Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


The Kindness of Neighbors

friends-bubblesFor some reason all the neighborhood kids like to play in my front yard. I live in a cul-de-sac, which is super nice because we all keep an eye out on the kids. They often ring my doorbell when I come home from work to say hi, and ask about my dog Emma and my cat Bubs. They are always trying to sell me something like water or lemonade, and I typically fold. Three dollars for a cup of lemonade? How can I say no?

Sometimes we’ll sit on the porch and share a healthy snack. Last week they ate a whole container of strawberries. But honestly I don’t mind. I love that these kids are brave enough to ask me questions.

One of the little boys that plays in my yard dresses like a police officer almost every day. He’s got the whole package: vest, belt, handcuffs, gloves, badge, walkie-talkie, play toy gun, a baton, watch, boots, cargo pants. I have named him “kid cop.” He loves it. When he rings my doorbell, he asks if he can arrest me. I have had multiple charges: Eating too much ice cream, laughing too loud, letting my dog give too many wet kisses, eating pizza without them, not having any popscicles, I could go on. He and his friends just laugh and giggle at me and think it’s the best thing ever.

He told me he wants to be a police officer when he grows up because he wants to help people. “You know, if they lose a dog or something, or someone steals their bike. I had my bike stolen and I got it back when the police officer helped me.”

Our friendly cul-de-sac police-officer-in-training was recently featured in our community newsletter. He had his picture taken with our Township Police Department. He was beaming with pride!

I hope this little neighbor of mine always wants to serve his community, whether it’s through sharing a glass of lemonade on a hot day, a kind smile to a neighbor or desire to help when needed.


Safety First?

Messy-Play-in-the-YardRecently I was tested by my children on whether or not I was considered a “fun” mom. We noticed the back yard was covered in mud puddles and all they wanted to do was to get out there and go crazy! It was a bit chilly outside and sprinkling rain but all I could say was, “Why don’t you just read a book and stay inside? You’re going to get sick! What clothes are you going to wear?  You’re going to ruin your shoes! What about my grass, we just had it seeded?”

Then I realized something, I am more worried about my grass that is completely replaceable than my babies laughing and having a great time together making memories! So then I said, “…Go!”

Instantly I thought of how my father would always err on the side of safety and never allowed us to do random things like play in puddles. This is a continuous struggle for me. I have a difficult time separating my job of maintaining our environment and keeping the kids happy making memories. I don’t think my father was a bad father for not allowing us to do harmless fun things, I certainly see the reasons behind it now that I am an adult. I know he was worried about our safety and didn’t have a lot of money to replace the things we would ruin if we did this type of thing. He took great pride in the part he played in his job of raising all three of us and the fact we made it to adulthood unscathed! I often find myself telling the kids, “No.” and then seconds later, “Yes!” because my first instinct is always to keep them safe and then happy! I certainly do not want to sit around when I am old and wish they would’ve had more laughs and more time together. Lately it has been my mantra to think that way as soon as I say, “No!”  Safety first? Always! But then happiness is a very close second!

How can I let the kids go outside and make a super big mess that I will have to clean up? Let’s call it what it is…it’s the Finding Nemo effect. Marlin is way too scared of losing his boy that he doesn’t allow him to live. My answer, they are only young once and if I can focus on their smiles and their laughter and enjoyment I can give them something that may stick (But hopefully not be too sticky/messy…EWE!) with them forever!


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My 5-Year-Old Wants to Be a YouTube Star

youtube

When Schmee was 2 ½ we received an iPad from my parents (ugh) and he has not been “the same” since. Oh, we let him indulge for awhile keeping to a specific regimen of Shaun the Sheep and a free Curious George game but obviously we couldn’t keep the lid shut for long. Over time Schmee developed great skill at navigating websites and apps and would stay at it for hours—probably days, if we would’ve let him. From time to time, especially when it was convenient for us, we may have let him stay on there for longer than we normally would’ve liked. Who knew that the iPad would be a savior for ridding his head of lice (kept him from squirming and complaining)? But it also led him to a dark place.

After watching what we felt was enough he would get a reminder that his time was almost up and he would seem to agree, nodding and saying, “Uh huh.” When that time came though, he wasn’t cooperative; he was rather combative. It’s almost like you could see the evil swell up inside him and the aura around him would grow black like something out of a Stephen King book.

His fascination with Wild Kratts turned to toy reviews. Oh my! Who knew that toy reviews could be so entertaining? If it’s a toy and someone reviewed it you can bet he’s watching it—regardless of gender, age range, or reviewer. It seems that he has toys on his mind 24/7—I don’t know how many hundreds of hours he’s watched, and it certainly doesn’t help that he gets up in the middle of the night and finds the iPad to continue watching. He acts out reviews in his play. He’s using the same language used by reviewers. You can tell when he channels certain reviewers because the language changes, the emphases change. In short—he’s obsessed.

