Friday, December 30, 2011

How Our Homebirth Saved Christmas

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite holiday. My family, thankfully, never emphasized the commercial aspect. We simply enjoyed spending time together and exchanging heartfelt gifts. Since I got married, the holidays have been increasingly stressful. With double the family, our time is spent rushing hurriedly from one gathering to another, staying for long enough to make an appearance. Adding kids to the mix made it increasingly difficult. The stress was hard on the kids, and I felt guilty for putting them through the ringer each year. I had come to dread the entire month of December. This year, I received a special gift--one that caused me to slow down and reconsider what's really important.

On Christmas day, I was 36 weeks, 5 days pregnant. I woke up feeling a little pressure down low, but didn't think anything of it. I am a firm believer in letting a baby come when he's ready, and had bookmarked a link about why at least 39 weeks of pregnancy is better for baby. I planned to share it when people started asking, "Have you had that baby yet?!" By about 10 that morning, I knew that I would have no need to share it. It took a few more hours to convince myself and my labor support that this was the real deal.

By 10, I was having regular contractions--about 3-5 minutes apart--but I could talk through them. I have had pretty regular Braxton-Hicks contractions in the past, and I certainly didn't want to birth my baby so early. Plus, I didn't want to disrupt anyone's Christmas unless I was completely sure. We decided that I would rest on my side for a while and see if things continued to progress. My husband took the kids out visiting. This slowed my contractions to between 5 and 7 minutes apart. They stayed that way as long as I didn't get up. By around 6 in the evening, the family had finished their visiting and my parents were free to take our three older kids to their house.

That's when I got vertical. Anyone who tries to tell you that position is not important during labor is wrong! Assisted by gravity, my contractions went from somewhat painful and 3 or 4 minutes apart to almost unbearable and 2 minutes apart. I slumped over the birthing ball some, sat on it some, swayed and rocked a lot, and paced back and forth to the toilet over and over again. Nothing seemed to work for comfort. I decided to soak in the tub for a while to help relieve the pain. It slowed things down again, but they soon picked back up and then, whoah, did they pick up! After a day of questioning myself, I finally felt sure that I was in active labor. We called our midwife and asked her to come.

Our midwife arrived around 7:30 and determined that I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. She gave me about 30 minutes alone with my husband to work through labor, but by that point, I did not feel there was any working through it. I did not want him to touch me, and I could not hold still. Then again, it hurt too much to move. I had been through transition before, and this was it. How did I ever go through this lying in bed or strapped into a car seat? After 45 minutes or less, I was pretty sure I felt ready to push, and asked him bring the midwife into the bathroom. "Are you sure?" he asked. That's when I yelled at him (sorry, babe!). After a long day of self-doubt, I was over being questioned. I was ready!

After hearing me yell, the midwife was as sure as I was. She went straight to our bedroom and prepared for the delivery. I wanted to try squatting on a birthing stool, but it hurt too much, and I ended up lying on my side instead. I decided to try a push or two, after which my water broke. Suddenly, the pain subsided and my body could do nothing but push. It was beyond my conscious control. As our midwife turned around to ready her supplies, my husband saw our baby's head emerge and jumped quickly to catch it. Two pushes later, my youngest son was born into my husband's hands on Christmas night, right there in our own bedroom. Shortly after, we were cleaned up and snuggled into our own cozy bed.

I truly believe that our homebirth made a positive difference. The whole birth experience was so peaceful and free from drama. So far, I have seen this reflected in my little guy's calm demeanor and in my own easy recovery. It even seems to have cast a peace over the household. Best of all, my Christmas baby has turned the holiday around for me. From now on, the stress of the holidays will be overshadowed by the memory of this special Christmas night. I will remember cuddling my 8-pound bundle of hope and looking forward to the promise that his new life represents. He reminds me that what is at the very heart of Christmas--and of life itself--is love. When a child is welcomed into the world surrounded by love, he can grow to spread that love to family, friends, and maybe even to all mankind. I can't think of a better way to give him that start.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Savoring the Undone



As a parent, I learn over and over again to give up my expectations and mostly my expectations of myself or events and holidays. I am reminded frequently, that even with organization and planning and being prepared (and the kind of prepared that comes from being raised by an Eagle Scout and then marrying one), things still don’t go as expected.



