How Might We Remove the “Floaties” & Give Students “Goggles” Instead? #TeacherMom

A great Costco deal led to goggles for everyone in the family this summer. However, I didn’t bother with them for my 2 year-old since we were dealing with his floaties, which generally kept his face about water anyway. For those unfamiliar, they look something like these:

One day, he snatched his pair of goggles and insisted on wearing them, too. I realized that if he was going to get any use out of them, we would definitely need to give goggles a shot without with floaties:

Image result for speedo kids comfort fit goggles

I couldn’t believe what happened next.

Within about 30 minutes of swimming in the 2-foot end of the pool, he went from a formerly clingy, somewhat nervous state to confident explorer.

Where I had once struggled to convince him to try blowing bubbles, or to let go of me even to stand up on a bench, he was now diving under the water. He couldn’t get enough of enthusiastic underwater waving, suspending himself with his feet off the floor, and testing his breath-holding ability.

As with hiking (and pretty much everything else!), I have been pondering teaching connections to this shift. In what ways might we similarly replace the floaties with goggles? How might we give our students tools for deep experimentation, and remove structures that might actually be impeding that opportunity?

Perhaps we might:

I think the real reason for my toddler’s transformation was that the goggles literally gave him a new lens with which to see water. No longer was it a threatening, mysterious body, but something with which he could actually interact and discover his own capacity. Meanwhile, without the floaties, I could no longer push him beyond his comfort level and had to stay near his side. Yet with the goggles, he was pushing himself in his own way.

What shifts have you seen give students a new lens for the structures and concepts around them? How else might we allow students to dive in when given some “goggles instead of floaties?”

featured image: Thomas Hawk

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The First Time Our Child Was Asked “To Come Out and Play” #TeacherMom

My oldest was 4 years old, and she was happily playing with her toys in our 3rd-story apartment. Suddenly, a knock came on our door: a 7 year old girl who lived a couple blocks away wanted to know if our daughter could come out to play.

My husband and I looked at each other. Could she just go out to play? Where would she even go? Our apartment building was mostly surrounded by parking spaces. And could she just skip away with this little girl without one of us accompanying them?

We asked our daughter what she thought about the idea. Her response was to leap up and run for her shoes. So we told the neighbor that it would be alright if they stayed nearby. Our 4 year-old couldn’t have been prouder to cross our threshold without us.

And we were left peeping through a a chink in the blinds to make sure everything was alright.

And it was! They had a great time running around a little patch of grass for a while, and then the neighbor brought her back upstairs. Pretty tame, as far as first outdoor independent play goes. But powerful. It was the first foot in the door to a world where our child didn’t need us anymore. A scary prospect for all parents, but especially when we’re bombarded daily with headlines and messages that make us all want to keep that door locked tight until the 18th birthday.

But the problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work that way. Growing up to become an autonomous adult is a process that must build throughout childhood. Parents should feel supported as they make decisions on what exactly this will look like for each of their own children. It’s hard enough to do this confidently — even without the internet endlessly supplying worst-case scenarios and vilifying parents for daring to make reasonable decisions about what their kids are capable of.

And if parents aren’t trusted in these judgement calls with their own children, how can we possibly trust our teachers?

That’s why, when I talk about independent play, my first goal is to reassure parents. They need to know they are not bad parents for letting their kids walk 3/4 mile to school (even in the rain!), or for allowing their child run a lemonade stand without continual supervision, or even for leaving him/her in the car on a mild day while you run in for a quick errand, if you, as their parent, have judged them capable of handling these scenarios.

The hardest part about building autonomy in our children is that it is almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable. We can’t predict exactly how it will unfold — will they get along with others? will they remember the path home we’ve walked together many times? will they remember how their bike lock works? — but that unpredictability itself is one of the essential ingredients required for autonomy to unfold.

So let’s think about ways we can support and reassure parents as they strive to build autonomy in their kids:

  • Share accurate statistics on crimes (Pew Research Center is a great source), such as the fact that violent crime has decreased since 1990, or the low chances of random child abductions from strangers (“…if you wanted your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, do you know how long you would have to leave that child outside, unsupervised,  for this to be statistically likely to happen?…You’d have to leave your kid waiting at the bus stop 750,000 hours [or 85 years].” ~Lenore Skenazy)
  • Hesitate before sharing that scary “see-how-easy-it-is-to-snatch-a-child” video or “my-child-was-almost-abducted-from-our-shopping-cart” story. Given the statistical rarity cited above, the sad truth is that such stories tend to be rooted more in racial bias than actual danger.
  • Encourage adventure playgrounds and other environments that promote healthy risky play.
  • Join your school’s Safe Routes to School organization to help make kids’ walk or bike ride to school safer.
  • Share strategies for reasonable precautions parents can take without making them feel like they have control over all possible scenarios.
  • Support legislation like Utah’s free-range parenting bill that protects parents trying to make these judgement calls for their children’s autonomy.

