Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Honoring Boundaries

Are boundaries an issue for you? They have been for me in ways I never imagined. I always thought I was pretty good at putting people in their place, but I was wrong. There are those moments when caught unaware that make me terribly uncomfortable and I don't quite know how to say no. They aren't life or death situations, just moments when I don't want to be rude, so I find myself in uncomfortable situations. I once read a random article about a woman who had been raped. She said, she knew the minute she answered her door that something wasn't right and she should have just slammed the door on the man who was standing before her, but she didn't want to be rude, so she said, "Yes? How can I help you?" That was enough time for the assailant to push his way into her apartment and rape her. The moment I read that, I thought about moments that I had felt uncomfortable and had not spoken out loud and clear. A moment when someone made an unkind remark about someone and I didn't speak out. A moment when I waited patiently for someone to finish their pitch even though I knew from the get go I wasn't interested. Moments of wasted time and energy. Moments of silence for the sake of not being rude or not getting involved. Moments when I wasn't honoring my personal boundaries.

Today I was challenged to honor my son's reaction to his boundaries being crossed. My reaction gave me pause, but luckily because I've been trying to parent mindfully, I was able to redeem myself and honor his decisions. Today a girl kissed my boy. A girl he didn't want to kiss. She told him she was going to kiss him and he said, "DON'T!" He said it loudly and I heard him clearly. She kissed him anyway. He screamed like he was being murdered. Seriously, I've only heard him scream so loudly when he has night terrors.

My gut reactions were the following:
  1. My goodness, there are worse things then getting kissed by a girl!
  2. He is totally OVER-reacting to this situation.
  3. I was a bit embarrassed by the screaming.
Then I stopped the insipid chatter in my head. I asked what happened and in between sobs my son said, "She KISSED ME! Even after I had told her not too! She didn't listen to me! I realized that it may seem silly to me, but he viewed it as a violation and it was. Not to say that this girl violated my son in a sexual way, she kissed him because she likes him and it was an innocent moment. That's not the point. The point is that he stated emphatically that he did not want to be kissed and she didn't honor his request. So I thought about how I would feel if the situation was different. What if it was my teenage daughter coming home in tears because a boy had kissed her even after she had made it clear that she did not want to be kissed? What would I teach my son, if I said, "You need to stop screaming. It's not a big deal." Is that really the message I want to give my boy, my girl? No.

I brought my son inside and hugged him. I told him I was sorry that this girl didn't listen to him. I told him I was proud of him for standing his ground and I told him he should always react loudly when he feels something is not right. Then I brought the little girl in and explained that even if you really, really like someone, it's not okay to go around kissing people if they said they don't want a kiss. I told her it wasn't okay for her to be kissed if she didn't want a kiss and it's not okay for her to kiss someone who doesn't want to be kissed. She apologized to my son and they went off on their merry way to play pirates and all was well.

I however kept thinking about moments when my boundaries had been crossed. I thought about times that perhaps I crossed someones boundaries, but I was never told how uncomfortable this made someone feel and I wondered why we are so dishonest with ourselves. What are we afraid of? I'm glad I stopped myself today before I told my son to stop overracting. I'm glad I'm trying to raise my kids to listen to their inner voice and to speak out if they feel uncomfortable.

What are your biggest boundary issues? How do you handle them? How do you teach your kids about boundaries?

Easter and New Beginnings

This week we are celebrating Easter. Religious celebrations have lost their soul in many public institutions. Schools are off for Spring Break and they no longer even fall within Easter Week. Easter is all about chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs. Oh alright, I'm the one obsessed with chocolate but you get where I'm going. It can be tricky to do a curriculum around Easter even if all the students are Christian because there are so many different denominations and while the story is the same, the meaning varies from person to person. I remember being quite young and already being immersed in Catholic doctrine. Christ died for our sins. As a teacher, I don't feel comfortable discussing this particular topic with children that come from so many varied backgrounds. I tend to get very philosophical about Christ's death and about "our sins". I do however want to remain true to the celebration and meet children where they are.

We celebrate Easter and we talk about rebirth and new life. When the children bring up that Jesus died and resurrected, I let them do the talking. It's wonderful to listen to them make sense of such complex concepts. Children sometimes have an innate understanding of things. I do always include some Bible stories from a book called Bible Stories for Children. It was given to my husband when he was a boy by his grandfather. It's a cherished book around here. We talk about what makes the book so special and how the memory of those who have died lives within us.