On Christmas Eve morning, my husband took my son to the Farmer’s Market and playground, so I could have some “alone” time for writing and blog posting. “Alone” these days means me with a nursing baby who ideally will nurse to sleep and will stay asleep while I work on my laptop next to her on the bed. Except my baby has an intense Mommy radar and knows instantly if I have moved farther than 3 feet away or if I have turned my attention to something other than her. This can be frustrating at times when I want to get something done, but really, I don’t mind all that much. She loves me more than any other human being ever has. I’m sure of it. I can see it on her face when she sees me. It can be easy to just sit play, talk and look at her rather than do anything else. When my husband works from home, I’m constantly distracting him with the baby, because I can’t simply believe he just doesn’t want to look at her all the time.



Other people don’t get anything done with a baby in the house because they’re going without sleep. Sleep has never been an issue in our family (thank heavens). The four of us could medal in napping if the Olympics ever decided to officially make it a sport (which it is just in case you didn’t know). But we don’t get anything done in our house, because we’re playing and flirting with our children. (This is kind of why my blog posts are always late these days).



Back to the writing time I was supposed to get that I actually spent nursing and trying to put my baby to sleep while reading Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, my son and husband didn’t stay out that long. It was too cold for the playground. (In the beginning of Winter, 45 degrees is too cold for the playground; by the end of Winter, 25 degrees is acceptable playground weather.) My son has had a cough and cold the last couple of days. He’s been in that in between sick phase, where at home he thinks he feels better enough to go out and play, and then he gets out and realizes it’s better to just rest in the stroller.



I thought we’d spend Christmas Eve making more Christmas cookies. My husband and I have gotten addicted to having gingerbread cookies with our bedtime cup of tea, and we’ve already eaten the cookies we made. My son didn’t want to do anything baking related. He wanted to play planes. My daughter wanted to play with the wrapping paper left out. We let her do this because watching a 5 month old play with paper and ribbon is as hilarious as watching a kitten play with a paper bag. It’s endless fun honestly. But I suddenly remembered that I had to make my husband’s favorite Christmas treat: pumpkin roll cake with cream cheese frosting. I managed to make this cake, though now as I’m writing this I am remembering I still have to frost it and after the late night Christmas Eve wrapping that happened on the kitchen table, I realize now I don’t actually know where that cake is. Crap.



My son, thanks to not feeling well, ended up taking a three-hour nap. During his nap, I was able to finish wrapping his stocking gifts. I knew I had to, that even with not feeling well, his nap meant he’d be up until close to midnight. I was right about this. After dinner, instead of a bath, he played some more. We decided we could finally assemble the gingerbread house we had baked the weekend before. We made the royal icing to glue the house together. My husband and I had made up our own gingerbread house pattern. We had wanted to make a gingerbread Eames-like house. Once my husband figured out how to get the right consistency of icing and got our house iced together, our house looked more like a Flintstones house than an Eames house.



At 9:30 pm, my son showed no signs of slowing down. We decided to watch A Miracle on 34th Street. When my son finally did get tired, he refused to go to sleep until he had seen the end of the movie. My daughter had nursed herself to sleep in my arms. As predicted after naptime, my son was up until 11:30 pm. He finally fell asleep as my husband read him The Polar Express, while I filled his stocking downstairs. I was about to head to bed with the baby, when I remembered we still had our son’s Santa gift in the upstairs closet. Luckily for me, my husband took care of it.



As I fell asleep, I thought of the things I had hoped to get done. I’ve always hoped to be one of those people who has dozens of gingerbread, sugar and shortbread cookies laying around the house. Toffee seems easy enough to make, but I have yet to master it. The only way I can think of to save this year’s batch is to take a hammer to it and crunch it up to make ice cream with it. I’d like to have the house cleaned with all the laundry done before going to bed Christmas Eve, yet this year just getting the living room and kitchen cleaned up was enough.



