Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


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Nature: The Original Classroom

natures-journeyNature has a wonderful basic quality that has so many opportunities for learning. I believe that many of the things that we learn can be explored in nature. We learn nurturing and responsibility as we care for our parks, yards, feed birds, and plant gardens and flowers. We learn in the rain, in the water as we jump in puddles. We learn about feeling when we fall or when we have to come inside.

Nature is so valuable. The earth provides an amazing opportunity for learning and the potential from the excitement from being outdoors is electric. We see the value of nature as a way to create calm in our emotions. We spend a lot of time outside simply experimenting with the environment and investigating everything. We learn in the backyard, we learn at the park, we learn while on a hike, we learn everywhere.

The outdoors has provided a fantastic classroom for me and my children. We generally take at least one hike every week at a local park or in our neighborhood. Our son walks during most of the journey and explores everywhere. Exploring and being prepared for the journey is very important. I usually have a small bag with snacks, water, and wipes. We occasionally get off the trail and really find some interesting things. Recently we went on a hike a day after a rain and the creek trail was so muddy and full of puddles. I was prepared with clean clothes and towels in the car. What a wonderful opportunity to explore. He stomped through every puddle large and small as we were on our walk. Then it happened. His feet got wet enough that he didn’t want to walk any more. I had a few choices but I chose to put him up on my shoulders as we finished our hike. It was cold and messy but messy is fun.

About a week later we were on the same trail and it was rather dry but we found a wet space for him to learn and play with the water. I was interested in what would happen if he got muddy again. He was slow at first, but gradually got more and more wet. I got down in the mud near him and painted my face with a little mud. The best part was when he looked up at me and smiled and was inquisitive whether he could have some mud paint too. He lifted his face up with excitement and let me share some art on his face. We walked down the trail where my wife and daughter were waiting and my wife was surprised with our choice of organic facial material but it was such a wonderful memory. Yes, it will get hot or cold, rain or snow, and there will be scrapes, and the bugs will bite, but it is all worth the journey of learning outdoors.


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!


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.