sharing a feeling

Last week I was subbing in a preschool classroom. Annika was one of the five kids at my table for small group work. Though the other kids had scattered to various play areas after finishing their worksheet, she lingered at the table. “Today after school, I have to say with Nana, but I want to be with my mom,” she said.

“Is your mom working?” I asked.

“Yeah, and she comes back after dark,” Annika said. “She spends a lot of time with her boyfriend. I don’t get to be with her that much.”

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Sad,” she responded.

“Maybe you should tell your mom that,” I suggested.

“I already did,” she said.

“And what did your mom say?”

“She said, ‘Oh, I do spend time with you,'” Annika told me.”But I want to be with her more.”

We sat together for a few moments, that sweet five-year-old and I, each thinking our own thoughts, sharing a similar feeling. I wished I could make it better for Annika. I wish Annkia’s mom realized that her little girl isn’t going to be little for long, in the grand scheme of things, and that she should savor every moment.

The only thing I could offer this little girl was a listening ear – and perhaps a story. “Do you want to read a book?” I asked.

She brightened. “Go get one you like from the bookshelf,” I told her. She came back with the colorful I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More and we let the silly, sing-songy story distract us for a bit.

 

 

 

of child’s play – and life

Last week our preschooler had a friend over to play. They started out by pouring out the contents of the toy box and picking through it for the most interesting things. Those items in the toy box are rarely touched these days, but when looking at them through a new set of eyes, my son did end up thinking a few of them were worth his attention again, at least for part of an afternoon. But it wasn’t too long until they pulled the marble ramp from the closet, followed by the wooden train set. They played with each for a good ten minutes before casting about for something else. Then my son started creating something out of K’nex while the other boy became engrossed in the workings of a submarine. Soon it was time for each to revisit their favorites among the toys scattered around the living room and one bedroom. I heard marbles going down the ramp again…

When the play date was over, we had a lot of things to pick up and put away, but I had good help. And I have few complaints of this kind of play: two boys enjoying each other’s company as they mostly do their own thing, but everyone once in while cooperate to make things go better – or have a brief conversation.

Somewhere along the way, play tends to get more complicated so that by the time you’re eight you’re much more likely to be absorbed in someone else’s script. Earlier this year and at the end of last, our second grader was consumed by Star Wars. (No coincidence that it started shortly before the release of the latest Star Wars movie.) There was – and still is – a lot of Stars Wars going on at the school playground, if my son’s stories are any indication. The boys who have seen the movies or have some other good source of Star Wars information are the ones who get to tell everyone else how to play. They teach the others the names of the good guys and bad guys, explain who does what, when and how … In such games, my son is a follower. He hasn’t seen the movie – and most probably won’t for several years since it is rated PG-13.

Maybe that’s not quite as big of a deal now as it was three weeks ago, though. Because that’s about when our second grader came home with four Pokémon cards that Eli had given him at school. Since then there has been no rest about adding to his “collection.” More specifically, he believes we need to go out and buy some more cards. Right. Now. (I’ve put him off till the end of February at least. I hope they’re on to a new topic by then.) It’s the same scenario about following someone else’s script. The kids with the most knowledge about the Pokémon trading card game are the ones who dispense information about this fictional world, including details such as who is a “fire type” – and what that even means.

Every day I am reminded what a heavy dose of pop culture comes with public education. I’m left with a lot of questions about how we as parents help our son navigate that, especially as the pop culture values seem to grow more and more divergent from our own.

learning from failure

I recently read The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey.

Gift of Failure This book offers an alternative to today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting approach, which “has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.” Lahey begins the book by describing her dawning realization that she had been overparenting and chronicles some of her own struggles to grant her sons more freedom and more responsibility. She makes a compelling argument for allowing children the safe space they need to fail – and learn from that failure – at a young age when the stakes are still low.

The controlling parent or the one who always comes to the rescue of her child is challenged to begin parenting for autonomy and competence, which involves setting clear and specific expectations, being physically and emotionally present and offering guidance when a child is frustrated or needs redirecting. She argues for giving children responsibility around the home as an important part of helping kids feel autonomous, competent and connected.

In a discussion of motivation, the author describes how overparenting inhibits intrinsic motivation and essentially teaches children that without parents’ help they’ll never be able to surmount challenges. By protecting kids from failure, she argues, we’re communicating that we don’t have faith in their ability to overcome the challenges they face.

Throughout the book, Lahey offers some practical suggestions for parents, including the following:

Allow for mistakes and help children understand the consequences of those mistakes.

Don’t offer to rescue your child from the consequences of his or her mistakes.

Value the mistakes as much as the successes – in other words, support and love them just as much whether they’ve succeeded or failed.

Acknowledge children’s feelings of frustration and disappointment.

Provide feedback that supports effort and guides a child toward seeing his or her mistakes and then finding a workable solution.

Praise kids for their effort, which encourages them to draw the connection between effort and capability.

Encourage risk-taking in learning; fear of failure undermines education.