I don’t feel like I’m one of those people who wants perfection. I feel more like the mom who’s barely keeping it together – with a son who at three has already pointed out that Santa coming into our house while we’re sleeping will probably wake the dog and is slightly invasive, not to mention that presents actually come from the post office. Oh yes, and my husband’s favorite pumpkin roll cake is still lost somewhere in my kitchen.



Recently, an older mother said to me, “You can have everything, dear, but you just can’t DO everything.” Wise words. I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday. The things that didn’t get done? Kind of defeats the point of the holiday to beat myself up over those.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Birthing (and Re-Birthing) a Mother


"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new." ~Rajneesh

Our babies births are not the only births that are important. We become the mothers we are through a variety of different channels and experiences and, if we do so mindfully and really embrace change, we continue to evolve and grow just as our children do. In the end, we birth ourselves into the new world of motherhood and, later, we can emerge as better mothers and women. I truly believe that birth is just the beginning of that path. Clearly, a good birth experience can be a wonderful beginning for that journey. However, we sometimes focus a little too much on the actual, physical birth experience and not enough on the spiritual evolution of what it means to be a mother.

Recently, I was reading about birth and I came across an article that disturbed me. (I will not mention the article or the author of this article because I feel that midwives are already maligned too much and I do not want to impugn all the good she writes and does for women and their births because of one part of one article.) I'm not as "birthy" (yet!) as some of the other amazing women I know, but I do love a good birth story. I whole heartedly believe in a woman's right to choose her birth and that women in our current birth culture are not given all of the information they actually need to choose the best birth possible for themselves and their babies. Women also often don't have enough access to birth settings that are best for them because of insurance concerns. However, in this article, the author was talking about the long term effects of birth and mentioned a conversation she had with another midwife in which the midwife pointed to women playing in a swimming pool with their babies and stated that she could determine the kind of birth (natural, cesarean, or medicated) each baby had by the connection (or lack there of) the mother/baby had in the pool. That moment cut me to the quick because I am a mother of a baby born through cesarean and it hurt me deeply that there was an assumption that because of the way my baby was birthed, we somehow could never grow as deeply connected as mother and child as a mother who had successfully had a natural birth and that difference would somehow be obvious even to the most casual (but interested) observer.

As important as birth is (and it is very, very important) to the health and well-being (physically and mentally) of both the baby and the mother, it is still only one part of the relationship between mother and child. When a c-section happens it is still a birth; when a medicated birth is chosen, that is still a birth. Both are just as much new beginnings for mother and babies as much as natural births are and each new beginning holds just as much promise as the next one for the people who are involved in it. Bonding after a cesarean or a medicated birth is not impossible and lack of initial bonding (should that occur), is not as insurmountable as the author seemed to suggest in that vignette. In fact, what brings many women into birth activism and attached parenting practices are their difficult birthing experiences and from those sad beginnings spring strong women who work tirelessly to connect to their children in new ways and to make birth safer for the women who become mothers after them.

Our children may only be physically, literally born once, but they are spiritually born many, many times as they grow and change. We, as their mothers, also have the chance to birth ourselves into new kinds of mothers and women. Every day, we are offered the chance to make a new start and, personally, I avail myself of those opportunities as often as I can. When we focus too single-mindedly on the importance of physical birth and any regrets we have about our past decisions, we risk missing the rebirth we have available to us every day. I know that my son and I are not the same people who met on the day of his birth after an unplanned c-section. We have grown beyond the mother and son that were birthed that day. The love we share and the relationship we have worked to build has helped us evolve into something better. I love him more every day. If we were swimming in that pool, I don't think anyone could ever see us as anything other than what we are, a completely bonded, loving mother and child in spite of our less than perfect birth experience.

Thanks again for reading,
Shawna

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis The Season For Santa



When my son was six weeks old, my mother-in-law visited and my husband thought it would be fun for her if we took our newborn to see Santa Claus. Indeed, seeing a grandchild visit Santa and having an opportunity to take as many pictures as possible is the kind of thing that is right up my mother-in-law’s alley. She loved it.



