Mirrors of Me

Deep in conversation with my 7 year old, my attention was suddenly diverted to my ever busy 2 year old.  She was suddenly unusually quiet and standing dead still.  Oh my how  we laughed.  She was standing between my 7 year old and I with her arms crossed imitating the exact posture of her big sister. What an amazing teaching opportunity arose for me to demonstrate to my older daughter that little people will copy us whether we like it or not.

Recently I have been hearing more and more stories of children displaying behaviour which includes the children using sarcasm or humour but the underlying message results in them becoming really mean to others, not only to their peers but to their parents as well. Yes there are many times when the root of this behavioue is obvious.  The child has been bullied or is working through a difficult period in live such as a divorce or death in the family.  Yet there are times when parents and teachers are left baffled, pondering where this attitude – that often comes across as cute in a 3 year old but as something very unpleasant in a 10 year old – could possibly have arrived from?

I will never forget when as a new mom I was deeply concerned about my 7 month old son.  He had just cut his first two teeth and he kept biting his lip. With these tiny munchers he managed to cut his lip quite badly. The clinic sister adviced what cream to use but we were at a loss how to stop this habit he had formed. A few weeks later, whilst driving to work, I looked into the rearview mirror and what did I see? I was biting my bottom lip!  Oh my, without knowing it the stess of Mommyhood had been kept well under tap and yet it was leaking out in this new habit and our baby boy was copying it!

If we begin dig down into the archives of  our memories and dust off the cobwebs, looking back at the life of a child. You will recall that when only a few weeks old, your baby mimiced a tongue being stuck out. By a few months they would copy sounds that you made. They smile when you smile and clap as you clap. Your child will learn to speak the language you speak, dress how you dress and will usually participate in the religion and social activities such as sport or music that their family values.

Again and again I have heard of a child who is adopted or lives with a step parent  be told how much they look like this parent. The reality is that they often don’t look any thing alike instead, the child so closely mimics the adult’s mannerisms that it actually presents itself as the parent and child looking a like. Humour, vocabulary, a gait, attitude to work and all other behaviours are not born with but instead learnt from those around us. The way we walk and talk was not chosen but rather picked up over years and years of subconsciously immitating those around us.

Looking back at our sweet, little person who is developing this nasty streak that has baffeled parents and teachers alike. Could the cure lie not in psychology or medication but instead a good look at who they are spending time with? It may well be other children – often older than themselves – books they are reading, computer games they are playing or movies they are watching. Or it may even be coming from home.  Most of us consider our homes and especially ourselves as being no threat to our precious little people.  Yet as I learnt with our baby boy, they are watching us all the time. Often we mean no harm and yet a simple expression of our stress, a reaction to a car driving too slowly or the irritation with the morning routine, is infact instilling within our children attitudes and habits for life. They don’t understand or appreciate that we are in a stressful situation or that our sarcasm is simply a form of humour.

So as difficult and as unpleasant as it is, when our children begin displaying distasteful behaviours, attitudes, reactions or mannerisms – before we start pointing fingers let us take the time to look at ourselves and see if infact a few adjustments in our attitudes or habits need to be honed. They see and hear all that we do and as much as I tell my children to do as I say and not as I do, they just keep copying me!

Learning Beside Mama

Toy Train Set 084Despite popular belief that children should spent as much time as possible socialising with their peer group, there are always easy and fun ways to include them into what we, the big people, are doing. It is at these times, when children work side by side with adults, that they learn more than when left alone with a room full of toys. Yes, a pretend tea set or train set allows them to spend time imagining all sorts of games. Through pretend play children develop their concept of who they are and how society and relationships as a whole fits together. Make believe is a fundamental part of childhood. However, toys don’t specifically allow a child to learn life skills that they will need in daily life. A child may be able to cut up play dough to make a dolls dinner, however, cutting a cucumber and adding it to the salad for dinner gives the activity meaning and purpose. Instead of just pretending to be useful and playing a role they are engaging in real life activities that make them feel useful and a part of the family. This gives them a sense of belonging and importance.

