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Monthly Archives: July 2010

What Parents Learn in Preschool

I learned some of my most valuable parenting skills during my days in a cooperative school, where parents assist the full-time teacher.

Once upon a time, I did not understand the benefits of preschool. I assumed it was just daycare for stressed-out SAHMs. Now, eight years and six preschools later, I’m a joyfully converted preschool mom with a deep appreciation for all I’ve learned from our experiences; the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Here are my top five preschool revelations that have helped me be a better parent.

1. Routines are necessary. I learned this the hard way with our first baby, but the concept was reinforced in preschool. Children behave well in a good school because the teachers follow a predictable routine. There is a natural order and rhythm to the child’s day. If you’ve ever wondered how a school can handle a room full of tots with one or two teachers; it’s all about the daily routine. They know how to keep the children engaged in specific activities for the appropriate length of time based on their age. There is no need for time outs or discipline in a good school. Instead, experienced teachers will turn a disagreement into a lesson on empathy and teach the children how to get along. Which brings me to my second revelation.

2. Children must learn how to play with other children. After age two, children take greater notice of the people surrounding them. If there are rarely any children, they will naturally gravitate to adults in all situations. I can always tell which children spend all their time with adults when we are in a group play environment. When I was a parent teacher in a cooperative kindergarten class, it was my primary job to placate the two children who had never been to preschool and did not have similar-aged siblings. Of the ten children in the class, these two needed constant guidance and hand-holding (the kind of care they were accustomed to). They did not get along well with the other children and became easily upset if they were not allowed to make the rules during playtime. I see the same patterns of behavior in the neighborhood and in church groups. Some children are shy, but children without exposure to other children are more comfortable with a grown-up, even one they barely know.

3. Your child is almost certainly not gifted. Let’s face it, we all think our child is developmentally advanced at some point in their lives. In some cases this is true, but it does not make your child a prodigy. All of these skills tend to balance out by the second or third grade. Spending time with a diverse group of children is the best way to understand childhood development. You can easily see why your five-year-old can’t sit still through dinner (NONE of them can). You can also see that while some kids master vocal skills at a younger age, others will master fine motor skills or gross motor skills. It all evens out as all these skills come on line over time.

4. You can’t teach them everything by yourself. There’s a lot you can teach at home, and with good reason. But teaching children how to learn in a group dynamic is not one of them. Teaching your preschool child how to read will not make them smarter or better equipped to handle school. Knowing letters and numbers does not mean that preschool should be skipped. No amount of flash cards, sidewalk chalk writing or frog-encrusted learning games can replace the interpersonal relationships that take place in a group setting. I do not mean to disparage homeschoolers who already know this. In my city, it’s easy to organize weekly field trips or sporting events with groups of other homeschoolers. It appears that smart homeschooling moms have figured out the importance of the group dynamic.

5. Elementary school ain’t what it used to be. I started kindergarten when I was 4 years old and had never been to preschool. This was common in my small town. We were not really expected to know anything walking in the door. Now, thirty-odd years later, children are expected to come to kindergarten with a solid base of knowledge and social skills. And while preschool teaches children all the basics of numbers, letters, shapes, colors and early phonetics; it also allows them to learn these things in a fun, play-based environment. Our public schools no longer have this luxury. The elementary schools have so many standards to perform to that the kids must spend a majority of their time sitting, doing worksheets, taking tests and reading silently. Students are now expected to learn to read independently before first grade. I’ve found that two years of preschool has helped ease my children into the more grueling demands of elementary school. They develop a love of learning in preschool that is sometimes hard to keep going in elementary classrooms. Some elementary teachers have a natural ability to make learning fun, but others sadly do not. That’s when it’s up to me to draw upon all the tricks I learned during their preschool years to help them along and see the fun side of school again.