I, however, did not. Santa Claus, when he doesn’t live at the North Pole, happens to live at the mall. He also brings lots of elves with him that shake jingle bells in your face. The mall provides him with loud piped in Christmas music and quartets of percussion playing carolers throughout his line. The line to see Santa Claus is full of overdressed children and parents all making their lists of what they really want (American Girl dolls, quiet non-whiny children, just one good picture before they can get out of there.). It was too much. Between all the people, various forms of music, overdressed children and elves shaking jingle bells in my face, I got overwhelmed. I haven’t taken my son to see Santa since.



But this year, my son is three. He loves looking at Christmas trees. He loved decorating our tree. He’s already seen the Christmas exhibit of trains in Grand Central station three times. We started talking about Christmas and what we would eat and do what we wanted. I asked him what he wanted.


“A basketball, Mommy,” he said. “Not two, just one. And a taxi car.”


My husband and I started talking about what we would tell him about Santa. We were clear that Santa is a fun idea that lots of people participate in. While neither of us fully believed in Santa as children, we both loved the magic of Santa. We loved those childhood Christmas mornings when we woke up early and walked into the living room with the tree lit, Christmas music softly playing, and our overfull stockings laid out next to our Santa gift. We loved waking up those Christmas mornings and finding a Christmas tree lit transformation in the living room. I still love Christmas because of the Santa Claus inspired magic.



But I don’t have a problem with Santa. What I hate about the whole Santa myth is the socially accepted form of manipulation that gets used on children. I cringe when I hear people ask children if they’ve been “good” this year. I cringe even more when I hear parents or adults tell children that if they’re good (and don’t argue with their brother, or do as mommy asks, or make their bed in the morning or whatever it is that the parent wants) Santa will come and bring them what they want. Occasionally, I hear older generations throw in that if they’re not, they’ll get a lump of coal. I’ve never actually heard of a child getting a lump of coal on Christmas, which to me, makes it the worse kind of manipulation, as it’s the kind where parents don’t actually follow through. The parent’s word is meaningless; whether the child is good or not, Santa comes and leaves behind a full stocking and gifts.



No wonder children don’t trust adults. The adults lie to get what they want in the short term just as much as children do. And some parents swear by it for younger children, which, for me, is exactly the problem with the whole mess to begin with: it’s not sustainable parenting. It’s trick parenting that makes the parent-child relationship a power struggle and whoever has the better trick wins. Rather than offering children meaningful and authentic guidance for living life and getting along with others, parents instead are always looking for the next manipulation scheme to give them the upper hand in the relationship.



Except the use of Santa is not just between parent and child, it’s society wide. The carolers stand outside of Macy’s and sing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “to be good for goodness sake.” I get emails from various Moms groups or event notifications telling me about the Santa hours around town and all of them ask if my child has been “good” and knows what he wants Santa to bring him.


Needless to say, while I love the magic of Santa, it’s another year where I can’t bring myself to dress my son up and take him to see Santa. I tell him that Santa is coming to him, that he doesn't have to be good. He can just be himself.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Potential Poison: The Life of a Food Allergy Mom


Imagine walking into a grocery store and nearly every box, every drink, and every bag (even the organic, all natural ones) have the potential to poison your child within two hours (or less) of ingesting it. The poison may just make your child sick to his or her stomach, or it might cause hives, or even catastrophic breathing failure. This poison is so strong that it may make your child sick if he or she eats foods that are even on the same equipment as that poison. The problem is that this poison is often odorless, invisible, and tasteless. You are your child's only defense. You must read every label of every food you give your child multiple times to ensure that you do not feed him or her something that will poison them. You also wash your hands constantly when you are in the kitchen and practically panic any time a well-meaning relative tries to make safe food for your child just because you know how much your child trusts you. He or she will eat whatever you give because they have ultimate faith that you could never hurt him or her. (Faith that, despite your best efforts, proves to be occasionally misplaced.) That is the pressure that is on a food allergy mom every minute of every day.