He asked mom to play with him the other day but that didn’t work out so well. Why? Because she didn’t “do it” right. Schmee wanted to call the guy from YouTube and have him come over to play (cute, but in a that-hurts-Mom’s-feelings kind of way).

So what do you do? He found out that he can make videos and put them online so now he wants to shoot videos and post them. We figured that might be a good way to channel this energy. So now the conversation is about how we need to buy toys so he can review them! Or—I sort of like this— in his words we could, “sell my old toys, but only to my friends so I could still play with them sometimes, and we could use that money to buy new toys to review.” Apparently children make a lot of money doing this toy review thing and I’m all for supporting his interest, but at what expense? This has complications written all over it, don’t you think?


Messy Play

As parents we have enough to clean up, but messy play is an important type of play!

As parents we have enough to clean up, but messy play is an important type of play!

When my son was 4-years-old there was one thing he cherished more than anything in this world—getting messy! Seeing the joy on his face when he created “mud cakes” from the dirt, leaves and water in the backyard inspired me to build a messy kitchen outside. I made the outdoor kitchen by using recyclable materials from around the house. Old milk crates became kitchen cabinets. A large plastic bin served multiple purposes in my son’s kitchen. Sometimes it was a kitchen counter, other times a table, and many times a stove and oven. We had fun sorting through the recycle bin for looking for materials for the kitchen. We found empty milk jugs, spice containers and squeezy juice bottles. I collected unwanted kitchen utensils, plastic bowels and dishes from family and friends. Then we had even more fun filling up the containers with water, water with food coloring, bubbles, and several different types of leaves, pine cones, flowers, sticks and of course—dirt!

My little guy adored his messy kitchen. He spent hours outside creating pies, cakes and soups. It wasn’t always about food, sometimes the messy kitchen was used to make mud mountains for his cars to race down or leaf habitats for his animals to hide in. Sure my outdoor patio looked like a junk yard and my son was covered head to toe in dirt. But that mess scattered over the yard was evidence of my child’s amazing imagination and when I wiped away some of the dirt that covered him head to toe I always found a huge smile on his face.

Messy play is important play for so many reasons. It engages all of the senses. It builds language skills as children discuss and ask questions about what they are making and what materials they are using. Through this they learn new words such as smooth, sticky, cloudy and stretchy.

Math and science skills are involved in several ways—measuring, observing, making predictions, patterns, counting, sorting and problem solving. Fine motor skills are exercised. Social/emotional development is enhanced. There is no right way to make mud soup. Messy play materials are open-ended, allowing the child to build confidence in their choices.

If you aren’t a fan of messy play, I understand. As parents we have enough to clean up, so why would we willingly create more? Setting boundaries will help save your sanity while your child is elbow deep in dirt. If your child’s messy play is set up outside make sure he or she knows that they need to be cleaned off before coming in the house. If you can’t get outside, the bathtub is a great place to let your little ones’ imagination soar with shaving cream, washable paint, play dough, popsicles, etc. Another helpful hint is to set a time limit. I only let my children have messy kitchen for a month or two in the summer. When I’ve reached my breaking point, I put it away until next year.

If you are still having doubts, well you will just have to trust me on this and give it a try. After all, childhood doesn’t last long. I say, let them make mud cakes!


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Curiosity Comes With Apprehension

The following is a guest post from 4C for Children’s Director of Information Systems, Terri Alekzander.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." —Albert Einstein

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” —Albert Einstein

Full disclosure. I am not a parent. I am the adopted aunt to the children of many dear friends. I like to buy gifts that make noise, pretend swings are airplanes. And I love to build forts out of dining room furniture.

My friends know that their child will be returned safely, a little more dirty, but safe. Recently I had a chance to spend some time with eight-year-old twins, Logan and Seth. Fun, fun age. We went to a small local lake outside of Boston. After stowing our belongings on a blanket in the sand I headed for the water with both boys in tow. The afternoon was complete with a seamless blue sky and sunshine sparkling on the water. I’m chattering away and splashing toward the first line of buoys when I turn around to see how they are doing. They aren’t. They are standing at the edge of the water staring at me as if I’ve crossed into some unknown world. My heart sank.

“Come on, guys. The water’s not cold,”

“We can’t swim.”

“Can’t swim? But I’ve seen pictures of you swimming.”

“That’s in a pool. We don’t know how to swim in a lake.”

At first I wanted to wave my hand at them and tell them how silly they were being. Water is water. Swimming is swimming. Come on, this was fun. Swimming in a lake opens up a whole world of possibilities for finding rocks, bits of shell, decaying logs and what not. But in front of me were these tiny little guys in swim trunks, wiggling their toes in the brown sand, hugging their arms across their chests. This was different. I waded back to them and sat down on the sand.