As we’re preparing for school to start again in August, I’m happy once again about our decision to send the two older girls to preschool. I have no anxieties about my middle girl starting kindergarten because she has proven to me over the past two years that she is ready socially, academically and emotionally to begin school. When the time comes for my youngest daughter to graduate from preschool, I will be sad to say goodbye to these joyful days of handmade presents made in secret, love letters written to special teachers and children who spring out of bed each morning ready and excited for another day of learning disguised as playtime.

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Making Unique Rules for Unique Children

Special. Unique. Different. Amazing.

I spent the last nine days worrying and praying for my 19-year-old niece who was hospitalized again for a problem stemming from her kidney disease. Her strength and stamina are inspiring, her tears are gut-wrenching and her journey is still an uphill climb. One realization for all of us this week is that she can never live by the same rules enjoyed by her peers. While most collegians survive on pizza and experiment with alcohol, my niece can get sick from too little sleep and too much stress. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate balance of keeping her body healthy. She must adhere to very different rules and regulations.

I’ve based the last decade of my life around finding balance and order out of consistent routines, and modeling consistent behavior as a parent to three young children. I advise countless souls on the wonder of setting up a routine and sticking with it. I preach consistency to my husband in the way he reacts to misbehaving children and to always follow through with a promise (or threat). So what if you need special rules for special circumstances or separate rules for each child? My answer: so be it.

Parenting is not a religion; there are no mandates written in stone on whether or not you should put children to bed before 8 p.m. or after 8 p.m. The world is not black or white, and I literally have zero tolerance for any policy that involves zero tolerance. We are one tribe, but with vastly different life experiences. Our children may be from one family, but they have vastly different personalities and physical capabilities. While we set up our rules for the family about behavior, daily routines and expectations; we are careful about considering all the members of our family and adjusting our rules to fit.

MOM DARE: Well, first, give your children a huge hug and send up your thanks for their good health. You should never take that for granted. Next, relax one rule. That’s it. If you have only one child, watch to see how they react. For multiple children, see who benefits and who does not. And it can be any rule: move back bedtime, let them skip a veggie for dinner, allow them to eat in the family room or whatever works for you. Sometimes parenting (and childhood) can be a little more fun when you loosen a few of your strings.

 

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A Fate Worse Than MOM?

What kind of life has replaced your baby bump?

You’ve made it through your cute little baby bump phase, and nine months when all eyes were upon you. You were the center of attention and able to shop for amazingly hip maternity and baby gear (very little of which you currently use). Now, when you do venture out in public, people flock to the child in your arms and you silently will them all to just step back. No one seems to care what you are wearing, how you are feeling or when you last slept for more than four hours. Even your spouse has evolved from dutiful, ultra-concerned husband to barely tolerable man with whom you share a child. It seemed to happen overnight… you became a MOM.

But wait, there’s more. You gave up your career to do this full time, you say? LOL. Now you can’t hold a conversation with your FNBs (friends no babies) to save your life, because their eyes glaze over when you fret over a lost blankie and a little wrinkle appears across their noses when you need to breastfeed. You want your old life back, crappy career and all. And, you even begin to fantasize about being single again. You’re certain your husband will never relate to you (or help out) and you are oh so jealous that he goes to work each day. Could there be a fate worse than this?

Well, yes. Of course there could be, and if you continue down this thought pattern there certainly will be. Because here’s the thing no one ever told you before you jumped on the mommy bandwagon:  Some of it sucks, all of it is hard work and the first year can be one of the most dreadful you can imagine. You are no longer yourself. It’s best to realize this, embrace it and redefine your existence right now. Today. Be better at what you are doing. Don’t try to escape your child, your husband or even your messy, toy-strewn family room. Don’t glamorize the office job that you once dreaded more often than you enjoyed, or the boss that made sure you worked through every holiday cycle. Your career will begin again (if you are lucky enough to have a choice in the matter) and you will re-enter the workforce a wiser, more organized, and more patient person.