In my case, my son currently has dairy, nut, and egg sensitivities. Additionally, pork is the only meat we've found so far that he can eat without throwing up. (Sensitivities in small children are basically identical to official allergies with the same symptoms and life threatening potential. The only difference is that "sensitivities" are not officially diagnosed and (often) the child grows out of them by the time they hit puberty . .. or at least that is every mom's dream. For official diagnosis, it is also recommended that one has the blood test, the skin test, and a challenge done. I'm hoping that he will outgrow them before all that is necessary.) Meanwhile, because of the pervasiveness of dairy and his extreme sensitivity to it, I do not trust any restaurant's food enough to let him have it. (It's really hard to pin down accidental contamination). So, every time we go out to eat, I have to prepare and bring food for him to eat on his own plate from home to decrease the potential for accidental contamination. Every visit to a friend's house, I have to be painfully aware of what my child is putting near his mouth at all times. If their child is having a snack of peanut butter and milk, I have to make sure that my son does not touch the table, the cup, or the wash cloth that touched any of the food. Every time we are invited to a birthday party, we have to make our own birthday cake and/or ice cream and (often) a meal to bring with us and I spend most of the "eating" portion of the party on pins and needles afraid that he will start crying because he cannot have what the others have or (worse yet!) will get hold of the other children's food, have a reaction, and we will end up in the emergency room.

Don't get me wrong. I know that I am ultimately lucky. I have a child who is very healthy and will likely remain healthy and I also know that it is very, very probable that he will grow out of some, if not all, of his sensitivities. I have also never had to witness my child gasping for air because of any reaction, yet. We have had some facial swelling, nasty rashes, hives, blood in the stool and heart racing episodes, but those have, thankfully, been few and far between. Mostly, we have a lot of diarrhea, stomach aches, light rashes, and sleepless nights when he comes in contact with his problem foods (signs of intolerances rather than full allergies, thank God!).

My son's food sensitivities have also forced me into a new relationship with food that has led to many new, positive choices that I may have been too lazy to make before. (Spending increased time in the health food store will do that to a person!) I also am extremely fortunate that I am a stay at home mom who really can buy, prepare, and watch every morsel of food my son eats. We can also afford a lot of alternative foods that are pricey, but that give my son a sense of "normalcy" (soy puddings, "safe" cake mixes, a sometimes necessity since I'm only slowly learning how to become a better baker, safe gummy treats, etc.).

Are his food issues caused by all the chemicals I exposed him to when I was pregnant? Perhaps. I probably wasn't as careful as I am now about what foods I bought. Are they the result of a bad genetic lottery? Perhaps. His father certainly had many food issues at his age and I have several seasonal allergies. Over all, I've found the search for the "whys" are pretty useless at this stage in the game. For now, we just hope that it won't last forever and I'm just grateful that our diligence has paid off in that, most of the time, our son is happy, healthy, and eats very well. I offer this testimony, not to complain about my life, but to explain a little of how a food allergy affects everyone in a family. For better or worse, this is our life and this is who our son is. We are doing everything we can to make the world a safer place for him and to be the best parents we can be. Just remember when you hear about a child with a food sensitivity or allergy how important it is to help his or her parent out a little if you can. Pay attention to the ingredients if you want to make something for the family to eat, try to avoid snacks that contain the allergens if the child is coming over, let the parent know what you are serving at birthday parties so that she can try to approximate it as best she can for her child, and remember that this is about safety, not special treatment. It takes a community to keep some of our most precious, fragile children safe.

Thanks for reading,
Shawna,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Starting Our Homeschool Collection

Since we officially decided to homeschool our daughter for at least Kindergarten, we decided to start getting things really organized so she can study and learn whenever she wants now so we are in a good place once we "officially" start to homeschool next Fall.

We are going to be using a mixture of homeschooling and unschooling practices to keep us all sane, while helping her learn and have fun.  We've already had a few doses of what happens when we push her beyond what she wants to do, and I do not want a repeat of the complete shutdown that ensues (which is just another reason we are keeping her home).

