Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Coffee Gangster and A Child Change My World

I remember the day clearly. My son was 18 months old and picking through the toys in the toy box we kept in the living room. My daughter was just a few weeks old and I sat on the couch nursing her. I was watching General Hospital because I was bored. The boredom that a stay-at-home mother feels on occasion should not be underestimated. I loved my kids more than I can possibly explain, but day after day of rhymes, fingerplays and working on easy puzzles can grow old quick! Even though General Hospital wasn't really taking away the boredom, at least the adults on the screen were speaking in full sentence and that was definitely something!

The scene was with Sonny Corinthos and he, being the coffee gangster that he was, was holding a gun to someone's head. Truly cheesier scripts have never been written and I was actually smiling at the absurdity of the whole premise. Then I glanced over at my boy. He was holding a toy, but his attention was on the screen. He was engrossed. I was amused. Then I looked at the screen and I did something I started doing simply to stave off the boredom, I tried to view things from his perspective, using the little knowledge I assumed he had. It struck me like a lightening bolt!

Here is this little guy, not yet two. He's learned so much but still had so much to learn. He could not yet know what was real and what was make believe. He did not yet understand the nuances of our language. This child (as are all children) was literal. What he was watching was a very unpleasant scene where a man was threatening someone with a gun and he was soaking it all up like a sponge. Is this one of the first scenes I wanted my child to witness? If it was real would I try to shield it from him? The answers came flooding in. If this was really happening I would be horrified that my son was a witness to it, yet to him IT WAS really happening and HE WAS witnessing it!

Needless to say that was the end of my General Hospital viewing. I developed a distaste for it so great that to this day I can't watch it. That wasn't the only thing that changed that day. Viewing the world the way my kids see it has been fascinating. It's been a blessing and sometimes a curse. I see wonder and beauty and sometimes I see hatred and sadness. I see potential in the simplest things and I see horror in the actions of men. To say that my children have opened my eyes is an understatement.

So I challenge you to take a moment, this moment to look at your child and try to see the world from their perspective, their view with their experience. What do you see? Do you see the gum stuck to the underside of a park bench? Do you see how high the top of that slide is? Do you see the concern in their frown when they watch yet another murder on T.V.? Do you see the wonder when they find a mushroom and learn it's name?

Will viewing the world through your child's eyes change the way you see things? Will it change the things you do or say? Can you put yourself in that place? I want to hear from you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I'm a Sponge

Hey, psst, I'm talking to you. Did you know that your child is listening, that your child is watching and what's even worse they are soaking up everything around them. You may think that your children are too young to understand what's on the t.v. screen. You may think that because they can't speak they can't understand profanity. I've got to tell you that you are mistaken. Children are like sponges. What's more they have not yet developed any filters, so they can't get rid of the bad stuff they've been exposed to. Think about that for a few days. Let it really sink in.

Everything you expose your child to, he will absorb like a sponge and it will become a part of him.

This is not a new concept. Back in the 1800's, Walt Whitman wrote a beautiful poem:

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

He goes on to speak about lilacs, morning glories and young lambs, but he also speaks of the town drunkard and the parents and the teacher. Everything the child sees becomes a part of him. Let's assume for a minute that this is true, which I wholeheartedly believe it is, would that change how you do things or the things you do with your child?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Glory of Play

Often I've said that boredom is a precursor to creativity. I truly believe this to be be true. I'm not one to offer suggestions to my own children on how they should entertain themselves. Usually I simply say things like "only boring people get bored" or "if you can't possibly think of anything to do, I'll be happy to give you something." That last suggestion has never been taken up by any of my children. They fear that it means chores. Yesterday I was listening to a show on NPR and the guy was talking about another precursor to creativity. Can you guess what it was? Play! Well he didn't mention play exactly...but I'm going to take some creative liberty here and say that play is also a precursor to creativity. What he said was that when you hit a wall in your creative endeavors you should step away from it, not think about it, let the answer just come to you without seeking it.

What better way to do this than through play? Often parents will ask me what I offer for our after school program. I understand that when paying for a service you want to get something in return, so I rarely pipe up and say, "Oh, I let them play!" Seriously? Why would you pay to just have your child play? They could do that at home for free! So for the sake of everyone involved I say we have all types of educational activities offered in our after school program. We offer science and art, language and math activities. We offer music and dance and lots of drama. I do offer all these things. For the parents it's a planned activity, for the kids, it's play in it's most natural form.

Especially in the after school program, play is a great way for kids to decompress. It's a great way for them to be themselves, to pursue their interests, to work at their own pace, to solve their own problems, to disappear into a favorite book, to work out their frustrations, to learn about group dynamics. Play offers children who have limited time for recess during school to move and jump and run.