After only a few minutes of exploring the sand and its contents which included rocks, twigs and leaves, they were ankle-deep in the water and noticing small fish swimming around their legs. We were making progress, but the pièce de résistance was when I lost my footing and landed on my behind in the water. The splashing commenced. Now with a common target, they forgot their apprehension about the unusual stuff beneath their feet and set about making sure that I was completely soaked. Mind you I was wearing shorts that I rolled up. I hadn’t planned on getting thoroughly wet. However, once I realized they were no longer concerned about the lack of chlorine in the lake water, I didn’t care that I was going to drive home in wet clothes with my hair plastered to my head.

It didn’t start out the way I planned. It ended up better than I could have imagined complete with a very complicated game about splashing that I only barely understood. And I was reminded that while children are curious, curiosity does not come without apprehension. Before starting anything new and unfamiliar it is always a good idea to pause and ask questions. Rarely should we blindly follow someone, even someone we love, into unfamiliar waters.


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I Don’t Know How They Do It

“I don’t know how they do it.”

I often hear this phrase when the conversation turns to my previous employment as a preschool teacher, or even just talking about early childhood educators in general. The assumption is that having many children in a single space is more difficult than having just one or two.

It seems like it should be true. We hear stories of how teachers in grade school must conduct class in a certain and often strict manner. Surely teachers in preschool must use some sort of control mechanism to maintain the calm and functional bliss that is demanded by their circumstances?

 

Baloney! I recently had a group of children and families over for a celebration at my house. We had around 15 children, mostly between the ages of four and five and with a few toddlers in the mix. It was chaos for sure – there is no other way to put it. But, I felt like it was controlled without having to be authoritative. No one had to put the kibosh on anyone’s play. No one got hurt. There may have been a moment of crying or two but situations were resolved peacefully.

It wasn’t until the end of the night when the comment came.

“I don’t know how their teachers do it all day, every day.”

While I didn’t respond, what I wanted to say was, “How do you do it?”

We have to be fair to ourselves, give ourselves credit for the roller coasters, the fits and the fury that we as parents face on a daily basis. Before I had children I used to say that having them would be a piece of cake as I had a ton of knowledge and experience in the classroom. But when I had my first child that thought changed. Why? Because it’s different.

All of those skills I had for the classroom? Some of them apply and some just don’t because being in a classroom is different from being in your own home, with your own children. A child knows who their parents and/or primary caregivers are. They know there is a difference between them and their teachers. They also have the peer/social components of being in a classroom that affects their behavior. I don’t know many families that are composed of fifteen plus children all around the same age.

The environments and routines are different, too. My home is my home and toys go, well, anywhere and everywhere. In the classroom they go someplace specific. Routines are pretty consistent but in a completely different way than at school.

So, the next time I hear someone say, “I don’t know how they do it,” I’m going to say, “Yes, you do.”

Unless they don’t have a child in which case, “Have you ever herded cats? Well, it’s not really like that.”


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Presence Trumps Presents

Last week my baby turned ten. As hard as it was for me to accept that he’s double digits, the fact that he didn’t want any toys was even harder. Though he’s interested in things most 10-year-olds are, like Minecraft and superheroes, the Xbox and television versions get much more play than the action figures and play sets he got at Christmas. So, while it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when he informed me that he wanted Xbox games for his birthday instead of toys, it did.

Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the days when children really played. Sure, as a child I loved to watch TV, but the options were so limited, both in variety and air time, that doing so was an event to be scheduled and highly anticipated. I’d watch my few shows after school on the weekdays and then wake up early on Saturday mornings because that was the only time cartoons were on. All of my other time was spent doing homework, reading, playing outside and with my toys.

And that’s the kind of childhood I envisioned for my children. But I didn’t factor in 24-hour programming and all of the other screens sucking my children in to the degree that the activities I’d prefer them to love often lose to screen time.

On Levi’s actual birthday, I did take my children to the book store on a quest for comic books, which he’d gotten interested in at Christmas. After debating with Levi on the age-appropriateness of some comics, we landed on a few old classics and some new ones that feature his beloved TV and Xbox characters. As we wandered through the toy section, I felt a pang that several piqued his interest, but not enough for him to ask for them. The fact that it was his first birthday with no toys really does mean he’s growing up.

Later that night I tucked him in and told him I’d miss 9-year-old Levi, but knew I’d love 10-year-old Levi just as much—or more. Still concerned that I’d somehow cheated him because he hadn’t unwrapped any gifts, I asked if he’d had a good birthday. When he answered affirmatively, I probed about the best part. And his response?

“Just being with you.”

Though playing outside may not always trump playing Xbox, my presence in my child’s life trumps presents every time.