I found so many different preschool and kindergarten printables on Pinterest, but leading back to their main sites was amazing (which I will link to at the bottom of the post).  So many free pages to print off so we can do activities and learning at home without buying expensive books that she can only work on once.  I went and bought a $30 laminator at Walmart, with 50 laminating pouches, so all told I spent $45 on that, not including paper and ink to print the pages off.  I also bought her her own binder, so I could organize it all, tab dividers, wet erase markers (so they wouldn't rub off while she was writing or drawing) and some ring clips to organize the games I was able to find and print off.  I think I ended up spending about $60 on everything, but the laminator was the most expensive and an item I won't be buying again.

It took about two hours to print, cut, laminate, and get everything ready for her to use, but she helped me with the entire process, which I think made her even more excited to use it all.  I keep finding more things to add to it all, but I knew that was how it would be, and another reason I am so glad I bought the laminator.

For four hours the first day, my daughter did nothing but the pages I had made for her.  The next day she spent another four hours.  That night we did have our first meltdown when we did push her to play just one more time when she didn't want to, but even then, she was happy through the rejection.  Today, she took a break from it all, and I know she just needed a break, but she brought the stuff out multiple times and then became distracted.

(Sorry about the quality of the pictures, my camera is missing and I used my cell phone)


Letter Matching - Match the capitol letter with its corresponding lowercase letter


Lowercase and Uppercase tracing pages

 

Letter Matching Game - Match the animal to the letter it starts with


Mazes and drawing pages


Number and Shape matching game. There are even backs to print off so you can't see through the pages


Number Book - Find the numbers, and write on each page


Number Tracing Pages with counting ladybugs

Each of the links above have more pages to print at each site.  These are just the basic ones I printed off as a trial, but please feel free to click through the sites and find whatever you need.  There are thousands to print off, and they are all free.

Do you use any tools (ie: books, toys, printables) for homeschooling?  If so, what are they?


Friday, December 2, 2011

You Won't Win a Medal

You haven't heard a lot from me here lately. I won't make excuses, but I will give you a reason. I have been struggling with where I fit into the whole attachment parenting/natural family living community. Idealistically, I subscribe to almost everything to do with the philosophy. Realistically, it just doesn't play out that way. I don't know if I'm overwhelmed or overstressed or it's just the voice of almost every other parent I've ever known ringing in my head. They all seem to scream the same message: "You won't win a medal! Why don't you just [insert conventional parenting method here]." The truth is, I'm not trying to win a medal. I'm just trying to give my kids the best possible start in life--to raise them to be kind, thoughtful, confident and fulfilled individuals. Most days, I feel like I am failing.

I especially worry about my oldest child. He is a quirky, bright, creative five-year-old. He does very well academically--especially in reading. He is generally outgoing and talkative with people, even those he has just met. Still, some days it feels like I'm not getting through to him at all. I can address the same problem behavior--say, writing on the walls--again and again. I can explain why he shouldn't do it (because we work hard to provide this home and want to take care of it). I can provide paper to write on and other creative outlets. I can even put all writing implements that I can find out of his reach. He inevitably extends his reach or finds something else to creatively use as an art medium.

It is on days like these that I relive his entire life history, wondering where I failed him. I was younger and less informed when he was born. I should have stood up for my rights during his birth. I shouldn't have allowed the doctor to clamp his cord immediately. I should have breastfed longer, worn him more. I should have been more selective with child care providers. I replay every scenario and wonder if that would have made the present any easier. Of course, dwelling on it won't change the past, but if I knew where I went wrong, maybe I could figure out how to undo the damage. Then those sneaky voices start telling me, "He needs discipline!" And they sure don't mean gentle discipline. With my guilt pulling from one side and societal pressure pulling from another, it's enough to pull a mom apart.

Despite all that internal conflict, what pulls me back to my senses is neither guilt, nor pressure, but the constant, gentle tug of something deeper. I'm not sure what to call it, but I feel it when I treat him with respect and watch him open up to me. I feel it when he models that same respect to his brother and sister. It's amazing how a change in my tone can set the mood for the day. I realize that ink pen with clean, or at worst can be painted over. Suddenly, I don't need a medal, or any outside acknowledgment, to know that I'm on the right track. My children's love, their trust, and--if my instincts are correct--their future, are the only prize I need.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Unschooling, FTW

I woke up a couple weeks ago to hear my husband and daughter giggling and counting.  I didn't want to interrupt, so I stayed in bed to listen.