From the age of two or three years – under adult supervision – a child can be given a cutting board and a blunt knife, to cut up fruit and vegetables. Start off with soft fruit such as a banana, or paw-paw so that they don’t need much effort or co-ordination. From about three years children have enough co-ordination to start peeling carrots. Children as young as two years can learn to break an egg. Simply place a bowl under a mug and break the egg into the mug and if it misses the egg lands in the bowl. You may need to stick your fingers into the shell with them a few times and scoop out the shell bits. However, by being a part of the family unit in such a meaningful way from the beginning develops children to want to help as they get older. Incorporate your child in all your household chores such as hanging up and folding washing, washing dishes – you do the glass ones and they do the plastic ones. From the time they can walk children can help put dishes away and pick up toys. All these are not only training your child in vital life skills but also building an attitude of service and responsibility. Children love feeling that they are trusted and needed, therefore by giving them the responsibility of feeding a pet or wiping a table builds their self-esteem too. As children are included in the household activity they feel needed and loved.

Sjouwen van melkbusen / Children helping out a...

These times of working together as a team deepen family relationships, build friendships and encourage siblings to make a plan and work together for the good of the family. Children don’t need to be bribed and rewarded for helping keep the home running smoothly instead you may have natural consequences such as if they haven’t fed the dog they may not have their supper. Or the family can’t go out to the park until all the responsibilities are completed.

December is such a wonderful time as Christmas creates so many of these co-working opportunities. It is however also a stressful, busy time. One therefore has to determine before each morning if little people will be playing a big part in our day and if so we need to dress with an extra layer of patience each morning.

Family is such a special and wonderful concept. It is designed to train and teach a child in so many ways and yet we get caught up in babying children, pampering them and rushing to meet their needs. Instead we should see children as a part of the family. By drawing our children into the centre of the home action, we are not only preparing them for life and teaching them many important skills but they grow up secure feeling needed, valued and loved too.

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Seize the Day

This adventure called parenting is one that is constantly challenging, changing and one that keeps us learning. The irony being that more often than not it is the children teaching us not only about where they need their boundaries or security to fall or what stimulation they require but they teach us about life too. And just when we think we have it all together once again they open our eyes to a whole new realm.

It is easy as a parent to become caught up in the discipline, parenting and ensuring that all our child’s educational needs are met that we do in fact lose out on the very marrow of parenthood. Parenting is a hard job and a huge responsibility. It is however just as important to take time out with our children. We need to laugh, to play, to dance and explore this amazing earth with them. It is so easy for us to become caught up in our “mature” adult world that we are no longer capable of drawing ourselves away to simply be with, and enjoy being with, our children. When last did we sit with our child and simply watch a dragon fly dance across the water? Have we recently squashed our toes in mud? Did we take the time to colour a picture? Or dance in the kitchen? Yes these are all interruptions within our busy schedule and they do draw us away from all we need to do. But I am learning day by day that they do instead draw us into the company of our children which draws us into their lives and as they grow into their confidence. We are then able to see the world through their eyes, their understanding, and their hearts.

Just this last week I was yet once again pulled back to the essence of being Mom. It had been a long day and I had asked the twins – aged 4 – to yet again get out the bath, dressed and tidy their room. After a period of time mother instinct kicked in and I knew nothing was happening. I threw down the peeler and marched to their room – ready to deal out the wrath of Tired Mommy. On reaching their room I could see no one, only a lump under one duvet. Pulling back the blanket, ready to reel out my list of consequences, I was greeted by two, barely clad, squirming cherubs. They held within their hands a torch and were giggling incessantly.  “You found us. We hid. The torch… Giggle, giggle.” Instantly my parenting wanted to discipline, wanted to see to it that I remained the one in control, that they learned they needed to obey. Yet a small voice inside me began to ring louder, a voice saying, “this is actually really funny and you too need a good laugh.” Digging deep I managed to push past all the serious parenting, discipline, and training roles and for that moment in time just be Giddy Mommy. We tickled and giggled and squirmed. With that the stress of the day melted away and I could return to peeling the carrots rejuvenated and refreshed. My children then too jumped to their tasks and were soon dressed and had a tidy room.

