be present in the moment. Breathe.
I have a picky eater. He is like his mama and has a sweet tooth. We are working on making healthier choices, and a huge part of that process is involving him in the preparation of our food.
I have talked about these nylon knives before-- but they are AMAZING. Seriously. Head to Amazon right now and grab this set by Curious Chef (I don't get anything for sharing this resource-- I am that passionate about involving children in food prep!)-- http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Chef-3-Piece-Nylon-Knife/dp/B002Q5YH9C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459786491&sr=8-1&keywords=children%27s+plastic+knife+set
The key is to have all of the supplies set up, and go through the process so that your child understands the steps. We rinsed the strawberries, then he chose a berry, placed it on the cutting board, and cut off the stem. YES-- he cut off a bit more of the berry at times, but this about the process and trusting him. He was in the flow-- he cut the stems, placed them in the green bowl, then placed the whole berries in the clear glass container. He cut 2 packages of berries and was so focused. When he was done, we poured the stems into the silver compost pail, and he snacked on a few berries while we washed the dishes.
Another key- he was at the same height as the counter. HUGE! One of our dear friends gifted us their Learning Tower and I am loving it. It is really heavy, but such a great tool. Prior to the tower, we would just use a step stool or a chair, but I was always a little uneasy with that, this tower is pretty incredible. He can climb in and out of it independently. You can find the tower here- http://www.littlepartners.com/the-original-learning-tower
He knew that we were prepping the strawberries for smoothies and lunches, his active participation increases his "buy-in" and he is much more likely to eat what we have.
How do you involve your child in food preparation?
"If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves..."
Nature education.... what images come to mind? Do you think of people sitting around singing kumba-ya? Thanks to people like Richard Louv and organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation (and countless others!), the conversation about the importance of connecting our children with the natural world is becoming more mainstream.
Research proves that when children interact with nature, it improves their mental, physical and emotional health. When families participate in activities together in nature, it brings them closer and helps re-focus back on what is important- experiences over material objects. When communities engage together and create spaces where every member of the community has access to nature, the whole community benefits.
Where we live, we are blessed with an amazing city park system as well as an incredible county park system. We have green spaces and programming for children and families. There are groups that get together to go hiking, bird-watching, and learning about our native plants and wildlife. There are schools in our area that are dedicated to having children experience nature in a real, genuine, authentic way.
Even a simple walk in your neighborhood offers the opportunity to discuss trees, birds, plants and other creatures. We have to give ourselves permission to take the time to stop and slow down- to relish that walk that could take 15 minutes, but with a curious child, could take an hour. I love watching the parents walk in our neighborhood. They give space and time for their young children (just learning how to walk) to get close to the ground and touch and feel things. Touching the texture of the bark on a tree, smelling the pine needles, seeing the various flowers that are growing, and listening to the birds.
We keep a small pocket sized bird identification guide handy, as well as a tree identification guide. It isn't about having all of the answers or spouting off facts about the animals and plants, it is asking open-ended questions and leaving space for wonder. Leave that pause before you rush to answer the questions. See what other questions come up.
I recently had the opportunity to spend the morning with a second grade boy and fifth grade girl. We were going to go to the playground at a park, but on the way, drove past Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, and one of us commented on a gorgeous giant magnolia tree in bloom. They asked me what that place was, and asked if they could go there instead of the playground. The second grader asked right away "how much does it cost", and was astounded when I told him that it was free, but that it was a special space and that we needed to experience it in a different way than the playground or park.
We spent about an hour walking around, and our conversations were amazing--- talk about leaving space for questions and wonder... we talked about the dates on the headstones and they practiced their mental math skills. We talked about the various species of trees and plants, they explored the various ponds/lakes and discovered tons of shells inside those bodies of water! The second grade boy didn't want to leave. It was such a peaceful experience. My favorite quote of the day was from the fifth grade girl as we were driving away "We have lots of research to do now! We wouldn't have had all these questions and wonderings if we would have just gone to the playground". !!!
Trust your child. Trust yourself. Allow for the messy muddy feet and hands. Allow for the unanswered questions. This is where life-long learning happens.
"Passion does not arrive on a videotape or on a CD; passion is personal. Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature"
Contact me if you are interested in learning more about Little Acorn Explorers, a Montessori based, nature inspired program for children aged 3-6. Classic Montessori lessons/materials, plus tons of time outside experiencing all of the seasons and weather, exploring and making sense of our world.
The power of YES.
There are times our to-do lists are longer than our arms, that the house is a mess, and you are plugging away, trying to stay afloat. The image of a swan looking graceful, but paddling so fast underneath... Just stop. Give yourself a moment.