Of course we will have chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets. The kids are growing real grass for their baskets. There will be an Easter Egg hunt and we will be baking Madeline's, a favorite cookie any time of the year. We will hold this time of renewal and new life sacred. Starting on Easter Sunday we will be closed for two weeks. It will be a time of renewal for me. It will be a time to purchase and get all the things we need for the wonderful summer program.

I do hope you all enjoy your Easter Sunday. I hope the sun shines upon your celebration. I hope you take the time to renew yourself and your goals.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playing and Learning

There are many things we can teach our kids while playing with them. One thing that we should always keep in mind is that we are meeting the child where he is, so we keep our playing at their level. It's also important to remember that playing for playing sake is appropriate and important. We don't need to turn every moment into a "learning" moment. Let your child lead. Play as long as you are both having fun. That being said, here are some ideas for ways to instill play into your day.

Toddlers and beyond:

Peek a boo...really does this ever get old? (Later it will be called hide and seek, but it's still the same concept.)

Rolling a ball.

Banging on pots and pans. I prefer empty Floger's Coffee Containers.

Shakers. (These are easy to make out of any easy to hold non-breakable container. Just fill 1/3 full with rice. If you have two containers, fill another 1/3 full of beans. They make different sounds.)

Clothespins and cottonballs: Have the child pick up the cottonballs using the clothespins. A simple variation is having them pick up the cottonballs with a large serving spoon. (Do not leave the child unattended with the cotton balls.)

Make a city with all the boxes and containers in the recycling bin! (Still a favorite around here!)

Walk on a log...over a puddle (for extra fun and drama.)

As your children get older:

Card games such as Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Black Jack, Slap the Jack and Concentration.

Concentration Game: (Name all the things you can in one category. Example, colors, mammals, car makers, cities in the U.S., Countries in Europe, Songs by the Beatles etc.)

Jump Rope


Tic Tac Toe

Bake or Cook with your child.

Teach them to slice and peel safely.

Have your child help with folding laundry, sweeping floors etc.

Have your child sort the laundry by color.

Plant a vegetable garden or a flower garden

Build a city with block or Lego's

Set up a grocery store, a stage, a doctor's office.

Take it outside:

A pick up baseball game

A bike ride

A roll down a grassy hill

Potato or pillowcase races

Build a tepee

Make a fort

Chase butterflies

Get disposable cameras and let them have fun with it.

Make your own Corn Husk or Rag Dolls.


I could go on and on and on. Everything is play and learning happens...ALL. THE. TIME.

(Making bird feeders)

Extending School Days...Not a Good Idea.

In my in box this morning I received an article touting an extended school day. It notes the extended school days are being championed by both the left and the right. Wohoo! Finally something we can agree on, except I don't agree at all. We have President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and even Mr. Bill Gates himself pushing this "wonderful" idea of longer school hours. In a recent interview, Mr. Gates not only sang the praises of longer school days, but also mentioned how wonderful it would be for kids to attend school on Saturday! This from a college drop out! That, however is a whole different ball of wax I won't address here. While I understand the interest in educating children and I may even understand the motivation to want to take underprivileged kids out of an "undesirable" home environment so that they can learn, it just won't work. First the very idea of linking "underprivileged" with "undesirable" is unconscionable. We label and label until we can label no more, but even more than label we inhibit human growth by placing non existent barriers in front of children and their parents. Poverty or lack of privilege does not need to equal a poor education. Benjamin Franklin was not a man of means. Abraham Lincoln was born poor. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. They were certainly underprivileged! Yet, I cannot imagine their lives becoming more or richer by being institutionalized for longer days. Abraham Lincoln didn't even have much of a formal education, yet he managed to become a lawyer and one of the greatest Presidents of our Nation. Thank goodness he wasn't torn from his mother's bosom and placed in a school with long days of academics, no art to speak of and hardly an hour's worth of recess. Surely this is not the way to make our children thrive. No, longer school days are not the answer.

The answer definitely lies in education, but not as it is thought of traditionally. To have well-educated children, we must have well-educated parents. By well-educated, I mean parents that take an interest in learning and improving themselves. Parent who are consciously making decisions that are appropriate for them and their family. Well-educated people choose based on the knowledge they have acquired, not based on the knowledge fed to them by government, media or well intentioned but misguided politicians. So a well-educated parent, no matter how poor, does not allow their child to be placed in programs that will not benefit the child. A well-educated parent will not allow their child to be given medication that causes severe side effect, unless they believe that their child will benefit from the medication, no matter how convenient it would be for the teacher or how profitable it would be for the pharmaceutical company.

