I always wanted to have four or five children, so although three of my five are of the fur variety, I have indeed been "mom" to five "children".Read More
I have many fabulous memories from my childhood. The family dinner table is definitely a space that many of those great memories started. The feelings of consistency, laughter, joy, grounding and love will last in my mind forever.Read More
Sometimes life beats us up. We experience a trauma or a series of traumas: a divorce, abandonment, neglect, abuse, loss, etc.
Sometimes we simply feel beat up by life and we have nothing really to blame it on. This is me.
Anxiety. It’s real. It’s overwhelming. It can be all consuming. I hate it.Read More
How many of you have had the dreaded experience waiting as your child wrote his name 20 times on a paper Valentine only to be dropped into a paper bag or box of some random child? Valentine’s Day is definitely a Hallmark holiday. Yes, it’s to celebrate friendship and love, but that’s likely not how most children view this. For most kids it’s about what kind of candy they’re going to get or how many Valentine’s they’ll receive…all these Valentine’s that really no one put much time into.
Prior to last year teaching preschool I didn’t do much for Valentine’s Day with my classes. We always had cards out for the kids to make to bring home for their family members or friends and set up our dramatic play area as a post office. Being with a new school program last year I felt compelled to do something. Many of the families had children who had attended the program before and their past teachers had celebrated Valentine’s Day within the classroom.
It was incredibly important to my co-teacher and I that we come up with a plan that would be meaningful to the children, build upon our close classroom community and celebrate the relationships that we have within our class. Being that our school is at a nature center we also wanted to be conscious of our use of paper and other items that would eventually be thrown out.
For some preschool students writing their name takes little effort. In fact, some are even ready to start learning how to write their last names. However, for others this is a skill they’re very much still working on. When we ask them to write their name it better have meaning for them especially when it’s not easy for them to do. Asking young children to do meaningless tasks only takes away their natural born desire to learn and grow.
After much discussion, my co-teacher and I came up with a plan that we truly believe meets our goals for our class and still meets the cultural desire for something to happen in the class around Valentine’s Day. This was our second year implementing this plan and we will continue this tradition for many years to come.
Here’s the plan:
- Each child makes ONE Valentine at home, no bigger than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper. No restrictions beyond that as far as what’s on it.
- Child writes his name on the Valentine. For those that are ready they can write their last name too.
- No candy or toys attached to the Valentine’s.
- On Valentine’s Day each child brought in their Valentine and placed it in a mailbox we had set up. Teachers each placed one Valentine in there as well.
- During our group time each child had the opportunity to come up to draw out one Valentine. As they did this we helped them read it, looked at it and taught them how to properly thank the classmate who had made the Valentine (for some this was purely verbal, some added a high five, but most included a hug). When a child’s Valentine was chosen it was then their turn to draw a card out. This took some self-control to wait, but the anticipation was pretty exciting and rewarding!
- Everyone went home with ONE Valentine and knew exactly who the Valentine was from. Many of the kids held their one Valentine like it was a treasure!
- Anticipating that some of the children might struggle with letting go of the Valentine they had made, we recommended to parents to have their child make two (one to place in the mailbox in class and one to stay in the backpack) if they thought this might be harder for their child to understand. We know this is a comfortable way for children to learn the idea of giving, so even for the one or two that might be sad about letting go of their Valentine it’s an experience worth having.
***We did this with our early childhood family education class as well. Each child and adult brought a Valentine. We wanted the kids to see that their parents are part of this community too. In other words, it’s not just a class for the kids, but for the parents too. This worked out well, but for the sake of time and the attention span of those who are just shy of three, I would tweak this and simply have the parent and child bring one Valentine together. Both their names on the same Valentine. I think it would have met the same need without making the kids have to sit so long.
One of our families is going through a hard time. I stopped by their home the other day to visit with them and there hung predominantly in their living room the Valentine that their child got in class. I know if the child would have gone home with a bag full of Valentine’s from each child they wouldn’t have felt nearly as special as this one did. Another parent mentioned that her child’s Valentine was placed by her son on their mantle where he keeps other things he finds very special.
We are a very sarcastic family. We laugh. A lot. The laughter that fills our house is actually one of our favorite things about our family. However, the past few months it has felt like it was getting out of hand. The sarcasm was beginning to take over any serious conversations and actually feeling mean at times. Our “feel good” laughter was beginning to feel resentful, frustrating and just plain icky.