Today was one of those days in my house. I was not home last week to be with my family, so my amazing husband was here, holding everything together. And interviewing for a job and nailing it! So this week was the week of catch-up, but there is still. so. much. to. do. Husband took sweet son on an "adventure" (errands to the garden center and the grocery store) so that I could have time to work.
They got home and I was in the middle of work, but my son wanted to talk and play. So I stopped, I had some Adele playing and there was something about her music that speaks to him... I don't know if if the beats, but he and I had an impromptu dance party. Then he sat down and started coloring while I was working on my computer. He stopped and said "Mama, hold my hand?" YES. Yes. Always.
There is something that he is working through right now and he just needed some reassurance. How much easier would it have been to say "not now honey", but then I stop and remember, he is my why. These precious moments are fleeting. As we were dancing together, I remembered all of the other times I have danced with this sweet, spirited child. Dancing was one of the few things that would calm him down, so I would dance to the Philip Philip's song, Home, when he was a colicky infant. We danced when we moved to Cincinnati, a dance of joy. We dance when we are frustrated, or when the world is confusing. When his emotions are too much for him, we dance. Dancing seems to give us an outlet to process everything. So today, we danced, but today, he was much more independent. He has his own style (oddly reminiscent of my brother's moves!), and he owns it. His laughter and smiles. YES.
Does that mean that I always say Yes, oh no! There are definitely no's... probably more no's than I would like to admit to, but my point-- lean in to those moments when you have that chance to say YES and just let go. Let go of the expectations. Let go of looking all put together. Let go of what you think other people will think, and just dance. The message you are sending to your children when you allow yourself to be messy and allow yourself to feel your emotions and to be okay with yourself--- you are giving them permission to say YES to themselves. To tap into that primitive self that we all have, that just lets go. YES to being silly and goofy and dancing with abandon. YES to being yourself. YES to life. YES to the sorrow and the pain and the joy and the confusion. YES.
Family by blood, family by grace, family by choice. Our families come in all forms, but at the heart, family is home. Family is where you can be safe to let your hair down and be honest and vulnerable and crabby, and also where you learn firsthand about forgiveness and love.
I feel so lucky that I grew up with such a strong family. I am the second oldest of 5, and I can't imagine my life any other way. My siblings had (and continue to have) such an impact on the person I am today. My parents did such an amazing job about raising each of us as individuals with different interests and passions and strengths. They took time to create simple rituals that are still a part of our lives today. When it was someones birthday, that child was able to choose where they wanted to go for a special birthday meal, with just mom and dad. They had a "red plate" that was a special glass plate that was brought on on special occasions, but also on more ordinary times when my mom thought we needed to honor a family member. We sing a special song after the traditional "Happy Birthday" song that I have shared with my son and with my friends/framily. I always had someone to play with, and we had a very happy childhood. My parents instilled in us the value of hard work and serving others. They also lived with love... their love is something to behold. Their love taught us respect and how to work through challenges.
Now that I am a parent, I have a whole new appreciation for all of the big (and little) things they did for our family. My mom is still just a text away and I have sent her countless messages asking for her guidance on things with our son, but also with life.
Every night before bed, my son and I talk about all of the people in his life that love him. We talk about his Grammy and Grampy, and his aunts and uncles, and his Grandma and Grandpa, and we also talk about those friends who are family. I want our son to know about love in this world. I want him to notice it, and I want him to give it away freely. I want him to know that there are scary things and sad things, but when you are on the side of love, it will work out. I want him to love the earth and all of the people on this huge planet. I want him to love the plants and animals, and know how to take care of those things. I want him to love himself. To know how special he is for his unique qualities. I want him to know that others are just as special and that our differences can bring people together.
Things can change so fast, and it is so important for children to know that they have a group of people who are there for them, no matter what. No matter what. I used to use the word "tribe" but I feel like tribe can be exclusive, or something that you have to earn membership to.
Are families perfect? No way. It is through those imperfections that we learn how to deal with the world. We learn to love ourselves and forgive ourselves. We learn that we are all connected, each and every person on this planet.
What rituals or routines do you practice with your child to mark the ordinary days, and the special days?
Grace. What does that word mean to you?
For me, grace is not just an adjective, or a noun. Grace is a verb. Grace is messy. Grace is that thing that I tap into when I need to tackle a challenge or something I am afraid of. Presenting in front of a new audience, standing at a social event to promote my work, having to say no to someone when I know that it will disappoint them, but knowing it is what is best for me/my business/my family. Grace is that thing that holds me together at times. That space to breathe. That gentle reminder of my own strength.