So yes we are called to a high, noble and difficult position of training and education these little beings. But we are also called to a humble place: a place of simply being, a place of learning to stop, and relish the simple moments that these wonderful little people bring into our lives.

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Creativity Feeds Off Life Experience

One of the most frustrating experiences, as an educator is when you are trying to encourage creativity and imagination and the children are simply not engaging with you. The first few times one goes home and relooks at the lesson plan. Was it too boring? Was it above their heads? Did I expect too much of them?

However when one stops and reworks the lesson, going through it step by step, scrutinising why the creativity simply did not flow one realises that the failure did not lie in the lesson planning but rather within the child’s life experience.

More times than not a child will be asked to describe something interesting that happened to them recently and their response is, “I did go to the mall.” On further prompting and questioning they may add, “We did eat there.” One can keep digging and ask them to explain what they heard, tasted, saw and such and so try to make more of the experience. However most have been there so often for so many weekends doing the same thing over and over that they cannot in fact remember anything very specific as it all merges into the rest of their weekend memories.

A teacher is able to take items to a classroom and ask a child to feel them and write about it or the class may visit a farm and record the experience. However this is very limiting and a child cannot rely on someone always providing a structured, scheduled experience from which they will gain their creativity juices.

As parents it is our responsibility to ensure that our children are exposed to a vast array of situations, places, people and experiences. As they interact with a variety of age groups and visit many places the child is absorbing and processing vast amounts of information. They are experiencing physically and emotionally all sorts of new feelings with which they are now able to connect their creativity.

Our time with our children is so precious and short that we need to specifically choose to partake in activities that will not only form lasting memories but ones that will ignite a passion and fire within their souls. As passion that will overflow into their creativity.

It is obviously much easier to spend our spare time with our children at the mall or letting the children play computer games all weekend. The reality however is that parenting is not easy and often we need to make a conscious choice to choose to do something we may not naturally be inclined to do. However when we choose to stomp through a forest on a rainy day or go catch tadpoles, take a trip to the old age home, play a soccer game in the back yard we are not only keeping our children busy but we are reaching their hearts. This is fundamental, not only in the building of our relationship with them but to connect their emotions and hearts to a world beyond themselves and their needs. As our children reach out and engage with the world, other places and other people they form emotional connections that light the creative spark within. Suddenly they find they do have an opinion, they do have story to tell and they want to contribute to the world of creativity.

So let’s all take up the challenge and ensure that at least once a week our children are made aware of something around them that causes them to question, makes them wonder, thrills them to the core or simply engages their senses in a new and invigorating way. In so doing we are priming our children to create.

 

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Good Family literacy value helps children find their voice.

So often we hear adults conversing and during a single conversation they will change their viewpoint every few minutes to align themselves with whoever is speaking. Even though, every person has views and opinions many are never voiced, simply because people haven’t been encouraged and inspired to share their standpoint. As parents we can assist our children, in developing the skills to share their voice, from when they are still tiny tots.

Until a child goes to school the home provides the primary influence within their life.  What the child sees and hears happening at home is what they’ll imitate.  Unfortunately the saying “do as I say and not what I do,” has no meaning for little people.  Children are created to imitate, it’s the way they were programmed to learn about the world and how they should respond to it. Have you ever wondered why a child has good or bad manners, or where they learned the vocabulary they use?  How often have they dressed in mom or dads clothes and said, “Look, me Dad.”  The same goes towards their intellectual development and attitudes.

