Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Blog is Now on WordPress

Hi there,

If you like reading this blog, thanks! And if you'd like to read more, it's now only on WordPress:

If you want to followme/followyou, subscribe to my blog over on WordPress and leave a comment on an article that you've done so, with a link to your blog.

I'm going to maintain this blog over here to continue with Google Friend Connect, and can follow you through it.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stand Back. I'm Cleaning.

From the top of the stairs, I heard my husband fiddling with the coat closet by the front door. "Honey," I called, "what are you doing?"

"I'm cleaning," he said.

And I felt something a lot of mothers feel when their spouses begin to put things away. Sheer panic.

What the heck was this woolly mammoth he'd just tossed into my neat little line of ducks? I peeked down the stairs and saw him with three pairs of my shoes tucked under his arm.

I walked down and past him, trying not to look like I'd "caught" him cleaning. He gave me a wide grin because he knew what I was thinking: those shoes don't go in there. And I knew what he was thinking: they do now.

Then my son said, "Look, Mommy! I made a train." He'd taken every book off the shelf, every dinosaur, every car and covered the living room floor in a snake-like pattern. My daughter, meanwhile, had gathered all the blankets and throw pillows from the living room, and piled them on her rocking horse in the den. "A tent, Mommy!" she said.

As I watched the contents of my house shift with the tsunami-like energy of my family, I saw something that stopped the panic and made me realize, this is fun.

I didn't want my husband to put my shoes somewhere I'd never find them. And I knew I'd be putting my son's books away later so they wouldn't get trampled. And when my daughter asked for a blanket I'd have to remember where she'd left them.

But what I saw that drew me into the tsunami instead of against it, were the faces of my family. Smiling. Having fun. Playing games.

Children have so many rules they need to follow that it's especially important to give them control over their environment whenever you can. It's how they build confidence, express themselves and play happy.

And as for husbands putting shoes away? Come on. Does it get any better?

©, 2011-2012

Hit it Until it Breaks

A friend of mine with two young sons clued me in to a unique mentality for boys. When they play, their only thought is, "How hard can I hit it until it breaks?"

When you think about it, that drive to test things out and explore or exceed limits is at the core of brain development.

Have you heard the term "sensorimotor?" It's a style of learning gaining in popularity as more teachers and parents recognize that book learning actually isn't natural.

Learning through paper and pen and words on a page is not part of the basic nature of human beings. The pyramids, the Venus de Milo and Chubby Checker's "The Twist" (the #1 Billboard song of all time) were created by hitting things until they broke. Trying things out. Exceeding limits. Moving monolithic stones, molding marble and combining rhythm, energy and a piano... these are all examples of sensorimotor skills.

Granted, none of those would have been possible had their creators not done their share of book learning. In fact, math featured prominently in each of those creations. Arithmetic for the pyramids, scale and geometry for the Venus de Milo, and musical composition for The Twist.

When it comes to little boys, most have an intuitive "break it" mentality. Book learning tends to be more difficult for boys than for girls. The Department for Children, Schools and Families in Britain released a pamphlet quoted here that says, "The qualities and skills that are most valued by schools, the ability to communicate orally and represent ideas on paper, are often the very aspects of learning that boys find most difficult."

My son's Goodnight Gorilla book looks like the gorilla escaped one night and ate it. But really, it was just my little boy exercising how to exceed the limits.
And if he breaks enough things, maybe he can do something like this with the pieces.

©, 2011-2012

But *I'm* Being Good

I took this picture a few days before Christmas. Pure sweetness. Brother and sister helping each other to decorate the tree.

What I don't have a picture of is the following evening. As I made dinner out in the kitchen, I heard squeals of delight. And because I'm a mother, I knew these weren't the "Here, darling sister, would you like to place this shiny ornament on the tree?" No. I know these particular squeals well. They send the hairs on the back of my neck on end.

These were the "I can't believe we're doing this!" squeals. And as I walked into the living room, I saw dozens of shiny ornaments in tiny pieces stuck into the carpet, their tops broken off like some sort of ritualistic beheading, and my children squealing away.

I checked for blood and cleaned up the mess. My kids spent the rest of the night trying to earn points. And like everything else, it became a competition.

"She knocked over her cup! That's bad. But I'm being good, Mommy."

"He hit my teddy bear! That's not nice. But I'm being nice, Mommy."

This is how children work. They make sense of the world by testing limits. By testing boundaries, and by testing if Mommy really doesn't want ornament shards for Christmas.