In typical Jenny Hanlon style, I scheduled a family meeting. Even though our family meetings are usually quite productive and certainly not torture, the 12 and 13 year old usually meet this request with eye rolls. There was even some eye rolling from my dear husband. Yes, more sarcasm. Or is it not?!?!
I explained my perspective. There was some agreement, some brainstorming and of course more laughter. I didn’t have the answer as to how we were going to change this other than all of us simply working on it. The reality is though, old habits are really hard to break. By the end of the meeting we did all agree this was something that should be different and that we would all work on it. Still we didn’t have a plan.
The next few days were quiet. Really quiet. We didn’t like it. It was as though we were all fearful of saying the wrong thing, so nobody really said anything. It was not natural for our family to be interacting like this. In fact, we were not even really interacting.
Finally one day when I was reading a book on a topic that has nothing to do with our sarcastic dilemma, I came across a plan that I decided to adjust to meet the needs of the situation. I called a family meeting again. Yes, eye rolls ensued. I shared the idea with them and although they all thought it was a little silly, they decided it was worth a go.
- There is a glass jar sitting on our dining room table where we share our family meals with a container of small rocks sitting next to it.
- When we feel like someone has gone out of their way to do something nice for another person in the family we will add a rock in the jar. Any family member can add rocks for any one of us.
- When we feel like we took our sarcasm too far or say something rude or disrespectful we remove a rock.
I’m not a proponent of reward systems, so I had to think long and hard before presenting this idea to my family. This felt different to me than a reward system, but I had to think about why. Ultimately, there’s really not a reward tied to this. This system is not being used to teach proper social skills (there’s plenty of research that shows that using a reward system to teach social skills does not help teach these skills long term) . Our family has these skills, but we were stuck in a bad habit. This is providing us a way to track our progress as we work to get unstuck.
Believe me, there is definitely some sarcasm coming into play as we add and take out rocks. We’re okay with it though because it’s all in good fun. My husband and I value a good sense of humor…we’ve worked hard to help teach our kids the fine art of sarcasm. Any good teaching needs tweaking at times and that’s where we’re at. We’re just aiming to tame down the sarcasm just a bit, so it’s not hurtful, but remains good-natured and fun. So far so good. We’re all talking again, not afraid of that we’ll say anything wrong. We’re feeling like a team again working together to make sure we’re sticking with the plan. I’m sure we won’t need the glass jar long, but I’m also certain it won’t be the last time we take it out.
For my son's 13th birthday we asked 13 men to write letters to him providing him with life advice. These letters are a treasure that are now all held in a book that floats around our house read at various times by all.
As I was paging through the book the other day I was awed again by the poem by dad wrote for my son. It's too good not to share. The photo above shows my dad getting "help" from three of his grandsons with his yard work. Lucky boys!
Yes, 13 trips around the sun your journey today;
Mom and Dad steer a great course;
Maya joined and added fun and love;
Family surrounds you supporting your choices;
Friends jump on and off;
B-Dog the best;
Each circle the same time;
Each circle new places;
Each circle learning;
Awards add up;
Travel to explorer;
Teachers in classrooms, on the field, on the ice, on the go with family;
Unknowns gather around;
Fear is near;
Roller coasters for the screams;
Tea cups for the hell of it;
Your own fast pass around the sun;
Sleeping, eating, cooking, serving, running, caring;
Kissing, hugging, wanting;
Adults can wait;
Steer your course now;
GPCM shares, enjoy your trips around the sun.
I had the opportunity to spend my day with 10 tween girls. After a great discussion on body image and confidence I asked the girls if they'd help generate a list for moms providing advice on how to raise confident girls. The list is below (in no particular order).
- Encourage your daughter to tell you if something is wrong, "You can tell me anything."
- Believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself it will be hard for your daughter to believe in herself.
- Trust yourself and build trust with your daughter.
- Be involved in your daughter's school.
- Be protective, but not too protective.
- Be a good role model socially. For example, don't be a bully if you don't want your daughter to be a bully.
- Don't give your worries to your daughter.
- Be a good role model with your words and actions.
- Don't spoil her.
