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It’s been a while…

24 May

It has been far too long since I have blogged. Time just flies. I feel like I blinked and my kids are all growing up so fast…my baby just turned 4. In the last few weeks, I have realized that all the special moments with her as my little baby are almost behind me. I have made the conscious decision to make sure I enjoy all the moments that much more—with all of my kids, not just my 4 year old.

In these last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sit and watch my kids from the sidelines. I have watched them in school performances, and just sat back and watched them at home.

My “first baby” is now in the grade that I taught when I first entered the world of teaching. Second graders seemed so old then! How can I have a second grader who does research, reads complicated books, and writes stories?! How is it possible that my first grader who did not read with confidence, suddenly reads with expression and total comprehension as she devours her favorite new series, Roscoe Riley? How can my 4 year old suddenly correct ME when I read her favorite books and skip a word?

Of course my kids have grown as people: emotionally, socially, and in other areas. Since this blog focuses on our children as learners, that is what I have been thinking about most as I observe them.

This past week, what has become obvious to me is how my kids have begun to teach each other. So, in the spirit of getting you more free time while at the same time fostering your kids’ emotional and intellectual development, I am going to give you a tip: make your kids take over your role at bedtime.

If you have older children, have your older children put your young preschooler to bed. If your preschooler is your oldest and you have a baby, have your preschooler try to put your baby to bed. If you have a preschooler or a toddler and no others, have your child put YOU to bed.

It seems silly, I know. This past week my oldest decided to put our 4 year old to sleep. It was helpful for me, since I was able to spend the time with my middle daughter. It was helpful to me, since I only had to put TWO kids to sleep and not three. But most of all, it was helpful to the two of them.

For my oldest, she was able to apply so many of her skills:

-she felt really old, mature, and responsible

-she was able to practice her own reading with expression and keeping it interesting for her audience

-she actually worked to teach her little sister to read! She read her one of our favorite books (Baby Happy, Baby Sad by Leslie  Patricelli) and made sure to point out the repetitive text

For the youngest:

-she learned a new book from a different teacher

-she felt mature and responsible, too. Mom was not present!

Above all, they bonded. In the way that reading is so special for parents and children, it is as special for kids to share this with each other. Sometimes, parents can be in the way of truly positive interactions between siblings. (Don’t get me wrong. Feel free to spy from the hall.)

This can work with any age children. I have been doing this with my kids since my oldest was four. You would be amazed at what your kids can do. (Just don’t forget to try to stand in the door to take a video. It is guaranteed to warm your heart!)

Let me say this again: try this to save yourself some work! Use the extra time to kick up your feet and curl up with a book of your own. The dishes in the sink will wait until tomorrow morning. I promise.

noname-1

 

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Let’s pretend!

22 Mar

Does your child rush to the dramatic play area in preschool (and beyond)?

Do you ever think, “That’s great, but s/he never does that at home”? Well, try this idea to freshen up the play that happens at home–courtesy of one of my favorite blogs: http://imaginationsoup.net/2013/03/25-diy-pretend-play-kits/

I love these ideas for so many reasons. As I have mentioned in previous posts, play is key to children’s developing minds. It is how they make sense of the world around them. It is how they explore concepts and emotions, and how they understand roles they see in the world around them (parents, teachers, doctors, siblings, and even animals).

In creating these kits, kids are active participants in their own play. They are able to call upon their emerging literacy and math skills as they create. And above all, they are using their imagination. Depending on their ages, you may be able to just drop the idea and run. I plan to try to suggest the idea and leave my 8,6,3 year olds to their own devices. They will love it more when they have complete ownership.

Years ago, my oldest daughter was learning about flowers in preschool. Her teachers created a flower shop–complete with seeds, cash register, and fake flowers. My kids came home and recreated and extended the shop with what they could find at home. They filled envelopes with rice (called them seeds), made a cash register out of a cereal box, and wrote signs all by themselves. The creation took 3 days’ worth of play. The play: a whopping 12 minutes. At the time I remember thinking: “Can’t they just play???” But now, thinking back, I realize they did incredible “work” and the process was what mattered to them.

Dramatic play is how our children come to understand the world around them.