Competition, big or small, is important to kids. It gives them a chance to work out just what they're capable of. A chance to develop their potential. So throw in some healthy games for your kids. Where being the "good" one doesn't matter, but having a good spirit does.

©, 2011-2012

Free Play is Free Will

"In 1903, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson were in their early 20s when they produced the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a backyard shed" (source: the History Channel's American Pickers).

If you stop for a moment to imagine the first Harley-Davidson shop, images of leaking oil cans, metal wrenches strewn on a dirt floor and sunbeams playing into a room full of dust come to mind. Creation, inspiration and perspiration. Free will.

Though not a motorcycle factory, here's a picture of my coffee table:

(Yes, there is a coffee table under there.) My son made this during a morning of free play. I don't know what this creation is all about, but I do know it's a pure expression of his free will.

He made the choices, and if his towers toppled over, he dealt with the consequences. I believe that if I took this free play time away from him, his stress level would skyrocket. And he'd have a tantrum. "The two most frequent indicators that children are stressed are change in behaviors and regression of behaviors" (source: NCCES).

There is talk about taking recess away from kindergarteners. Kindergarteners! When you don't give kids a chance to play, they freak out. And they lose the chance to experience free will.

Sometimes we get so concerned with cleaning up after our kids that we miss what they've created. We need to make sure our children have chances and opportunities to get to a point where they are comfortable enough exploring that they may just invent something. After all, if Harley's mother had said, "Stop fooling around in that shed," we'd be missing an entire part of our culture. And Harley would have missed the chance to feel the power of play.

©, 2011-2012

I Can't Even Hear My Stomach Burning

I'm just a regular person. I'm not a chef. I've said this to my husband many times over the decade of our marriage, to excuse things I've laid on our dinner table. Things we've actually had to name. "Chicken, the other black meat," "Cheese wads" and my favorite, "Dill Surprise."

This is what I cooked up for my family of four to enjoy earlier this week. I got a potato side dish recipe from Joy of Cooking, but either they didn't test it out right, or perhaps something went wrong on my end.
When I put this on the table, my son took a bite and happily exclaimed, "I can't even hear my stomach burning!"

I chose to take that as a compliment. I mean, come on. How many hats do us mothers need to wear? Mother, confidant, doctor/nurse, laundress, repair-woman, chauffeur, re-attacher of limbs (hopefully for toys only), the list goes on. And truly, "chef" doesn't fit into our mix. We have so many things to do, places to go, doctors to visit, behinds to wipe that there simply isn't enough time in the day to put a Donna Reed dinner on the table every night.

Yet, like so many of you hat-wielding moms, I try.

Because not trying is rather terrifying. Here is what my town's public schools (obviously not part of the Food Revolution) are offering their youngest, the elementary school children, for their school lunches this week: Mon: egg patty with bacon. Tue: chicken nuggets. Wed: bagel and cream cheese. Thu: spaghetti taco and crabby patty. Fri: stuffed crust pizza.

First of all, what the heck is a spaghetti taco?

And second, this is pitiful! My dad brown-bagged our lunches for as long as I can remember. Through high school even. And I plan to do the same for my children. No matter how heavy my head gets with all those hats. Maybe I can blame those hats for future versions of Dill Surprise. Or maybe I can be proud to wear them. Knowing that really, all my kids care about, is that I tried to do something nice for them.

Oh, and if you can cook, check this out. Guaranteed not to burn your kid's stomach.

©, 2011-2012

A House Full of Spaz

I have a neat trick to entertain your kids. Are you ready? The easiest game ever. Stick a piece of blue painter's tape on the floor.

That's it! The possibilities are endless. It works every time. And it's practically free.

I was testing out a new game I'd come up with for my Play 101 series, and as soon as I got this one piece of tape on the floor my kids went crazy. It was a start line. It was a finish line. It was where the elephants and cars had to go. Granted, they know the blue tape usually means a game is about to start, but how could any kid resist the urge to play with this line?

A line means something. It's a marker. A boundary. A goal.

And when you present it to a young inquisitive mind, all sorts of games will emerge. Like the one my son suggested, "Let's crash into the wall! With our heads!"

They were so excited by this line, that by the time we'd tested out my new game they were in full-spirit spaz mode. Hence, the house full of spaz. My daughter was running around with her mouth in a wide open grin and my son was directing her like a traffic cop back and forth across the line.

They say kids will play with a paper bag and they're right. They'll play with anything if you just give them a chance to exercise their imagination. Open the doors and let the spaz into your house. It's fun, it's free play, and you really get to see your kids' minds at work. There's no better way to learn about your children than to simply watch them play.

©, 2011-2012