Grace is also something to recognize in someone else. Not to put them up on a pedestal, but to recognize that they are working through their stuff also. They are in the arena, they are showing up. I can hear Brene Brown speaking about daring greatly and referring to Roosevelt's words:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms; the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the high triumph of achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails; at least fails while daring greatly" - Theodore Roosevelt
How do you show grace to your children? To your partner? How do you show your child how to show up and be in the arena? To face their fears and block out the opinions and voices of others? To live their truth. To make mistakes. To give others the space to do the same.
This might sound like something that isn't possible or important with children (especially young children). I believe that emotional health and is just as important for children as all of the "academic" subjects. Our children absorb everything in their environment, from our little idiosyncrasies to the way that we put ourselves down or the way that we interact with other people. Do we practice grace with our child when they don't measure up in our eyes? Do we practice grace with our partner when they do the same thing you have asked them not to do, for the tenth time?
Grace is hard work. It is not all flowery and pretty, like the image above suggests. But grace is beautiful. Grace in action is something to behold. When I think of grace, so many images come to my mind... the parent with the sick child at 3 am, the nurse in the hospital room listening to someone's life story, the teacher working with a child whose needs she is trying to meet, the adult child helping take care of their parent; the crossing guards all across our country who stand out in all types of weather to protect our children, the armed forces who protect us at home and abroad, the emergency service providers, the people who actually pull over when the ambulance or fire truck approaches...
I encourage you-- start looking for grace each and every day. It is there. It is something you can practice and talk about with your children and as a family.
Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to add warmth to your home? Plants!!!
This is also a great way to include your children in care of your home-- plant care.
Have a little caddy with a small spray bottle or plant mister, some q-tips, small flannel cloths and a small hand towel folded.
Show your child how to mist the plant, then use the q-tip, cotton ball or cloth to wipe the dust from the leaf. "Leaf cleaning" is a popular work in the Montessori classroom, and one that can be translated easily to home. You can also introduce plant watering, have a small tray, small pitcher, and some sort of "watered" symbol- I use popsicle sticks. The child feels the soil to see if the plant is dry, pours water into the pot, then places the marker/stick into the soil to show that the plant has been watered. It is a good visual cue to children to stop before watering again to check the moisture of the soil.
As the weather begins to change, you can involve your child in care of your garden, or give them their own container garden. They can choose the plants that go inside and take the ownership and responsibility to water their plants. Involve them in weeding- show them what the weeds look like and work side by side. I will never forget when I was teaching in Charlottesville, I took my group of 8 Kindergarten age children out to one of the plant beds that needed attention and they worked so hard- they were so careful to only pick the weeds, and they loved having child-sized gloved on!
I love the work that I do with families. I love connecting and helping create solutions. I love sharing ideas, but I especially love figuring out how to meet each client's individual needs. This was one of my favorite projects so far. Lovely family with three girls. The three girls share a bedroom, and have one main play area. The three girls also have different developmental needs, so my goal was to give each girl her own space that celebrated her uniqueness and interests.
During the first session, mom and I re-worked the layout of their bedroom, giving each girl her own dresser (thank you to her husband and my husband who lent their muscles to get a dresser from the basement up to their room!). We then eliminated extra furniture, re-purposed some furniture, and really made sure each girl had her own space. We went through all of their clothes and mom made a pile for donation and then another pile for consignment.
That evening, I received a phone call and pictures from the mom showing the work that her daughters did together to make a little "doll clubhouse" for daughter #3. They all worked together and mom said the girls were so excited for their newly purposed space!
During our second session, we tackled the play room. Mom had moved the large piano out, and in its place, placed a re-purposed crib that she built into a daybed. Now the girls have a cozy spot to sit and read! We cleared the bookcases and gave each girl her own shelf to display whatever she wanted to- framed pictures, special little treasures or books.
We then made piles for donation, consignment and storage. We re-organzied the shelf that was holding all of their stuff, and just kept out a few games. The other games are nearby under the daybed for easy access.
The goal was to simplify and make this space usable and encourage order and creativity. The floor space is open now and allows for lego creations and room for board games. We had re-purposed a small nightstand and centralized all of the dress up items to that location.
The mom took advantage of our decluttering special and partnership with Rhea Lana's of North Cincinnati. I dropped off her donations to St. Vincent, then took all of her items for consignment to Nikole at the shop in Forest Fair Village. Nicole logged and tagged everything, then at the end of the sale, will mail a check to this mom. Win all the way around!
Contact me at 513-873-3591 to book your session. Let's work together to create a space for your child!
Chores..... I bet that word conjures up all sorts of reactions in your family.