This article fails to even regard parents! It also fails to regard that ever important issue of budgeting. We are furloughing teachers, closing schools, cutting programs, but hey let's make school days longer! Shall we have underpaid teachers work for free? Will Mr. Duncan, Mr. Gates and Mr. President work at these schools for an extra hour? That's only three schools, what about the rest of them?

Let's not consider other alternatives or consider why a longer school day is needed. Would cutting class sizes to something reasonable thereby enabling teacher to teach instead of instilling crowd control techniques, eliminate the need for longer school days? Would offering education classes for parents living in undesirable conditions (with the promise not of money or a free service, but rather the enticement of raising self-esteem and leading a decent life) help eliminate the need for longer school days?

A lot of money is being given to districts that come up with innovated ways to improve education. I haven't come across anything innovative yet. I just keep seeing more of the same. If our school systems are failing, and I believe they are, why would I want my child spending even more time there? That is the question we should all be asking.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Science of Art or The Art of Science

The after school program has been bustling lately. We have two weeks of a subject, so we can get into the nitty gritty of things and really explore without too many time restrictions. The weeks usually overlap each other. For instance, we did art for two weeks. We explored how moods can be interpreted through art. We then turned our attention to the weather and how that could be interpreted through art. We moved on from art to science. We explored clouds and weather patterns. Then we moved into flowers. Now we are working on art and science. We are doing scientific illustrations of flowers in our Science Journals. Next week is a one week program on spring and Easter. We are studying the colors of nature and how to showcase those colors in our art work. I'm loving it, but even better, the kids are really enjoying themselves.

I love these pictures. The weather or time of day is depicted through the use of water colors. This little girl usually uses lots of bright colors. Her pictures always have names like "Rainbow Unicorn Glitter!" (The exclamation mark is a must.) For this picture she explored using more somber colors. I don't remember the exact name (It's on the back of her painting) but it too was toned down. It was something along the lines of "Seagulls in a Storm."

The colors of these watercolors are much more vivid in real life. This one below has quite a bit of pink in it. The young artist told me she was depicting Spring. ("See the flowers?" she said.) She also feels love blooms in Spring. We been watching the birds busily getting their nests ready. The kids say it's because soon they will be getting married and having babies. This girl wanted to convey all that in her painting. She named it, "Love is in the Air."

This young man worked very diligently at getting his colors just right. He drew his house with precision and cut it out very carefully. I love to see the individual personalities come through as they work. He named his art "House at Sunset."

I was surprise by how much work this next boy put into his art project. He is not one to really enjoy painting or any project that may lead to getting messy. He was so into this project. He really did a great job choosing the paper for his castle and putting it all together. He named his, "Sandcastle in a Storm." We even talked about what his picture would look like after the storm. He said, "Well, the sandcastle won't be there, that's for sure!"

Luckily for us daffodils are blooming all over our garden. We used them for our flower studies. We picked them, we dissected them. We viewed them under a microscope. We took some pollen from some cut lilies I had and viewed that under the microscope too. We put the daffodils in water with blue food coloring and watched as the petals got some green spots on them. The kids spread themselves out all over the class to work on their journal entries. This girl wanted to make a poster. I'm so lucky to have the dollar down the street. Poster boards are two for a dollar, so I always have some on hand.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Picky Eaters

I know this doesn't pertain to most parents, (I'm being sarcastic) but today I'm going to address the segment of the picky eater population. I'm an expert in this field. I was a picky eater, I have a son who is a picky eater. There are three secrets to get your picky eater to eat healthy.

1. Have only healthy food at home.

2. Model eating healthy food

3. Relax, your child won't starve.

Do those three things seem drastic? Be honest. If they seem drastic it's time to take a step away from worrying about your child and look at your lifestyle. Why is there junk food in your house? Is it something you buy because you are in the habit of buying the same thing without thinking about it? Is it a matter of finances? Junk food is cheaper at the moment, but so much more expensive in the long run. Do you find buying things like pizza, boxed Macaroni and Cheese, hot dogs and ice cream because it will ensure that your child will eat?