If parents and later teachers value books, learning and excellence a child will value these too.  We often scoff at the “whys” of a two year old and yet he is often truly searching.  As they look around the home they make connections and satisfy their “whys” of daily life. As they get older however their minds desire to stretch and pull out further. This is often beyond the walls of the home and the streets of their town. Their “why” draws them out across field and mountain, shore and sea even right into the heart of the universe. From here they desire to step deeper into understanding life, fear, ecstasy, pride, victory and failure. Many of these stretch beyond his immediate experience so it’s through the reading of great books that they can dive into another place time and meet new people. This in turn will stretch and grow their person. Don’t however stop here, throw before them the histories, arts, music, handcrafts and long nature walks. Then you’ll see that even the young child has deep powers of attention, retention, assimilation and curiosity that will help them draw from these meaning and a deeper understanding about life.  As we feed our children this “mind stuff” they begin to take up their journey into self-education.

By adults making their speech colourful and full of life, using big words when talking to a child, talking slowly and stopping between ideas we are training a child to think carefully before he speaks. To choose his words carefully, to have breaks between topics and clearly construct his thoughts encourages a child to consider what they are saying and to say it well.

Yes this does begin upon the mother’s knee as the young child is read to often during their early years. To know a world lies beyond those silent pages, the child soon begins desiring to acquire the gift of reading for themself.  As they charter and explore these new lands deep rooted personal views and opinions begin to grow. As we mirror good speech patterns, encourage great books and curiosity and we value our children and their opinions from a young age, they are well on their way to developing opinions and a voice that they will uphold and will be clearly heard in life.

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Free to Choose

English: Portrait of a girl from Portugal

What is it that all humans crave, strive for and will die for? Freedom.  Freedom to be ourselves, freedom to make our own choices and to have the right to be who we are. Freedom is a powerful concept and realisation, for one to be able to express ones freewill is the ultimate human experience. To be able to choose, to be able to decide for yourself and do exactly as one wishes gives one not only the feeling of liberty but one of power, integrity and self-worth.

If as parents we tap into this inbuilt desire for one to be able to express our own freewill we are able to make parenting and discipline all that much easier – as the child ends up doing all the work for us. As with all aspects of life one may have the right to express ones freewill, however there is a natural law that sees that every action results in a consequence. Children need to learn that their choices result in natural consequences.

Within the home or school one needs to have boundaries and acceptable conduct. The children then need to be aware of the choices they may choose from and what the consequences may be. It could look something like this: It is decided that within your home you don’t permit hitting. Therefore a child who chooses to hit – experiences a natural consequence – they are removed from all other children and are required to sit alone until such time as they choose to no longer hit. There is no time limit set on their “timeout” as once they choose to apologise and change their behaviour the natural consequence is that they may return. If however they hit again, well they are again removed.

As parents it is our responsibility to let our children know about the choices they have before them and what the consequences of these choices may be. We then leave them to choose and simply ensure that the natural consequences play their roll. If homework is not complete they may miss going to the beach as they need to complete it on Saturday. If they choose to not help tidy their room they may need to miss a movie to do it. This is very different from threatening or punishing a child who does not complete their task.  It is rather a natural result of the choices they have made.

The great part about tapping into the desire for one to express one’s own freewill is that you are able to step back and no longer need to rant and rave and become emotionally involved. As parents we are often too scared to allow our children to make their own choices. Instead we take on the responsibility of deciding for them and so prevent them from feeling the pain of poor choices. The result being not only that the parents are becoming more and more tense and emotionally drained but children are not learning to take responsibility and ownership for the choices they make.

Choices are fantastic, they make parenting so much easier because if a child is offered the choice to obey or share or work in a team and they choose not to it’s their choice and they are in effect “choosing their consequences.” A child may not choose what one thinks is wise or good or right but that is how they learn. Rather they learned the pain and joy of expressing their freewill within the safety of their home than to feel the full pain of making foolish choices later in life.

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To Chore or Not to Chore

In our home we choose to chore 🙂

From the day a child can walk – without falling over – they start to help pick things up, put away dishes and do anything a little person is able to do. From about aged 2 or 3 (depending on the child) they are given specific “responsibilities.”

Changing the term form “Chores” to “Responsibilities” changed the whole attitude and feel in our home. The little ones may need to feed an animal whilst the older ones have either more responsiblities or more demanding ones. The children love having responsibilities and will become quite upset if someone does one of theirs. It makes them feel needed, rooted and that they have a place within the home.