You have been given a gift, my friend. Yes, the child you care for is the ultimate gift that is elusive to so many. Have you ever known someone who is unable to conceive or has spent years on an adoption waiting list? Your whining is like salt in their wounds. And, as a bonus gift, you have been given an opportunity to rediscover yourself and your partner. All these years, your life’s journey has just been a hike to base camp. Now is your time to ascend and attempt to summit. Do you want to summit alone, or do you want someone to pull you, push you and sometimes carry you to the top?

So, listen. All tough love aside. If you are feeling this way or have ever felt this way, know that you are not alone. This is not unique to your life or your marriage. I have heard your complaints, I have read your blogs and I know what you are going through. You can have it all (eventually.) Your spouse will become your hero again (probably not in the next week.) You will stop defining your worth in terms of your paycheck (after you stop shopping at Nordstrom and even if you continue in the workforce.)

MOM DARE: Your first step toward balance is to lead with gratitude every day. I am grateful for my home, for my parents, for my trees and gardens. I am awed by my husband (especially since he figured out how to balance his own roles), my friends and my beautiful, healthy children. I have abundant food, the ability to worship as I please, a safe city in which to live. We have two cars, gas money and plenty of clothes. We have clean, running water and electricity. We have doctors, hospitals, and police. Do I need to continue? This is the beginning of finding your center.

So, like Michael Keaton ceremoniously burned his flannel shirt in “Mr. Mom” (yes, I’m that old), you need to give your old life a proper goodbye and toast your maiden voyage on the MOM ship. Your journey will not be easy, but it will certainly be full of adventure and an education beyond anything you could receive from the Ivy Leagues. And, someday, when your life is a little easier, you will help pull another new mom through to fairer seas.

Grace and peace.

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If You Can Grow Kids, You Can Grow Anything

"So, this is where garlic bread comes from?"

I spent this morning digging up garlic bulbs with my delighted 5-year-old daughter. She shouted every time she brought one out of the earth and into the scorching July sun. We stopped at 50 bulbs; both of us hot, dirty and reeking of garlic. It was fun for both of us, but also profound. She loves garlic bread, but never would have imagined this delicious treat could come from under the dirt!

Growing vegetables is more than a hobby for me. Oh sure, I’m geeky enough to take pictures of my garden and post them on Facebook. But farming is part of my past, present and future. I’m the granddaughter of farmers on both sides of my family and have always known where food comes from – both animal and vegetable. For me, growing food is an essential life skill for my children – and if my dreams come true someday – for all children. Just as I teach my girls the alphabet, I also show them how to plant seeds, water and mulch them, and most importantly, how to harvest and prepare the food. What they get from the process is part science lesson, part cooking lesson and part spiritual awakening. Children begin to see the cycle of life in gardening, but issues of life and death are a lot less scary when they are dealing with plants. Farming also raises the consciousness of children about their food supply. At the age of four, our daughter refused to eat pork when she found out it came from pigs, her favorite animal. This lasted for an entire year with our full support.

MOM DARE: Have you ever gardened for yourself or your children? If so, did you really include them or did you ask them to step aside to protect your plants? Perhaps you could try harder to let them do hands-on work. Don’t criticize when they blast your tomato plants with a hose instead of watering around the base. Or when they gleefully dig up more carrots than you can eat in a month. Share them with friends and applaud your child’s interest. I still cringe a little when my children bring me a handful of freshly picked flowers from my gardens, but someday I will miss this simple joy. Never had a garden? Now is the time to grow one thing with your children. Even apartment dwellers have abundant choices when it comes to growing vegetables and fruit. This isn’t a gardening blog, so I’ll let you do your own research on how to do this. At the very least, don’t just take your children to the farmer’s market, take them to an actual farm. Let them walk the rows, pick some berries and ask questions. Not only will this start a process of educating your children about life, ecosystems and healthy choices; but you will create joyful memories to carry with you for the rest of your lives.

 

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