Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Place To Belong

New surroundings can make children wonder where they fit in, where they belong in a new space.  It doesn't matter if it's a new classroom, a new town, a new house, or a new school, they will look for their place in it.  My own children search for that feeling of fitting in each time our family moves.  We move a lot, as military families tend to, which is why I try to keep what would be inviting to a child in mind when creating spaces for them in our home.

The physical environment tends to be the first thing children notice, it's their first impression of a new place.  If they can't see where they can fit into the "picture" it makes a transition that much harder.  The feeling of fitting in is complex, especially in changing environments.  But what I've learned that matters is...

Seeing they have a place to belong helps reinforce the feeling that they do belong. 

What matters is seeing a space that invites them to choose activities on their own.




What matters is seeing there is room to play independently.


What matters is seeing where things go.


What matters is seeing a spot where they can make their mark.



What matters is seeing they are free to make mistakes, and try again.


Each of our homes have been very different from one another in size, location, and layout.  As different as the resulting spaces have been, the only thing that matters to my kids is that they feel at home... a place where every child should feel they belong.


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Looking for more inspirational play area ideas?  Check out Military Wife and Mom's post on How to help kids feel at home after a move.  It's full of beautiful photos of child-friendly play spaces!










Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What's Easier?

My family moved recently.  We moved to a new city, a new state, a new climate, a new region of the country.  We've been through this before and my three-year-old handled it pretty well.    I know many coping tools and ways to help kids with moving.  I anticipate different behavior and I'm not surprised when it does happen.  But, the undesirable behavior is still frustrating.  It's still a struggle and it still takes its toll, even when I expect it.

I'm currently struggling a bit with my three-year-old's behavior.  For about a month, he's been an excessive bully toward his older brother, and throwing tantrums that are not like his usual demeanor.  He's always been outgoing, risk-taking, loving, and a bit "wild," but despite my best efforts and techniques I'm losing my patience faster and have been talking with my husband a lot about how I've been approaching this issue.  I even talk to my seven-year-old about things he can do or say so he feels more empowered to show his little brother that he won't let him continue to treat him badly.  My three-year-old has figured out how to push his buttons... and mine.  So we listen to each other, we come up with ideas together, we spend more time playing together, we spend time playing apart, we talk, we hug, we keep trying.

I am mentally spent.  I've been using everything I know, everything I have been taught, everything I have read to help me stay calm and deal with this rationally, but sometimes I still yell, or take something away instead of teaching what to do because I am exhausted over the number of times I need to practice this with my kids.  It always takes longer than you think it will, even when you know it won't be a short ride.

All is not lost in my household.  I have seen improvement, undesirable behavior is changing, and some techniques are sinking in and being used by both of my kids.  I am being more patient, slowing myself down, and taking a moment to collect myself back to where I'd like to be so I don't make things worse.

It has brought up a great discussion.  My husband and I have debated over it in the past, and I've asked a few friends what they think as well....



What's easier?

Working on behavior issues with your own children?

Or working on behavior issues with children that are not your own?  

I have worked with many children that are not my own.  In my experience, I have found that I'm more patient with someone else's child.  It feels awful to write it but it's true for me.  I want to be just as patient with my own and I try very hard to, but there is a history, a pattern, an emotional tie that is hard to ignore.  You would think having a relationship with a child would make it easier, and there is truth to that, but because I intimately know everything I have done, and all the work I've put into helping my own child I struggle more.  I struggle to not get too emotional about it and use all the wrong words.  I struggle to give my own children the extra time they need to practice their behavior because I hear that little voice in my head saying, "they should know better by now."

My husband thinks it's easier to work with our own children than other children because of that relationship.  It's the relationship that links our disagreement.  He feels more patient teaching our boys what is and isn't appropriate, and I feel more patient with a child I have no relationship with because I don't know what they have experienced in their lives or coping mechanisms they may or may not have been taught.

Not knowing their background as intimately as I do my own children is what makes me more patient.  I cannot meet a child where they are at and build on what they do have if I don't know where they are coming from yet.  I don't have the same kind of emotional connection with another child, so my head feels a little more clear of the personal history that can clog up my head when working with my own.

But, it's the relationships with my children that make me...
take a step back more often,
reflect a lot more,
and look at their behavior (and my own) from another angle.

Because people, young and old, grow and evolve so that their relationships can progress too.

What are your thoughts?  What do you find easier?  Is that relationship a little bit of a barrier, or more of a bridge?

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Two Times Two Equals Four

I was thinking about a phrase the other day, one that was drilled into my head when I was about eight or nine, right around the time I was learning simple multiplication tables.

Two times two equals four.

It doesn't matter how many times you write it or repeat it, the equation will always be true, the result is always four.  What I have learned in my experiences working with children is how you say it matters, how you say it out loud changes the results.

Even though I am referring to a math equation, it's just a metaphor.  I'm not really writing about math, I'm really referring to tone, the tone we use with our children.