When our children turn 13 we have a evening to celebrate their “pre-adulthood” and with this comes greater responsibility. So at present our 14 year old is responsible for the washing. Well, I ensure it is washed and hung up and then it’s up to her. She need to bring it in, fold it and put it away. I love how she’s begun putting on CDs so the little ones all want to listen and then she gets them to all fold the washing with her. This is great as it teaches her to not let the washing (or anything in life for that matter) pile up and how much hard work it takes to truly be responsible for something as well as many other life lessons. She also has a number of other responsibilities such as washing the breakfast dishes and clearing the kitchen after supper.

The other children have responsibilities such feeding animals, making beds, putting clothes away, putting dishes away. Sometimes children require some direction and help such as I may need to place their duvet at the bottom of their bed neatly so they can pull it up to make their bed. Other times they may need to be given a more specific task such as – pick up all the red blocks. Often children become overwhelmed when given a task too big and therefore their reluctance to help is actually that they don’t really know where to start.

For these responsibilities our children are not remunerated. We all have a part to play and a role to fill to be apart of the family. This is also a chance to train them in loving others. If someone is sick or away we step in and help each other out. If however they are asked to do something that I would usually employ someone else to do such as mow the lawn we will show our appreciation by giving them some money towards something they are saving up for.

We do also try to make it fun. So we’ll often play Amazing Race where I give them tasks to complete in a set time (these can range from washing dishes, to scrubbing a wall, to peeling and freezing bananas.) If the task is completed they get a small prize – raisins, a snack, or such and the next clue. If it isn’t completed in time once it is completed they need to run around the house, miss the treat and then get the next clue. I find they don’t cope with more than 5 activities in a game so after the 4th or 5th task they get a grand prize – an ice-cream (or my favourite: to watch a DVD – in the middle of the day – and I get to have a quiet cup of coffee:)

Another game we play is the “Post Box Game.” I put some tasks into a box. The children then need to sneak up and get a clue and do the task without me seeing them. I obviously know where they are but pretend to not hear them and then I suddenly turn around or jump out at them. We all have great fun with this and yes the chores get done too. Otherwise music is good on a whole. Listening to worship songs or stories helps them to not dwell on the fact that they are doing chores. Oh yes and we also sometimes have everyone folding washing while I read to them.

This may not work for every family but for us it’s been a great balance and an opportunity to teach our children about responsibility, love, running a home and what being a family is all about.

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The Art of Storytelling

English: A man in heavy robes animatedly telli...

As far back as we can trace human existence; story telling has formed an integral backbone in all cultures!  Story tellers have not only passed down history mixed with legend but they also brought news, taught valuable lessons through narrative text and shared fundamental pieces of their culture with generation after generation.

 Yet once again in our technological, communicative age we’ve lost the need for good story telling.  Yes, many of us enjoy reading a good book but as the years go by so the standard of the books being produced are generally dwindling.

Without growing up amongst story tellers, or great books, our children now need to be trained to tell a good story. Many pre-schoolers and primary school children battle telling their news about what they did in the holidays or over a weekend. Yet, they can all tell great tales about another’s misdemeanours. When describing another’s disobedience or a dangerous feat, then their faces are alive and their voices animated.  Is this because adults actually look up and pay attention when children bring tall tales but seldom acknowledge their speech when told about finding a tortoise in their garden?

As soon as your child can string sentences together and recall an event, write it down, praise them, show them where you wrote it and then read it to someone else in front of your child.  If your child is not yet a competent writer ask them to verbally tell a story whilst you write it for them.  Too often we expect children to write down their thoughts before they are able to write competently.  This results in them having to concentrate exceptionally hard to form their letters correctly, worry about spelling and capital letters, during which time they lose the story line.  We then expect them to read their scrawled words to try rediscover where they were. We could compare this to expecting a fireman to perform a heart operation, whilst reading the manual on how to do it at the same time. Instead let’s help our children as best as we can. When their faces are beaming and the story is flowing, grab a pen and write it for them.