- Be prepared for anything.
- Put your kids first before work and friends.
- Teach your daughter to fight for what she believes in.
List generated by MG, CS, GK, AF, SF, AL, LG, GW, AD, EB, ages 10 & 11
The past few summers I've offered a summer writing class for children in late elementary school and middle school. Instead of offering this formally this summer I've been informally gathering a small group of my daughter's friends to do some writing lessons and activities. I love watching the wheels turn as children come up with ideas on what to write and where to take their stories next. The last time I gathered with the girls we were working on character descriptions. They were to write a description of someone they know well. I wanted to share the sweet description my goddaughter wrote about her younger brother.
AJ is a 7 year old boy with bright, long, messy hair, a small nose and pale blue eyes. He is small with a big personality. He enjoys dancing to loud music, attempting to grab people's attention. It works. AJ does not enjoy being told what to do or what not to do. He is stubborn and slightly disobedient. This can result in him being annoying. When he does not get enough sleep he is extremely cranky. AJ has a catchy smile and is GREAT at making people laugh. When he's not asked to he is often very helpful with chores. - GW, 11 years old
How special it is to see and hear this child's perception of her younger brother!
In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt stated that "Play is a fundamental need...Playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools."
Roosevelt worked hard to make sure there were sufficient playgrounds for all children no matter what types of communities they lived in.
Unfortunately through the years, playgrounds have changed tremendously. Much of this has stemmed from safety concerns, wanting to make sure children aren't getting hurt. I challenge you to set aside the safety aspect and think about what children may be losing through this change.
Think about a playground that's in your neighborhood, at your school or your child's school. Where are the children allowed to play? Is there green space for running? Can children run on and around the playground equipment? How long before the play becomes repetitive? Are there opportunities for social interactions? Are the children challenged in this type of play environment still?
Teddy Roosevelt's words are still relevant, "Play is a fundamental need." In fact, it's not just a need for young children, but also for older children and even adults. What makes play truly enjoyable and beneficial is when it carries elements of risk, where children can test their boundaries and assess their own abilities. Likely the playground you envisioned in your neighborhood or school is lacking these aspects. If this is where the majority of children's outdoor time is spent, it's no wonder they don't want to be outside.
Now take a moment to think about the playgrounds and play spaces you enjoyed as a child. They likely had elements of risk. You likely weren't closely supervised like the children of today are; therefore, you had to figure out your own boundaries in space and work through social conflicts with your peers.
Unfortunately these changes in children's opportunities for play are not only changing how children feel about play and the outdoors, but it's impacting their long term development. If children don't have opportunities to build confidence physically through unstructured play they won't fully develop the critical thinking, balance and negotiating skills that are needed in all aspects of life.
I challenge you to think about the play spaces your children have access to. Are these spaces providing your children what they need to help develop important life skills? If not, consider how you could make adjustments in these spaces. Could you add more elements of risk to your school playground? Can you discuss with your city the possibility of additions to some of your neighborhood parks?
If you're interested in diving into this topic further join us starting July 11th for a book study on the book, Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom.
Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding other's evaluations.
Perfectionists are often hard workers and are motivated by the goals they set for themselves. However, since these goals are sometimes unattainable, perfectionists are prone to depression and self-destruction.
I'm a perfectionist. I don't expect those around me to be perfect, but rather, I expect this of myself. It's only been in the past year and a half that I've begun to realize how this trait has been damaging to me. The flip side is, this same trait that causes me despair and anxiety, has also helped me to be so successful since I'm so incredibly dedicated to my goals. I'm actively working to find a balance and tame this perfectionist trait that lives in me so strongly. Old habits are hard to break, so despite my efforts this will be an ongoing battle.
I've always held very high standards for myself and am truly my toughest critic. Essentially, my perfectionism is my worst enemy. My parents had high expectations of all of us, but I don't think they caused me to have this trait. I think both my parents and a couple of my siblings carry perfectionistic tendencies as well. It's just part of our genetic make up.
I do think, however, that this trait could've been so much more pronounced and damaging to my siblings and me if my parents hounded us about our grades or always expected us to look or act a certain way. They had a good balance of holding high expectations, but also allowing us to fly on our own and be who we needed to be.