Emphasize goals rather than grades.

The Gift of Failure is a worthwhile read that may have you rethinking your expectations for your kids. It challenged me to consider what level of independence I will expect of my kids by the time they are young adults and to make parenting decisions in the present that will help them reach that goal.

This school year, after reading the book, I’ve taken more of a hands-off approach to the getting ready for school routine each morning. My son packs his own lunch, though still with some supervision. He’s responsible for getting things into his backpack too. So far, he’s forgotten his homework at home once and forgotten a book that he was supposed to take to school. This is when my temptation to take over kicks in, but for the sake of fostering independence I’m trying not to.

living in the moment

“Is quiet time done yet?” my recently-turned-five-year-old shouted from his room.

“No.” I responded.

“Why not?” he wanted to know.

“Because it’s not yet three o’ clock.”

“I want it to be. Make time go faster,” he suggested. That pretty much sums up how we tend to look at life for the first few decades of life, doesn’t it? It was the same son who just today said, “When I was four, I wished I was five, but now I wish I was six.” I remember couldn’t wait for the day when I started kindergarten myself. Then I always thought it would be better if I were just a few years – or even just one year – ahead of wherever I was at the time.

“Why are parents sad when their kids grow up?” he asked last week as we were driving home from our morning volunteering gig. We’d been giving out coffee and bagels – and tissues – to parents on the first day of kindergarten at his brother’s school. We had just seen more than one teary-eyed, sniffling mom exiting the school building after dropping off a little one.

This does not make any sense to someone who sees adding one more year to his age as a most desirable thing. In the weeks since his birthday, he’s reminded us several times that he is now five. Once his big brother took the opportunity to point out, “You know, you were a premature baby so if you were born for real, you’d still be four.” But he’s not going to dwell on that. He’s five and if it were up to him, he’d be in school now, just like his big brother.

sept 10 2015
Photo courtesy of J. Gebeke via Twitter

I’m still guilty of wanting to fast-forward through seemingly unpleasant periods. (I can’t count how many times I’ve started a sentence addressed to my husband with, “When you’re done with graduate school…”) But as I’ve gotten older, I more often have the good sense to enjoy the moment we’re living, to savor it because it won’t ever be quite like this again. Who knows how much longer my son will hold my hand as we walk together? (Some days he already doesn’t want to.) Who knows how much longer it’ll be that my boys come to me first with nearly every question or random thought they want to share? Such are the gifts of this season.

Five Ways to Help Kids Thrive This Summer

A little something I wrote for our PTO newsletter. 

  1. Take a virtual vacation

Your child chooses several countries he’d like to visit and makes an itinerary. For the first stop on the virtual vacation, he reads about the climate, culture and customs of the country. Together prepare a typical meal from that country and then your child can share some of what he’s learned about the place and perhaps teach everyone a few words from the language. Enjoy a folktale, book or movie set in that locale. The next week, repeat with the second country on the itinerary and so on, until you’ve finished your international virtual vacation.

  1. Entertain the family

Don’t let your child just consume entertainment, suggest she create her own. She can make a movie, develop a board game or write a play to perform with friends or siblings. It may be fun to try her hand at making number puzzles or word games. Book making is another option. Brainstorm ways she can share her final product with others.

  1. Plant something

Kids learn about responsibility by taking care of living things. Suggest your child choose a vegetable or herb for planting if he would like to enjoy the fruits of his labor. If outdoor space is limited, fill a large container with soil and try planting a cherry tomato. Or grow some herbs on the window sill.

  1. Stay active

Summers are short, so make sure to provide ample time for outdoor fun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. While some children naturally want to keep moving and easily get in an hour of exercise, others may need a little encouragement. Look for new activities to try and repeat favorites often, whether that be a nature walk, a bike ride or a certain sport or active game.

  1. Volunteer

Help your child gain life skills and compassion through helping others. Volunteering together helps your child understand the importance of giving back to his community. Whether you choose to pick up trash at a park, pack meals at Feed My Starving Children or collect supplies for an emergency shelter, volunteering helps stave off a sense of entitlement. Find local volunteer opportunities at an online site such as Hands on Twin Cities.

sharing a story and a game

As we were driving toward St. Paul’s east side, my seven-year-old son was in the back seat muttering something about having the worst mom ever. My four-year-old was in an equally foul mood, demanding to know why I hadn’t scraped all the frost off his window.

I turned on the radio. The announcer informed us that it felt like 18 degrees below zero at the moment and the wind chill advisory would be in effect until noon. “I told you we should have stayed home,” came the accusation from the back seat. No, we most definitely should not have stayed home, I thought. What we need right now is something to turn our eyes off of ourselves and our petty grievances.

When we arrived at our friends’ home, I got a grocery bag full of books (procured during a recent book drive) out of the trunk and we went inside.

We were greeted by a preschool and an elementary aged boy, their parents, one set of grandparents, an aunt and a few other relatives. Their boys and mine started pulling books out of the bag and previewing them. The children’s mother studied a board book about body systems, anatomy for kids basically. “These are the lungs?” she asked pointing to one of the diagrams.