From that first encounter with outdoor unsupervised play to watching a high school grad embark on their new journey, let’s find ways to help parents feel confident in building happy, healthy, and independent children!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Parents, Reject the Fear-Mongering #TeacherMom

Phones are destroying our teens

…except that it turns out the negative connection between tech and teens’ mental health is fairly minor, according to research.

Children are being abducted on their way to school or from distracted parents…

…except that “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.”

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live

…except that the opposite is true. See below:

Where are his/her parents? a passer-by might wonder…

…except that unsupervised play is critical for children to develop properly.

(sidebar: isn’t it funny how despite essentially every child in human history spent their days getting dirty, it’s only now that showers are ubiquitous that we have grown uncomfortable with the idea?)

Parents are bombarded with worst-case scenarios every day. Even casual Facebook posts from a concerned friend or relative often contain terrifying videos or messages that end with “Keep your babies close.” I shared one such example with my daughter in our conversation about how strange it is that these videos go viral when they really don’t represent the actual dangers kids face today. Far more threatening to our kids are dangers of childhood diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and mental health issues that seem inextricably tied to the modern lack of childhood independence.

For those in the U.S. observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrate by saying no. Push back against those viral videos. Question the frightening headlines (see this excellent piece on zooming out for context). And above all, allow your children to experience some of the same freedoms you yourself probably had as a child. Perhaps start by asking some of these questions:

  • Does my elementary-aged child know how to navigate our neighborhood independently? Does she know where her friends and family live within a mile radius? Could she get herself home from school?
  • How might learning to ride a bicycle help further my child’s independence?
  • Has my child ever tried to earn money independently? Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard work, etc?
  • Can my child handle something risky by the same age I was permitted to as a child (starting a fire, using a pocket knife, etc)?
  • Does my child know how to go inside a store to handle purchasing something independently? How might allowing my child to help with groceries help foster their sense of competence?

What better ways to celebrate independence are there than fostering it in our children?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Why & How to Nurture Independent Kids Wherever You Live #TeacherMom

I recently had the chance to visit some very dear friends from high school in different parts of a neighboring state. Of the friends with kids, one lives in a suburban style area, and the other lives in an area that is so rural they only have one neighbor (their parents across the street). And I live in a fairly urban area. The differences made me realize that though the ways we might nurture kids’ independence can vary based on where we live, it is always possible.

Here are our examples. Thank you very much to my friends for sharing their experiences!

Rural: Alea, children aged 8, 6, & 3

“We try to involve the kids in whatever it is we’re doing (at an appropriate level). Dennis just brought our youngest home from letting her feed the bottle calf. He’s an abandoned twin. She then brought me the bottle to help her wash it out. Kids looove taking care of babies. Other examples include:

  • The kids also help pick which plants we’re going to plant and help tend & harvest the garden.
  • When it’s nice weather they play outside [on their own] for at least an hour in the mornings before it gets hot.
  • I keep the sippy cups/kid cups in a drawer and not in the cupboard so they can reach it themselves and get a drink from the fridge door.
  • Most days I let them pick their outfits
  • They have some “mandatory” chores but then there’s a “chore of the day” that they get to pick. In general rather than give demands we like to give options.
  • We have also been discussing how letting children have responsibilities fosters independence. Kids want to help with things and how many times do I not let them because “they won’t do it right”? I’ve been trying to let them do the things they can do… They may not wash the windows streak-free but surely I can let them have a rag and a squeegee and have at it …These are hard things for me, but I’m working on them!”

Suburban: Stephanie, children aged 4 & 2

“We live in a quiet, older neighborhood with a fenced backyard. Some ways that we like to encourage independence outside are:

  • Sending our 2 year old into the backyard alone to grab a toy and bring it to the front.
  • Letting our 4 year old play on her own for awhile in the backyard while we’re in the front.
  • Establishing boundaries for bike riding so our 4 year old can ride comfortably without wondering or being told she’s gone too far. 

“Other ways we encourage independence inside our home include:

  • Letting them pour their own milk, water, syrup, etc. The more they try the better they get and I love the giant smile they give me when they pour perfectly. Accidental spills are lessons, not cause for punishment.
  • Letting them serve themselves at meals. They scoop from the serving dishes on the table onto their plates, which lets them choose which foods from the table they want, and how much.
  • Letting them help with the cooking and baking. Our 4 year old is a pro at rolling out sugar cookie dough, using a cut out, and putting it on the tray and the 2 year old loves to stir and pour in ingredients.
  • Letting them do the chores such as vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, sweeping, and raking. Our kids actually ask to help clean! Joining in on the household chores makes them feel like they are part of the team and are contributing to helping our family. I never redo any of their tasks so they always have a full sense of accomplishment.”