Each day I see my son struggling with this same trait. It's such a gift and a curse at the same time. He's such an incredibly hard worker and puts so much of his heart into all he does. However, he expects to be able to do everything perfectly and is so hard on himself when it doesn't happen. When he makes a mistake on the ball field or out on the ice I can so easily see what happens to him when one of his coaches, another parent or his dad attempts to provide him with feedback during those moments. It's simply too much for him. He's already beating himself up internally for what happened and then to have someone add fuel to the fire just makes it burn even more. I see this, because it's what I've experienced myself so many times. My son wants to learn and get better and will want the feedback, but he can't receive it in these moments. Timing is everything.
There's only so much we can do when our children have certain personality traits. They often come into the world with these. However, sometimes there's things we can do to avoid accentuating the potential dangers of these traits. Since perfectionism can easily lead a person to feeling depressed due to not meeting their goals (even if the rest of the world would be able to see that these goals were unattainable), we want to be mindful of our response to our perfectionistic children.
Other children might need nudges to work harder in school or to put more effort into studying so they can get higher grades. Chances are your perfectionistic child is already working so hard and is likely feeling quite down if he isn't making the grade he set out to make. In this case the child needs quiet reminders (timed outside of "the moment" of despair) that there is more to life than grades and school. Emphasize the effort and process. They need guidance on taking the pressure off rather than putting more on.
If you see that your child has perfectionistic tendencies, take time to look within yourself to see if you might have these as well. Be mindful of how your perfectionism comes out in front of your children. Begin to model mistakes (even if this means carefully planning some), emphasize that failure helps us all to grow and ease up on yourself.
I'm grateful for my dedicated work ethic and high expectations for myself, but it's time for me to be easier on myself. "Good enough" needs to be sufficient for me. I hope my son can eventually ease up a bit too and move closer to an attitude of "good enough" rather than aiming to be "perfect" in everything he does before this enemy gets the best of him.
The end of the school year is a natural time where we all seem to step back and reflect on the growth of our children and/or the children we teach.
I'm always amazed at how much children can grow in 9 months (Sept.-May). It may be as simple as learning to zip their coat or learning to be away from mom or dad for a few hours or as complex as learning to divide fractions or learning how to study for tests. No matter how major or minor the growth is, it's still important to acknowledge and celebrate.
As a teacher, I often find this time of year bittersweet. I so enjoy the time I spend with these young people and it can be hard to say good-bye when the school year comes to a close. However, when I look back over the year I can't help but feel such a sense of pride for all of my students. They have grown so much! I also grow tremendously every year as a teacher. With every group of children and parents I spend time with I learn a little something and take that with me into my future teachings.
As I see my own children complete a year in school, I sit back and just wonder where the time is going. It can be so easy to get hung up on the sadness of leaving these stages of time, but it can also be exciting to see all that they are accomplishing. I often have to remind myself that this is one of the most rewarding parts of raising children: watching them become so independent and capable.
Talk to your children (your own or your students) about how much they've grown this year.
- "Remember when you were first learning how to read in fall and all those letters looked so confusing. Now look what you're doing! You worked so hard all year on this. You should be so proud of yourself!"
- "Remember when you didn't know how to do the monkey bars, but you wanted to so bad? You spent so much time looking at them and attempting them. After so much determination and growing, you can do it now."
- "Remember at the beginning of school you didn't want me to leave you? Now you don't even notice me when I come to get you!"
- "Remember at the beginning of the year how you needed reminders to stay organized with your homework and by the end you were doing this all on your own!"
Do this with yourself as well...we sometimes really need this as parents and teachers. We can be so hard on ourselves. Try to focus on what has gone well and then gradually begin to form goals for yourself for growth.
Most of all, enjoy the time you have with your children (your own and/or the children you teach) whether it's the first day of school or the last, or they're 11 months old or 11 years old. The time goes by fast...
One of the things I emphasize during my Home Alone class for children ages 8-10 years is that thy should not be left home alone when they're sleeping. They sleep so soundly that their brains won't register that the sound they're hearing is the smoke alarm.
WCCO did a segment on this last night focussing on the importance of practicing fire drills with your family at different times of the day and night. However, I'd argue that even with a great deal of practice the brain may still not register what the sound is when the child is in a deep sleep. There have been numerous studies done on this which of course raises much concern for parents, firefighters and those who make smoke detectors.