“Yes, lungs,” I said. She studied each page of the board book. The grandfather had chosen a book as well.

One of the boys was looking through a book called 1000 Monsters. Soon four boys were watching the monsters change form as they flipped the three different segments that made up each page. After a bit, I picked out a level 2 graded reader with a cartoonish crocodile on the front. I read it aloud to everyone in the room. The words were easy enough that several of the adults could follow along. Many of them laughed at the end. They got the joke.

I told the mom that I read to my boys every day and that reading to your children – or even just paging through the books and talking about the pictures – helps kids do better in school, no matter which language she’s using.

“These books will help us with our education,” Na Ni Moo said. She already knew what I was trying to explain. She told me about the library that she used to go to while she lived in the refugee camp. She said she had learned a lot by reading library books. The best part was that there were books in her first language.

Then, behind me I heard, “Osprey power, activate!” My sons had introduced Eh Ku Moo to their animal powers game. What better way to spend part of your winter break than sharing a story and a game with friends?

speaking of Santa

Today I took my four-year-old in for his early childhood screening. The interviewer began the assessment with some small talk. She stated that Christmas is coming up and asked my son what he wants from Santa.

“Santa’s fake!” he told her. She started laughing. “I’ve never heard that answer before,” she said, looking at me rather than my son.

“Okay, so what do you want for Christmas?” she tried again.

“A sketch pad,” he said.

“What else?” she prompted.

“A Bible,” he said. At this point I started wondering if my boy thought he was saying what his mommy wanted to hear. I also started wondering what sort of judgments the interviewer was making about our family.

“Oh, I’d want one of those too,” she said. “What else?” By then, I was getting tired of the question. What are we teaching our children in this country? That Christmas is all about getting? In our family, we try to spend a lot more time talking about what we’re giving for gifts than discussing our wants.

I think my son was tired of the question too. “A box,” he said. Thankfully she let it go at that and moved on to her scripted questions.

Despite this awkward beginning, he scored well above the average four year old. I expected that — since we live in a place “where all the children are above average.” Now, I’ve just got to teach him not to break the news about Santa to his classmates. Thankfully, we’ve still got some time to work on that.

what I learned

Today I’m blogging at Djibouti Jones about the challenges of forming a diverse team.

This past September our oldest son started kindergarten at a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. At the first meeting of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) I learned that the school now has fewer than half Caucasian children in its student body. The PTO, however, does not reflect the diversity of the school’s students. There were a few parents of color at the first few meetings of the year, but the only people who consistently show up are white moms.

Read the rest of the post at Djibouti Jones.

from the parent’s perspective: a class visit

For my son’s birthday, he decided he wanted to share a story with his classmates. We purchased a copy of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears for his classroom. By email I asked Ms. Barnick if I could bring the book to school and read it to the class. Her positive response included several exclamation marks.

So that is how my three-year-old and I ended up in my son’s kindergarten class last Wednesday. My son was happy to see us. So was the boy we see every morning at the bus stop.

Ms. Barnick introduced the younger one as “little brother,” but he corrected her: “I’m big!” He sat among the kindergarteners and got a taste of what it’s like to be in school. I was invited to sit in the rocking chair, a privilege that’s typically reserved for the teacher, my son informed me.

As I read, several children commented on the pictures and the story line. They helped make the animal noises. They laughed in the right places.

After the book, we stuck around to hear the kindergarteners sing two songs with actions. My three-year-old left disappointed. “We didn’t have cake.” I explained that the school didn’t allow food for birthdays. Then he protested because his older brother was not coming home with us. But the school day isn’t done, I told him.

I left on a more positive note. Back in the day, when I worked at our state’s Department of Education, we heard a fair amount about parent involvement. All the NCLB-inspired talk about parental involvement plans seemed like a really top-down approach. Now, as I’m trying to figure out how to be involved at school, the topic has shifted from the theoretical to the concrete. Where can I be of help? The PTO seems a little bit like a clique, and I suspect I’m not cool enough to fit in there. But in my son’s classroom I’m welcome. That’s a really good foundation for parental involvement.

of careers and creative play

Over lunch today my three-year-old son was telling a story that was half fabrication. “You need to tell the truth, not make stuff up,” I told him.

“I made up Cinnamon Man,” he said. Okay, so he’s not developmentally ready to have this conversation. Or should I say it isn’t so easy to explain to a young child the difference between storytelling and making up something that is intended to mislead?

Besides, the distinction between fact and fiction is sort of fuzzy at this age, as we were all reminded again this evening.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” my husband asked our younger son.

“A lion!” our three-year-old responded with all sincerity. His big brother said he wants to be the president. No small ambitions around here.

Then our kindergartener pulled out a certificate he brought home today from our school district’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “Graduating class of 2026” it says, encouraging the children to think of themselves as “college and career bound.”

Career ready? We’re still working on it.