"Okay, roll the dice and help me count how many dots come up!"

Never have I heard such amazing words.  My husband made his own tabletop game, and since our daughter has been enthralled with learning, he asked if she would like to play while hiding the fact that they would be practicing numbers and rules.

I came out after a few minutes to watch them play.  Her face was lit up like nothing I've seen, and she was so excited to be playing, she had no idea she was learning, too.

A little bit later, I talked to my husband about how what he was doing with her was schooling and learning.  He had no idea.  He told me that it couldn't have been school because it was too much fun.

We have had a really hard time trying to decide what to do when our daughter is old enough for Kindergarten.  It is such a hard decision to make, especially when you want nothing but the best for your child.

When she sprouted a month ago by learning on her own and at her own pace, it felt like our decision was made for us.

There are still doubts, but watching my husband and her learn through play and practice just reinforces the idea that she needs to have the freedom to learn as she will and not be structured or boxed, not that I believe public school will do or does that.  As I watched him unschool our daughter, I knew we needed to give it a try.

For now, we will keep teaching her how she wants to learn and not force her, and see where it goes.  We are going to keep her home for Kindergarten.  It wasn't an easy choice, but that one moment where I heard learning and fun convinced me that this is something we need to at least try.

She was so happy, so enthralled, that I owe her at least that much.  Homeschooling might not be the future option for us, but I go in completely ready and excited, and open to evaluate as I go and change what needs to be changed.

Kids are all about flexibility, and nothing has shown that to me more than this.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

10 Things This Parent Is Thankful For


The Thanksgiving tradition in my family is that instead of saying grace before dinner, we go around the table and each person says what they are thankful for. This year, however, we spent the holiday with my husband’s family and my father-in-law said a traditional grace. It was a nice grace, but as I was falling asleep later that night, I felt a little sad that we all didn’t get to say what we’re thankful for. I said so to my husband. I missed that yearly tradition of my family’s. And, being a list maker, I can’t help but make my list of the things I’m thankful for.

In no particular order, I’m thankful for:

1. The health of my family and the things that go to sustain that health: clean water, good quality food, organic fruits and vegetables, and daily exercise.


2. Laughter and especially the laughter of my children. Is there a more beautiful sound than your children laughing? Or the sound of your children laughing because they are playing together, even if one is three and one is 4 months old?


3. Being a breastfeeding mom, I’m thankful for the breastfeeding laws that protect my right to live my life and breastfeed at the same time, whether I’m grocery shopping, taking my son to the playground or working.


4. Having a marriage where my husband and I communicate and are on the same page when it comes to parenting, education, nutrition, and other values. Whenever I get worn out I think of my friends who are single parents – and still stellar parents – and wonder how they do it, not just doing it all themselves most the time, but doing it without having someone to talk things through with, whether it’s the choices for schools or how to teach the kids conflict resolution skills. Having someone to share the wild ride of parenting with, for me, makes it far more fun and easier.


5. That my husband and I have chosen to parent in a way that reflects our values – even when it goes against the grain, is different from many friends and extended family members, and even causes concern in some (“What? You don’t punish your children? How do they know right from wrong?”). I’m also thankful for how much we’ve already seen the benefit of this, of how much our three year-old son communicates his feelings and what’s okay with him, that while he may get scared at a puppet show, he doesn’t get scared of potentially getting in trouble for expressing himself.


6. I’m thankful for Roe v. Wade, not just because it makes a relatively simple procedure safe and available for women or has the side effect of greatly lowering the number of children that are abused yearly by parents, but because it protects all reproductive rights, including my right to choose to give birth at home with a midwife.


7. My children aren’t school age yet, but whether we choose public school, private school, or home school, I’m thankful for the public school system and that we have choices when it comes to our children’s education. Waldorf? Charter? Montessori? The neighborhood public school? Private? We get to choose. And I’m thankful for all the people who commit their lives to serving children.