It's still important to practice and have a plan of action with your children in case of a fire day or night. However, as the adult(s) in the household you need to realize that children's sleep is different than adult's and ultimately we are still responsible for making sure they wake and get out when there's a fire. I strongly discourage you from leaving your children home alone when they're sleeping.
The following is a blog post I wrote 3 years ago on my niece's 15th birthday about the day she was born. Today she is 18 and I thought it seemed fitting to repost. This young woman has continued to amaze us in all ways and we're so lucky to have her leading this bunch of nieces and nephews with her wisdom, grace and confidence!
We all experience moments in life that define us – moments of clarity where we can say, “Ah, yes, this is who I am!” Fifteen years ago today was one of those moments for me.
It was a typical Friday in February. I drove from my apartment in Minneapolis out to Stillwater for my teaching job. Before going directly to work I stopped in at my parents house, which was only a couple blocks away my work. I had plans to go out of town that evening for the weekend, so wanted to stop in to drop off my itinerary to my parents.
When I entered the house my dad came around the corner with the most excited look on his face and announced that my sister-in-law and brother had just left for the hospital-they were having their first baby! In fact, this was the first grandchild to be born into our family.
My out of town plans were to attend a Christian retreat organized by a group from the University of Minnesota where I was attending for my final year of my undergraduate degree before I began my Master’s program. Many of my friends had attended this same type of retreat in years past and loved it. One of my good friends was in charge of planning the retreat. This friend’s explanation of the retreat had made me even more excited about going. He told me it would be life changing. I was at a place in my life of much uncertainty and the idea of attending something that was “life changing” appealed to me immensely. I had been looking forward to this retreat since I had first heard about it months prior. However, when I heard that my sister-in-law was in labor, I decided to change my mind about going on the retreat. I didn’t want to miss this birth!
I quickly called my friend and explained that I wasn’t going to be attending the retreat after all. My friend was upset. Feeling guilty I told him I would continue to think about my decision and call him back if I changed my mind, but that he should plan on me not coming. As I got off the phone I still knew what my final decision would be.
I remember the excitement teaching that day. I always enjoyed spending time with preschool aged children, but on this day it was even better. To know a new child was coming into our family felt amazing. I couldn’t wait to meet my new niece or nephew after work that day – surely the baby would be born by then.
Halfway through the morning class I got a call at work. Typically I wouldn’t take calls during my teaching hours, but my boss insisted since she knew my family was waiting on this news. She assumed it was my dad on the other end. When I picked up the phone I quickly realized it was not my dad, but it was my friend calling me to convince me that I needed to still go on the retreat. I explained to him that I had been thinking about it and I was certain of my decision. I will never forget his words, “You will regret this someday. The baby will look the same when you come back on Sunday. You don’t want to miss the retreat – I promise you that.”
My life was filled with much uncertainty, but one of the few things that I was certain about was the importance of family. I knew I wouldn’t regret staying home that weekend. I knew that being there with my family as the newest member was welcomed into the world was exactly where I needed to be.
Before I hung up the phone I apologized to my friend for disappointing him, but also explained that I knew I wasn’t making a mistake. I hung up knowing I may have lost a friend here, but perhaps he wasn’t as good of a friend as I had thought since he didn’t respect the decision I was making in this moment.
When my teaching day ended the baby was still not born. Much of our family went up to wait at the hospital after a quick bite to eat. It was hours before this little one came into the world – somewhere around 9pm. The look on my brother’s face when he came out to tell us that the baby had arrived was absolutely priceless. He quickly told us that it was a girl and her name was Elena Jane. He explained that they were all wiped out and that likely we wouldn’t get to hold her that night (his way of saying maybe it was time for us to leave). Within minutes we were all allowed to peak into the room and see as my brother held her up for us to see. She looked wonderful!
That night my parents had decided to fly my sister home for a quick weekend to be able to meet Elena. Our family rallied around together to celebrate, not only this new birth, but the beginning of this next chapter in our lives. Holding Elena the next morning and seeing the sparkle in my brother and sister-in-law’s eyes was amazing.