I strive each day to listen to myself when I talk to my children...

How do I sound?

What are their facial expressions telling me?

What is their body language telling me?

What kind of tone are they using in response to mine?

Two times two equals four is something I picture in my mind when I'm reflecting on how I react to my children when I'm upset, because my tone reveals a lot more than "four" as an answer.

To better understand what I mean about tone affecting behavior, try the following exercise with another adult or parent....


  • Write down a list of emotions that come to mind on a piece of paper.  Try for at least five.
  • Repeat the phrase two times two equals four for your partner using one of the emotions you wrote down.  Do not say anything else.  Use only that phrase to try and express your emotion.  Body language can be used as well.
  • Have your partner guess what emotion you are trying to convey.
  • Continue to repeat the phrase for each emotion you wrote down until each one has been guessed.
  • Discuss and think about how your tone would be received by a child, even though you are saying the same thing over and over.
There have been times when I've gotten frustrated to the point where my tone has emitted anger when my children are not listening to what I've asked them to do, and they continue to not listen, or react in anger themselves.  Sometimes I take a moment to step back and change my tone, and sometimes my husband has stepped in, repeating what I've already said, in a different tone, and their responses change.

Conveying a certain tone can make a child feel and do things in a pleasant, or an unpleasant way.  As an adult, I perceive an array of emotions coming from other adults and children that make me feel and react in a variety of ways myself.  It depends on the message they may be trying to send.

What message do you want them to hear in your tone?  Pay attention to how you sound when talking to your children, it can speak volumes to them.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

I Trust In Play

It's no secret that I am a believer in learning through hands on play.  I believe in introductions to concepts at appropriate ages because I believe in naturally occurring discovery.  I believe in offering toys and tools in a way that will guide a child to learn what they need through their interests when he or she is developmentally ready.

Pretend restaurant play.  Ready to write down your order!

I believe in the above because I trust play.  I trust that play is giving my children what they need.  I trust that play will present concepts at the age appropriate times in my children's development.  I trust  play because it's an experience that creates multiple opportunities and outlets to learn.  Even in a world ruled by the awesomeness of technology, I still trust play.

Taking the lead in navigating the Zoo, "reading" his map.  Saved for pretend play at home.

Math and reading (or language), are the most notorious subjects found on worksheets and screens.  But they are no exception to the rule of being best understood through play.

A tape measure and snakes of different length are fun to compare.  Tape measures are a good addition when building with blocks too!
Color patterns, and sorting on the raceway.

Children need concrete objects to manipulate in a way they understand them... playing with them.  I trust in play because children trust in play to lead them to this...


Trust that children want to learn.  They are curious about the world around them, including those lines that make up letters and numbers.  But it is a process, and play includes them.  The push and the rush to make numbers and letters more visible before they are ready to be seen is not necessary... they are already there... play will make them appear when a child is ready.
   
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Friday, March 6, 2015

Eat Your Shapes, They Are Good For You!

My two year old, who is nearly three now, has been taking notice of the shapes all around him quite a bit lately.  I try to naturally incorporate an objective like this in my discussions and play with him, especially if it's a current interest. When I base our play around an interest it only deepens what he is learning.

"I see a blue circle on your paper."  When he shows me his drawings.

"Can you find a triangle block for me."  If we are building together.

"Let's hop on the squares in the sidewalk to the car."  On a walk outside.

The names associated with these symbols are picked up in our day to day play and activities.  We do this with letters that are in the names of members of our family; M for mom, D for dad, and colors as well.


Because he has been more vocal about shapes I've been more purposeful about how I approach our meals or when he cooks with me.  We cut things into squares and triangles.  He feels the difference in his hands between the oval shape of an egg and the circular shape of an orange.  He helps me look for rectangular things to eat at the grocery store.  We bake cookies and add a favorite shape to them.


It doesn't stop there though.  We talk about the utensils and tools we use to eat our food with too; circle cups and plates, square spatulas and pans, and oval spoons.  It's the language incorporated into what we are doing.


Now I can offer shape based play and actvities in other areas of our day as well...
BUT... I love using food as an example because it's one of the very few things we can use all five of our senses with.



Why does this matter?

Because the MORE senses that are involved when learning something, the BETTER our brains remember what we learned!  My son will not only remember shapes more easily, but he will recognize or notice shapes in other settings more easily as well.  Food is the most hands on thing I can use to teach him.

Sense of smell has been known to trigger memories because of the location of memory processing in the brain to where smell is processed.  The brain plays a part in our other senses as well.  So when we are trying to remember information we have learned, it is easier to retain it when the brain can rely on multiple senses.  There are multiple connections being made.

If you'd like to read more about this, the book Brain Rules has a great section on sensory integration.  I love a good book about how our brains work because it explains A LOT about how we learn.

If you don't use food, try to offer activites that engage at least three senses.  Otherwise cook and use food as learning opportunities as often as you can with your kids, simply because it's good for them!

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