I propose that we re-frame the word we use and instead call it a task. According to Mirriam-Webster, chore is defined as "a small job done regularly" and "a dull, unpleasant, or difficult job or experience". In my mind, a task is more manageable to consider.
Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to meet with four different groups of parents- so fun! One of the topics that comes up is "chores" and allowances. A father shared how his family handled chores in his house when he was growing up. Everyone has chores/tasks to complete every day, simply because they are a member of the family. These chores/tasks are not attached to money. They did them because that was the expectation. They had an allowance, but it was not dependent on their chore/task.
I love this idea. Every person contributes to the running of the household as is appropriate. Let't talk about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation--- Intrinsic motivation: I do the right thing/contribute/help out because that is the right thing to do. Extrinsic motivation: I do the right thing because I am going to get some reward for doing what you want me to do. Rewards could be food, money, experiences. It is a slippery slope on that path, my friends!
When we raise the bar in terms of expectations, and also check ourselves to make sure we are showing respect for our children, they will rise to the occasion. My 3 year old son loves to help fold the laundry. His folding skills are not quite there yet, but he loves sitting with us as we fold and put clothes into piles. And he LOVES to put the clothes into the bag, help carry it upstairs and then take it out of the bag and help put it away!
Maria Montessori said "If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves.." (The Discovery of the Child, p. 57)
A search on Google or Pinterest will give you loads of suggestions on age-appropriate tasks for your child. The key is to start small, have the correct child-size tools for the task, and model/show how the task is to be completed. Understand that in the beginning, when your child is washing the windows or mirrors with a squeegee and spray bottle of water and vinegar, there will be lots of clean-up. When your child is setting the table, they might skip something. Give them grace to figure it out. Be there for support, but trust them. Be consistent, remain calm, and trust your child (and yourself!).
If you choose to give an allowance, that is a great time to talk about money and budgeting. Introduce a tiered approach- saving for something, donating to a charity, and spending. There is a great article about the importance of talking about money awareness beginning at age 3- check out Bankrate for this article. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/financial-literacy/4-money-lessons-for-children-to-master-1.aspx
Have 3 separate containers for the money- a save container, a spend container and a donate container. This helps the child begin to develop critical thinking skills about the value of money, and also underscoring the fact that it is not just about them. We are raising our son to see that we are part of a larger community, and that we are all connected. We help other people and the earth in our small ways by the choices we make, every single day.
Montessori stated that "It is a mental chemistry that takes place in the child, producing a chemical transformation. These impressions not only penetrate the mind of the child, they form it; they become incarnated, for the child makes his own 'mental flesh' in using the things that are in his environment. We have called this type of mind the 'absorbent mind' and it is difficult for us to conceive the magnitude of its powers." -Education for a New World, p. 14
More time inside, more opportunities for play dates.... which in theory sound AWESOME- kids play and mamas get to catch up.... right??!!!
So here is where we will begin-- respect. I tell my son that we are going to someone else's home and they are sharing their toys with us. We treat their things with care and we help clean up when it is time to go. Have I had to have conversations with our son before about breaking a toy (even on accident)- yes- but the point is- we have the conversation. He understands that we are guests in someone else's home, and that there are natural consequences if his behavior gets out of control. If he isn't listening or being respectful of the friend and their things, the playdate is over. Period. No bargaining. Even if he is crying and says he is very cross with me (he is a Thomas fan!), my message and expectation remains consistent.
When we host playdates, he may choose to put some of his toys away that will not be available, but the rule is that if it is out, it is available for a friend to use.
I also know that within my circle of friends, we all have a similar understanding/way that we handle the situation. We are still able to catch up, but it is not a free for all romper room!
That changes when your child's circle of friends expand and you and your child are invited over to someone else's home for a play date. They might not have the same expectations, so I suggest having a conversation before the playdate so that everyone is on the same page. Talk about what their "rules of the house" are, and then make sure to convey that information in a way that your child is able to understand.
I recall vividly the first playdate that our son had- I wasn't teaching full time anymore and I felt so awkward. I didn't want to step on the rules of the home we were in, but I also wanted to make sure that my son was being respectful. This mom (who has become a dear friend) was understanding and put me at ease.
* Talk about expectations/house rules with host mom ahead of time
* Talk with your child about those rules and remind them about respect
* Allow your child to have fun and play, but be available for support if the children need assistance working through a situation
* Help your child clean up at the end of the play date.
* Show appreciation and gratitude to the host family- say thank you so that your child sees that is how we show grace and courtesy.
Beth is a mom first and foremost. She is also a trained Montessori teacher who is passionate about making the lofty ideals of the Montessori philosophy more real and manageable for families.