As parents we sometimes have to make difficult choices for the good of our kids, but even more importantly we should be making good choices for our benefit. We need to be healthy in order to be the best parents we can be. Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up full of energy and be able to fully engage with our children throughout the day? Wouldn't it be wonderful to not worry about EATING but instead concern ourselves with nutrition? Are you ready? It's not going to be easy but it's going to be so worth it for you and your children!

  • 1. Sit down and write down your regular shopping list. Now look at it! What is it that you've written down? Ready to eat, microwavable items or whole, colorful, fresh foods?
If you wrote down mostly whole, colorful, fresh foods you probably don't need to read the rest of this. If you wrote down mostly ready to eat stuff, go on to number 2.

  • 2. Rewrite your list and this time include mostly whole, colorful, fresh food. The best place is your local farmer's market, but if you are busy, don't put off buying healthy food until you can make a special trip to the farmer's market. You can buy fruits and veggies at the grocery store.
So now your child is whining because he's hungry and there are no chips, now what? The best way to deal with any whining is to acknowledge the issue, offer ONE alternative and then tell the child you will ignore any more whining, because there is nothing else you can do. This is not easy! As parents we are the problem solvers, but it's a good thing to let kids realize that you cannot solve every problem. You can follow this model:

Child: "I waaant a cookie! I'm huuuunnnngry."
Parent: "Oh honey, we are all out of cookies. You can have some sliced apples with peanut butter. That's yummy."
Child: "NOOOO!"
Parent: "Okay, sweetie. Now no more whining. I have nothing else for you to eat at the moment."
Child: "But I'm hungry."
Parent: (sings softly while ignoring the whining.)

Understand that many food issues are easier to handle if you establish set eating times and you model healthy eating yourself. Also remember that very young children do not get choices when it comes to food. You do not ask a child what he wants for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner! You are the parent you decide. As your children get older, they may choose a snack or in my case, because I am not an early riser on the weekends, my kids can choose and get their own breakfast on Saturday morning. They know they have several things to choose from such as, yogurt, granola, any fruit available, toast with peanut butter and honey, milk or juice. I'm still not comfortable with them using the stove without supervision, so no pancakes or omelets.

  • 3. Model healthy eating. Have set eating times and make sure you give yourself time to prepare the meal. Have your child help you. Sit down and enjoy. Serve cut up oranges or strawberries for dessert. Introduce prunes...which really are as sweet as any candy. Talk about all the energy and nutrients this wonderful meal will provide for your body to grow strong and healthy. You may not think they don't understand or care, but you would be wrong. Kids are born to thrive and unless taught otherwise, it's ingrained in them to want to thrive.
  • 4. Relax. Your child will not starve. If you particularly worry, like I do, give them a multi-vitamin. While not a substitute for a good meal, it's helps keep parental worries at bay. Know that not unlike adults, your kids will go through phases. Sometimes my son cannot get enough strawberries. I can seriously but five pounds and they'll be gone by dinner. Of course we all pitch in and eat, but he devours them. Then all of sudden, he doesn't like the way the seeds feel on his tongue and he won't even look at them! That's fine, we always have bananas, or mangoes, or apples, or oranges.
  • 5. Be patient. Children have way more taste buds than adults do. So don't fret if your child can't stand the taste of tuna or celery. There are a lot of healthy options. Remember that many children are sensitive to textures. Introduce new foods slowly, without hoopla. Just serve it in pretty and appetizing way. Bring out the pretty platters and dishes. Let your child see you taste it. Moan and say, "Oooooh, that's yummy."
What about treats? You got to have treats! If you must have sugary foods (and I must). Make them yourself whenever possible. This creates wonderful scenarios. First, baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies with your child creates wonderful memories. It teaches your child skills, such as reading, chemistry and math. (can you say FRACTIONS?) It also helps the child connect with the food he eats. You should be conscious of how much work it takes to make something delicious. Children gain a great feeling of satisfaction. "Look what I made." Greater still, it takes work to bake cookies, so you are not going to do it everyday. This is a great way to keep the less healthy choices at bay. Around here we make a big batch of dough and then I freeze it. Sometimes for a whole week we'll have one cookie after dinner. I scoop out four tablespoons and bake those. When the kids ask for more (which of course they always do.) I can honestly say, I'm sorry we are all out of cookies.