Dramatic play is how our children come to understand the world around them.

A friend recently shared with me something that Mr. Rogers said:

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

So, if you are home with your kids this week or next, consider creating a DIY Kit with your kids and then just let them play. If all goes well, you can go make yourself a cup of tea and reach for a good book.

Fight for their right…TO PLAY!

29 Dec

Frazzled Kid

I hope you are all enjoying your children this vacation. By now, I bet it doesn’t feel much like a vacation. I am sure you have all had your fill of each other. Oh, I hear ya. I, too, have been with my children non-stop for the last 9 days.

While there are only a few days left of this break from school, I’d love to give you a tip to truly enjoy the rest of your vacation. It will sound callous, perhaps even odd. Here goes: leave your kids alone.

What do I mean by this? Do not schedule an activity, do not play with them, and do not turn on the television, video games, or computer. Just let them play. This is tip number one from my list of tips from a couple of blog entries ago: UN-schedule your child.

Some of you may have heard of David Elkind. He is a professor at Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. He has written many books that have shaped my own perspective as a teacher and parent ever since I was his student.

Here is a statistic Elkind mentions in his book, The Power of Play: “Over the past two decades, children have lost 12 hours of free time a week.” WOW. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. 12 hours.

Where have those 12 hours gone, you may ask? Does the scene in the picture above look at all familiar?

When I think of my happiest memories as a kid, they all involve me playing with my toys and games at home, in the yard, or with friends running around pretending we were teachers, parents, or living in the wild. Why would we knowingly rob our kids of such experiences?

Elkind writes, “…Parents, anxious for their children to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, regard play as a luxury that the contemporary child cannot afford.” This statement saddens me every time I read it. And it rings true.

Now, back to you and your kids. Your child probably does enjoy the activities to which you (or someone else) bring her, but I encourage you to think about the schedule you have for your children. Does it include an early bedtime? Does it include quality unstructured time?

Elkind states: “The psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous, self-initiated play are equally serious, and equally worrisome.”

Kids NEED unstructured time to play alone, with friends or adults in their lives, outside or inside. This time is critical to social, emotional, and intellectual development—to name just a few perks. Kids learn to be creative, solve problems, work through their emotions, and occupy themselves.

As a teacher, I used to offer free choice time each day, regardless of what grade I was teaching. Over the course of ten years, I saw a huge change in how my students reacted. At first, kids were excited and thrilled to have free time with math materials, puzzles, art materials, or just to play “pretend.” As the years went on, free time became stressful.

“Denise, what do I DO??!?! THIS IS SO BORING!” I would say, “Well, what do you play at home when you have down time?” Here is a sampling of the answers: “I never have free time.” “My mom chooses for me.” “I watch television.” “My mom or dad tells me what to do.” And my favorite: “I never choose. Someone always chooses for me. If I think it is boring, they choose something else for me.”

Hmmmm.

As a parent, I have found the younger my sitters are, the less they are able to actually play with my kids. I have come home to find my girls playing on the babysitter’s phone, the sitter lying on the floor texting while my kids literally run in circles playing around her, and even overheard my kids saying “We don’t actually watch TV too much. We love to play together.”

Just tonight, my husband and I wanted to cuddle on the sofa with the girls and watch a movie. They chose to play family with their toothbrush and toothpaste samples from the dentist. (Yes, it does sound odd to say it out loud but it really is cute. Mr. and Mrs. Mint have a very nice life. Our kids spend hours at a time with free floss and toothbrushes. I kid you not.)

Have you ever thought, “If I don’t plan something for my kids, we will all drive each other nuts”? Before you reach for your car keys, I’d like to leave you with this thought: the more you leave your kids alone, the more independent they will become. Provide them with time to explore all the toys, art materials, dolls, etc. in your house. They will have more ideas than you. There is nothing more fun than sitting back and watching your kids play independently—except maybe the downtime you will get for yourself.

Mark my words, when your child has had the opportunity to create, problem solve, and interact with others, he will enter his academic career with the confidence and skills he needs to succeed. He may not be able to solve quadratic equations or be fluent in three languages at age 4, but I assure you he will be happy and well equipped for his future as a life-long learner and social being.

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