To help encourage story telling within your daily life allow your child to read their stories onto tape or video themselves.  On holiday recall the day’s events around a camp fire, encourage animation and expression.  At the dinner table talk about your daily experiences.  Let this happen in such a way that your child wants to be involved in the conversation and share their stories too.  Above all listen to your child and show interest in whatever it is they want to tell you.

Reading together, from birth, cannot be over emphasised.  A few generations back only a few people in each community could read.  This meant that story time was an event, everyone would gather around to listen to the story being read.  Through listening to the story teller’s voice and watching their facial animations others would have been able to recount what they had heard.  Too often we think once a child can read they no longer need to be read to.  On the contrary, they are now ready to learn how to read with expression and retell their own stories, which is learned through watching and listening to others read to them.

Story telling is an art that is being lost. Like all other arts it needs to be practiced and honed. Let us let our homes be an encouraging and safe place for our children to develop this fundamental life skill.

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Child Led Life

Today’s thought is a simple yet profound one. That is to simply let your child be your guide. We often think as parents that it’s all up to us to guide, direct and stimulate our children. But if we simply stop for just a short while and listen to them and watch them our job suddenly becomes so much easier.

This is because we’ll soon discover what our children’s interests are and what they do and don’t enjoy. For example even a 3 year old maybe more interested in trains or animals. They may enjoy books or crafts more. Once you have established these things and you work with your child developing their pre-school skills suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

When our eldest was 3 he was such a book boy and yet I insisted on using crafts day after day. One day we were doing butterflies and I said we were going to make caterpillars from egg boxes. He simply looked at me and said “but why, what for?” My response of “for fun” didn’t quite cut it with him. So we began reading and reading and reading together and I pulled in hand-eye skills in other ways such as baking or doing something purposeful like making a birthday card. And guess what we stopped fighting. My second son loves crafts and at 3 unless we do a craft he’s highly upset that he’s done no work for the day.

My point being that as long as you are aware of the skills your child needs to develop you can include them in different ways throughout that day rather than simply enforcing them onto them in away they find unnatural and forced. This actually leads to a happier child and so a happier mom and family environment which is much more conducive to learning taking place.

Being Mom Redefined

A mother holds up her child.

When I stepped into maternity leave with our first child I boldly claimed I knew what Being Mom was all about: Discipline, education and preparing a child for their future and their place in the world. I valued outstanding report cards, first team positions and social recognition. Being Mom was something that required time spent developing a child into all you saw they were meant to become.

Today however Being Mom entailed watching my 9 year old son skip properly for the first time. To see the concentration etched upon his face. Then as he suddenly surprised himself by skipping with two feet together his face broke into pure glee but as he reached the 7th skip the rope tangled around his feet and he almost went flying and together we laughed and laughed. Turning around my five year old son tugged at my sleeve, “Mommy, look I build all the numbers.” There using maths cards he’d discovered that 55 was not merely a 5 and a 5 but rather a 50 and a 5. He proudly bounced around the kitchen as he pointed out all the different number he had built. My 14 year old then bounded into the kitchen begging us to listen to the piano piece she’s figured out all on her own. There with cords and notes floating around us I settled down with my 5 year old and he began reading one of his first sentences. So far today has been good.

The afternoon hurried past in a mixture of music and art lessons. One son played the xylophone for the first time whilst the other painted the most exquisite clay birds he had made – never mind he can’t stand touching paint. The three year old twins discovered that dice have dots representing numbers and that by throwing it alternatively and moving chess pieces around you can create the most glorious game – to which I still see no patterns or rules, but the screaks of delight confirmed that none were required.

Insisting on candles for dinner, making their carrot pieces and potatoes into mice upon their plates and arguing over who was to pray first was what Being Mom was all about today.

No one came first, or won a prize. I didn’t settle a business deal or even make any great meals but Being Mom today has allowed me to tuck in and kiss 5 little people goodnight with a heart so full and proud that I may as well have conquered the world.

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