I hear you screaming at me through the screen, "What about time? I don't have time to prepare fresh food!" I hear you. I work and home school and there is nothing worse than realizing it's 6:00 PM and everything is frozen. It's not easy, but planning is essential. Once you get in the habit of planning, it gets easier and easier. Meals don't have to be fancy, in fact, the best meals are often simple. If you have a menu, you can bring out your frozen stuff and put it in the fridge two day ahead of schedule. So if you are have steak tacos on Thursday, bring the steak down into the fridge on Tuesday. Prepare a pasta dish ahead of time and freeze it. Then just stick it in the oven and serve. Bean soups are wonderful, especially if you add lots of veggies and it freezes well too. Just heat and serve with a nice hearty slice of 10-grain bread and it's a complete meal.

Conscious living and conscious parenting takes time, but it is so worth it. This is the only shot you get at making your life meaningful. Shouldn't you take the time today to make it so? Put away all your excuses and really look at your diet and that of your child. It reflects so much more than food choices. Let me know if you need some healthy ideas for snacks and meals. I'd be happy to share them!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Life Spiraling Up

It's been a while since I looked at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I love the model above because it shows traveling up the hierarchy in a spiral. So many things throughout our lives move in spirals. We know this at some unconscious level because so often we speak of some poor soul on a downward spiral. When we are introduced to an overnight success he or she was usually on an upward spiral. Rarely do people shoot straight up to the top. It's a succession of steps. One after another, after another. More on spirals in another post, but now back to the Hierarchy.

Every new parent should post this image on their refrigerator once they have a child. On the bottom we find what are often referred to as basic needs. Until these needs are met we cannot move on to the next step. Infants and children are completely dependent on their parents to fulfill the first levels, these basic needs.

I cannot emphasis enough how important it is for parents to meet these basic needs. Children cry because they need something. It may be food or they may need a diaper change. They may need to be held for comfort and security. Whatever the reason may be, you must meet the child where they are and give them what is needed for them to continue to develop. When a child cries and we pick them up gently and coo or whisper to them, they learn that the world is a safe place, that they live in a world that will provide them the resources they need to thrive. They learn that they have a voice, that they have some control over their very basic physical needs. They learn to feel secure in this new huge and overwhelming world that they have been born into, this goes on to develop a strong self-esteem. This will not spoil the child. Many of us come from a background where we withhold things in order to raise strong, self-sufficient children, but nothing could be further from the truth when speaking of about infants or young children. Meeting the child's needs develops a healthy attachment which is imperative to continued healthy development.

What happens to a child who needs are not met? In a nutshell children will have insecure attachment issues and disorders. Insecure attachments can begin as early as in-utero. When a mother neglects her well-being, she is also neglects the well-being of her unborn child. In the primal stages of development the fetus is already preparing itself for a life of deprivation and scarcity. Because the fetus is using the scares resources it's getting for it's mere survival, development is hampered. The child may be born with underdeveloped physical traits, but also and just as important, the child is lacking in his emotional development. Once the child is born, if neglect continues or begins, all areas of development will continue to be hampered. A child who is not fed when hungry will eventually stop crying out for food because it instinctively understands that it's hostile environment will not provide for his needs. A child who is not held will go from extreme bouts of self-hate to clinging with almost complete strangers. Neither of these two extremes is emotionally healthy. It's almost as if the child goes down the hierarchy spiral instead of progressing up the spiral.

Hold your child, feed him, comfort him without fear of spoiling him. A well nurtured child is an adult full of confidence, zest and with a tremendous love of life.

Monday, April 4, 2011

...On Being Sick

Does it speak highly of your job when you are actually bummed that you are sick and can't go to work? I think so. I am one of those very fortunate individuals. Today I am not feeling well and I called off classes. I'm disappointed because I had such a cool day planned and was so excited to see the kids enjoying the activities. However tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow I will be well enough to teach and play, because I'm taking the time to listen to my body today and I'm giving it what it needs. Today I will rest, increase my fluid intake and rest some more. A good reminder that you are only as capable as you are healthy. It's not a good idea to be a martyr when you are working with kids. It will only prolong the illness and then recovery will take even longer.

Take care of yourself, only then can you be a good mom, dad, teacher, friend, employee or boss.

Now I'm off to bed with my hot water bottle and my watered down Gatorade. Until tomorrow.

Wishing you all good health,