All these things are important not just their physical well being but for their mental well being. How refreshed a child will feel approaching math now that he's jumped around and has his blood pumping. How much easier it will be to concentrate now that they've worked out some of their frustration with a hammer building a bird house. How much more creative they will be after sewing props for an upcoming play.

Play should never be an after thought at home and especially in school. Play should always be at the forefront of our plans for children and for ourselves. How drab would our world be without new ideas, new creations, new innovations. These are only possible when hard word is infused with good bouts of play. For the sake of the future, let the children play.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What a Phony!

Have you ever felt like a phony, a fake, a fraud? It's as if you are at work and then suddenly someone will walk in and point to you and say, "What's she doing here? She's not qualified, capable, educated!" This is especially true if you starting a new endeavor. Do you think any of the Presidents ever felt that way? I bet at least some of them have. I once saw an interview with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore and all three of them admitted that every time they take on a new project, they feel completely incompetent and the fear that they will be called out as frauds. WOW!

If we persist however, slowly we grow into our new roles. Whether we are new parents concerned that we are in over our heads, (I remember when my son was just two weeks old, I broke down and in between tears and sobs, I confessed to my husband that I didn't think I was capable of raising a child for 18 years!) or we have a new position at work or we are working our way through a new creative endeavor, slowly we find our rhythm and start to feel a new level of confidence and competence.

So it goes with children and learning. Can you image a director telling Ms. Streep that she's not really acting? Or someone telling Bill Gates, that without a college degree he can't possibly be a billionaire? So let's never tell a child who brings us their scribbles that they can't write. Or tell a child that the story they are telling us is not what is written on the page. Kids need to grow into their roles as readers and writers. If we support them through the process, like a great director, soon they will blossom into their roles.

"I see education as creating in our classrooms the kind of world we believe in, and then inviting children to role-play their way into being the learners we want them to be."~Jerry Harste~

Friday, March 2, 2012

You're Doing Fine

Parenting is not a job for wimps. Before I had children, I was a strong confident woman that could answer any question. In fact, shortly after my husband and I met, we spent one of our dates sitting around his kitchen table asking each other questions out of The Little Book Of Questions. I answered every question without hesitation. He took more time and sometimes said he just didn't know what he'd do...he was already a father. Things that seem simple and black and white take on new gravity when you become a parent. Add to it, all the advice of experts and you really start to second guess yourself. You may mention that you co-sleep to a dear friend and she'll warn you about the danger of smothering your child. You may say you rather sleep in your own bed and you'll be lectured on the benefits of attachment parenting.

The truth of the matter is that you a doing fine. In fact, the more simply you live your life, the better you are probably doing. Do you let your kids have plenty of opportunities for unstructured play? Great! Do you balance it out with maybe one extra-curricular activity (if they are six or older) during the week? Great! Do you enjoy your kids and feel relaxed when you are around them? Great! Do you read to them...even if they are school-aged? Awesome!
You are doing great!

What if you feel you are not doing great? You may feel that you are not doing enough. The problems begin when you start to worry. Does you infant seem distracted when you put flashcards in front of him? Put the flashcards away and engage him in a game of peek-a-boo. Is your child so over scheduled that he often sleeps in the car or bus while traveling to an activity? Stop the activity. Is your child obsessed with video games? Get rid of them! If you are worried about how your child is measuring up, stop, take a deep breath and read on...

I'm talking here about worry in general. There is a difference between that and a genuine concern in particular. If you have a genuine concern, seek out professional help and educate yourself as fully as possible with whatever it is that concerns you. If you have a general worry that your child "doesn't have an edge," or "he's not on par with his peers," or "he's never going to succeed at this rate," then the problem doesn't lie with your child, it lies with you. If you are cranky and running yourself ragged so your 4 year old can take music and karate, in addition to preschool. Stop!

I'm about to make a radical suggestion. If the above sounds like you, take a one month break! For the period of one month cease all or as many activities as you can. If you are working and your child must go to daycare, then just do that for one month. I'm talking about no t.v., no video games, no extra-curricular activities. Nothing but time with your child. For the first week, you are both going to be a little stir crazy. Your child will want to be entertained. You will feel that this is more difficult than running around. This is the time to establish a rhythm, if you haven't already done so. Be strict about your child's bedtime routine.

Now at the end of the month you may notice some changes in both you and your child. Your child's creativity will flourish. His ability to entertain himself will have increased. You will realize that play dough is not as messy as you imagined. You will learn that cleaning up watercolor spills are easier than running all over town with a tired child in tow. You will both be more relaxed and there will be more laughter and fun in your home. In raising your children always keep in mind this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”