My niece, Elena Jane is 15 years old today. She’s a beautiful, amazing girl and she has brought so much light to our lives. Every year on this date I think back to my friend’s words, “You’re going to regret this decision.” And every year I’m more and more confident that I made the right decision. In fact, that weekend was life changing for me – even without the retreat. I knew with all certainty that life is worth celebrating those special moments of a birth of a baby, the transition into new chapters in ones life, and the sparkle in someone’s eyes. We all know where our hearts pull us and it was that day that I knew I needed to listen to my heart’s pull. Sometimes this might mean disappointing people, sometimes it might mean missing out on something else, but mostly it means you will live with no regrets. I was exactly where I was meant to be that weekend and I said to myself numerous times that weekend, “Ah yes, this is who I am!”
Ten Reasons to Have Your Kids Do Their Own Laundry
1. They feel a sense of responsibility. This leads to positive feelings of control and independence.
2. They learn gratitude and appreciation. When children take on household responsibilities they’re more likely to feel a sense of gratitude towards you and others who care for them because they begin to grasp that things don’t just magically get done around the house.
3. They take more ownership of their belongings. They know what they own, what’s clean, what’s dirty, where it was put away, etc.
4. Takes a load (no pun intended) off of you. You have plenty of other things that need taking care of. A family is a team and your child can be a contributing member of this team.
5. When something isn’t washed, it’s not your problem, but rather theirs. This helps keep the parent-child relationship in tact and prevents the child from blaming you for something they need that isn’t ready.
6. They learn to manage a project: they watch as their laundry basket gets full and their drawers become less full, they have to begin to judge when it needs cleaning, and then they have to go through the process of washing, drying, folding, and putting it all away.
7. If they’re doing their own laundry, they will likely feel like they can take on other household and self-care responsibilities. If they’re not seeking this out on their own, but they’re doing their own laundry, you’ll at least know they’re capable of more.
8. The level of responsibility and the project management skills they’re gaining from doing their own laundry will likely carry over into their schoolwork and other areas of life where independence is needed.
9. They learn life skills. They’ll confidently know how to do this when they’re off on their own – no need for them to dump a laundry basket full of clothes for you to do. The reality is, the transition to living on their own, whether it’s a college dorm or an apartment, is a big enough transition. If they already know how to do some of these independent living skills, they will be more confident as they move through this transition, and therefore, more successful with the transition.
10. They’re capable of it. Never do anything for a child he or she can do for himself or herself.
If you’re wondering what age children are ready for certain personal care and household responsibilities, check out Your Family Compass. Appendix I outlines this based on the child’s developmental level from ages 1.5 - 15 years. For many of these household responsibilities you’ll want to gradually build upon these skills. For example, at 2 years old your child can start to help you sort socks. At 2.5 they can carry the laundry basket from their bedroom to the laundry room and help load it into the wash. At 3 years old they can begin to fold hand and dish towels. At 4 years old they can begin to fold underwear, socks, pants, and some shirts. At 5 and 6 years old they can continue to build on these skills along with putting their laundry away. At 7 years old they can begin to start the wash with help and switch the laundry with help. At 8 years old, they’re likely ready to begin using the machine more on their own and can determine when they’re clothes are ready to be washed. By 9 years old they are likely ready to fulfill the whole process on their own from start to finish.
Ever wonder if you're doing enough to prepare your child for kindergarten or for whatever next steps they are about to encounter? Let me ease your mind. It's so much simpler than you might think. Forget about kindergarten prep or prep for middle school or even for college. Think about prep for LIFE! Here are 10 essentials for preparing your child for success, not only in school, but in life.Read More
It started many years ago when my children were 3 and 4 years old. We were looking for something to do on a wet, chilly fall morning. My oldest didn't handle crowds well when he was young, so we often tried to save visits to public places when it wouldn't be as busy. It occurred to me that this particular morning might be quiet at the apple orchard, so we decided this was the place to be.
It was only us exploring among the apple trees. At one point I kicked one of the fallen apples. My son saw this and kicked it back. Soon enough we had a spontaneous game of soccer going with the fallen apples. This wet, chilly morning became one of our favorite fall days that year.
Ever since it's been a tradition for my kids and I to head to the orchard on a day that few people would be there, preferably later in the season when more apples would be on the ground, but not yet too decomposed.