Urban: Mary, children aged 8, 4, & 2

We live in a townhouse development of about 60 homes, which is surrounded by a mixed development (single family homes, duplexes, apartments, etc) & close to our city center. We enjoy our proximity to schools, the library, the rec center, and our downtown, all of which we usually access by bike. We also enjoy our townhome common area in which we can send our kids to find playmates close by (and without worrying about driveways as the garages all face a back street). Some ways we work to foster independence based on where we live include:

  • Encouraging unsupervised play as much as possible. Occasionally one of the kids will run inside to report something important, but our area is dense enough that I’m never far away! (see post, “Where’s the Mom?” from last year)
  • Having our oldest to walk or bike to school 1 mile away (usually with a group of friends but occasionally she’ll be on her own)
  • Allowing our oldest to walk to a nearby bakery to pick up family groceries or to select a treat for herself. I love how this has helped her consider how much things cost & how to set a budget for herself.
  • Encouraging our kids to plan their own free time (and working to preserve as much of that free time as possible!) See “Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home.”
  • Biking & riding transit throughout the city together to help my kids learn to feel comfortable enough plan adventures alone or with friends when they are just a bit older.

Wherever we live, opportunities for children to enjoy independent childhoods are in abundance. We can learn so much from one another as we support each others’ efforts to help our children feel confident, responsible, and capable.

What are ways you work to foster independence for children based on where you live?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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5 Picture Books for Trusting Child’s Development #TeacherMom

Alternatively, I might have entitled this, “5 books that remind us of the importance of self-regulation, fostering independence in childhood, and approaching parenthood as a gardener more than a carpenter.”

Whether it’s allowing our children to pick up bread at the grocery store or limiting the endless amounts of structured time in favor of “BeTime,” we can take measures to trust our children to take the lead in their own development. What do you think of the 5 books I’ve hightlighted below? Which ones would you add to the list?

“They stopped thinking she was perfect and started worrying about what might be wrong with her. By the time she was seven years old, there wasn’t a single minute when Princess Cora wasn’t being trained.”

Princess Cora & the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz & Brian Floca

“”We’re bats,” said Mother Bat. “We can see in darkness. Come with us.” Stellaluna was afraid, but she let go of the tree and dropped into the deep blue sky.”

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

“The bird said, “Ask yourself where it is you want to go, and then follow the signs you already know.”

The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside.”

Windows by Julia Denos

“Getting to get the baguette is Nanette’s biggest responsibility yet.”

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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On Feeling Like We Can’t Nurture It All… #TeacherMom

On a given day, a parent might come across lists of ways they should be nurturing their children’s…

…creativity

…resilience

…confidence

…problem solving

…empathy

…assertiveness

…fine & gross motor skills

…communication skills

The list goes on. And meanwhile, we have days where just getting dinner on the table feels like someone should be giving us a medal.

While it is true that all of these require individual, concerted effort from time to time, the truth is that trying to tend to all this nurturing on an individual basis each day would be like drinking from a fire hose! When we try, we’ll quickly find ourselves under a crushing weight of what I’m going to call “nurture-overload.”

Instead, here are ways we might avoid that overload and feeling of hustle:

  • Follow the child’s lead. Allow their questions or daily tasks to drive the discussions and inform how you help them connect to various skills and traits.
  • Read together regularly. If it is a regular part of your time together, you can depend on a healthy exposure to many different concepts.
  • Trust your child’s independence. As we allow kids to have responsibilities as they grow (and not allow media hysteria to color what we view as age-appropriate), many of these skills will strengthen naturally. See if you can count how many skills and qualities might be cultivated in this Sesame Street example below (from one of my favorite websites, LetGrow.org)

We want our children to grow up to have all the skills and traits they’ll need to be caring, capable adults. If we step away from worry about getting it right and step toward more trust, we may find that these things come more naturally than we might anticipate!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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In Which the Preschool App Gets Me Revisiting Scaffolding #TeacherMom

Have you ever downloaded the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app for your kids? If so, you probably know that they adore & can independently play all the games except two. And you probably know exactly which two I’m talking about:

“Put the Fruit Back Together…”

…and “Match the Fruit”

These two games take more stamina than the others. You can’t just start tapping randomly until it moves on until the next game. Which leaves me three choices:

#1: Do those hard games for him so he can play the rest of the game.

#2: Take a firm stance that if he can’t do it all on his own, he’s not ready to play.

#3: Do the hard games together, helping him hold his finger and talking through the process (where did we see the other banana?).

I have tried all three! The teacher side of me would definitely choose #3 every time, but the truth is, sometimes life gets messier than that. The game is usually only even out when we are at a long appointment. Sometimes, he tries to insist on #1 while I am trying to speak with the doctor. Sometimes, I try to assert #2, but find he really does want to give them a try again on his own.

The more I reflect, the more I realize that the only truly damaging stance when it comes to the scaffolding we give our kids is one that is rigid and not sensitive to context.

We like to think of scaffolding as a nice linear graph, gradually releasing toward complete independence in a smooth, graceful line. But really, there are plenty of dips, spikes, and wild turns along the way, all of which require patience for our young students, and for ourselves.

Even for something as silly as making a monkey cheer you on when you match a pair of honeydews.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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