My children are 11 and 12 now and I wondered if this tradition would continue. I was home when they arrived off the bus this afternoon. I asked them if they were up for going to the orchard and after only some brief apprehension they both said yes.
It was just as magical as it always is. It was such a great reminder that even though my kids are getting older, they can still let loose and allow themselves to play. I allowed this with myself as well! I think we could all use a little more play in our lives and days like today remind me how good it feels.
I hope this tradition continues. I have visions of going to the orchard with the kids when they come home for fall break from college some day. I can dream, right?!?!
For the past couple of years as my children have been moving through elementary school I've wondered about some of the guidelines and rules that their school has during recess. There's actually a rule that kids are to not run on the woodchips that surround the play set. The worry is they might fall and get hurt.
There also seems to be zero tolerance for conflict among kids during recess. They're quickly told they need to stop playing a game if an argument ensues.
I recently saw an article in the Star Tribune talking about a local school district hiring a recess consultant to come in. This is a pilot program and they acknowledge that they're trying to find the balance between structured recess time and free choice time.
The reality is, our kids have very little unstructured time throughout their day. The goal of the structured recess time is to eliminate some bullying issues and include those that might not otherwise be included. Is this truly the answer to these issues?
Part of childhood is learning how to cope with getting hurt. We all fall down and learning how to get up after a fall and recover is an important life skill to have. Conflict is also very much a part of life. Many of us are quick to think of conflict as a bad thing, "Kids, stop fighting!" I don't like conflict very much either. However, it's unavoidable in life. We have to have tools to know how to handle it. Instead of having children end a game because of conflict, what if they get some guidance from an adult about how to navigate the conflict?
Perhaps this local school district's money might be better spent by hiring more staff at recess to be available when needed instead of organizing the play for the children. The staff could be trained in watching out for those that might be feeling left out and how to provide the children with some tools on how to enter play. They could also informally coach kids on how to notice if someone wants to join in their play and how to engage them in their activity.
I believe the bigger concern, however, is why this is a more pronounced problem now than it was 15-20 years ago. Were these problems simply going unnoticed? It's entirely possible and to some extent, probably yes. However, some of these issues just didn't exist. Kids had better coping skills for figuring out some of these things and parents were less worried about their kids getting hurt.
Over the course of the past 15-20 years the field of early childhood and early elementary school has changed considerably. What used to be expected of 1st graders is now being expected of kindergartners. Teachers have to address certain standards by certain points in the year. There's a certain amount of time that's supposed to be dedicated to math, literacy, social studies, science, etc. There isn't time allotted for the social-emotional growth that needs to be happening. Some teachers work hard to fit this in. Others feel conflicted because they know the kids need it, but they're not sure where to fit this in. I think most would agree the expectations are too high.
Many early childhood programs have very little child-led learning. This means much of their day is structured as well, so there's very little time for free play time where they would encounter social conflicts and struggles with entering play. Without being exposed to these issues kids won't know how to handle them as they grow older. They need these experiences.
The problem isn't really recess in the elementary schools, but it's overall how our system is working. There needs to be more emphasis on play: unstructured play especially in the early childhood years. Many kindergarten and first grade teachers say that their students don't know how to play anymore. Unfortunately these teachers often don't have the time to teach them these skills due to everything else they have to be teaching them. They eliminate the possibility of free play time altogether since the kids can't handle it.
They should be able to handle it.
What can we do?
We need to step back and re-evaluate how we're looking at early childhood. Although there is so much newer research to prove that young children are capable of learning so much, we have to be mindful and prioritize. Those of us who have been in the field of early childhood for a long time have known all that young kids are capable of, but we've also known better. These young kids mostly need time to learn about social relationships, how to cope with emotional upsets, how to problem solve when they're building something in the block area or building a fort out of sticks, etc. We can and should extend this learning of course by providing measuring tapes to see how long the sticks and blocks are, talk with them about their emotions, and coach them through their social conflicts. There's room for both, but not room for everything.
The next time you observe an early childhood or kindergarten class simply playing, know that they're learning. They might, in fact, be learning far more about life in those moments than any other time during their day.
We need to provide the time and space for all of this valuable learning, so they will have these skills as they move into elementary school and beyond. So, instead of feeling the need to structure MORE of our children's time, they can have more of the unstructured free play time that they so need throughout their childhood.