8. Parks and playgrounds. I was grateful for the national and city parks before I had children, simply because of how much they improve the air quality and our quality of life, but after children, I am especially thankful for city parks and playgrounds. With an active preschooler, I think my sanity and his happiness depends on our daily walks to the park and time spent at the parks and playgrounds. He gets his exercise and to play with other kids. I get to play with him or meet other parents. The park is one of the first places children get to experience community, and it’s a benefit that’s available to all children.


9. Museums, public libraries and the arts. I’m an addict. And I’m raising my children to be addicts too. Yesterday my son begged to be taken to the Children’s museum, and while we didn’t have time (he instead spent his afternoon rolling down a hill in a park with his dad), it made my heart sing every time he asked.


10. The Internet. As a parent who’s still relatively new to the city I live in, I am thankful for the wealth of resources available every time I open my computer. Within minutes, I can find kid friendly events happening in the city, where to take kids apple picking, or directions to a new friend’s house. I can also instantly research tips for flying with children, order groceries, put library books on hold, or contact my favorite mom friends who are spread out across the globe. I feel slightly shallow saying it, but I think the Internet makes parenting easier for my generation than it was for my parents.


And you? What are the things you're thankful for as a parent?


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

54 Ways To Engage A Child

When I was growing up, we always got praised for good work and critiqued for bad work. We learned to fail or succeed so we learned a good work ethic and we were proud of the work we did ourselves. We didn’t rely on what our parents told us and we believed in ourselves.
So, my friend and I started going back and forth with ways you can educationally engage a child instead of just saying “well done” or “good job.” I know that with both of those, they seem like what you did doesn’t matter. No one paid attention to it, and they are just giving the random answer that comes easiest.
I have always wanted to raise my children with a strong work ethic and the drive to be proud of themselves. I don’t want them to have to completely rely on what I tell them. Of course, they will know I love and am very proud of them, but they will grow up with self confidence and the love of their own work.
Here is the link to my friend’s post (she says it a lot better than I ever could). I would recommend everyone to get to know her. She is absolutely incredible! A doula, a nanny, and trying to conceive her first child. She is one of my very favorite people, and a very amazing woman.
Without further ado, the list of ways to praise a child in ways that actually praises them:



  • I’m having so much fun with you.


  • You teach me new things everyday


  • It makes me so sad when you cry out of frustration, how can I help you finish that?


  • Your ideas are so creative, I wouldn’t have thought about that!


  • My arms are tired of cleaning, you must be since you’ve been working so hard. Lets cuddle instead.


  • The way you line up your stuffies is really adorable, they looks so comfortable and cozy together.


  • Oh wow, looks like you are expressing anger in this picture, want to talk about.


  • If I lift you above my head, will you clean the fixtures, it might be fun!


  • May I help you? Looks like that is difficult for you.


  • When I have to clean the corners, I get frustrated, but you do it so easily!


  • The way you lined up all those red cars in a row makes me smile, I love how much convoys make you happy.


  • I wouldn’t have done that that way, but your way works better.


  • You make cleaning longer, but much more fun!


  • When I see you concentrating like that, I always wonder what you are thinking, want to tell me?


  • Your attention to detail is fascinating, I love watching you learn/create/enjoy your things/space


  • Huh, that is a different way to think about that.


  • see how hard you are trying, would you like me to help you?


  • I love sleeping in a freshly made bed, do you?


  • But sometimes I like to dig under the messy covers too!


  • That showed a lot of responsibility/care/effort


  • Describe to me what your picture is, I’d love to know if you want to share with me.


  • When I draw, I always feel so free, how about you?


  • I love having a clean home, feels so lovely.


  • Do you like what you drew? How do the colours make you feel? I am enjoying watching you draw, your perspective is original.


  • When you help me, we get done so much faster. When we work together it feels great doesn’t it? Thank you, I appreciate it.


  • What should we do with this picture? Keep it, hang it up, give it to someone, recycle it, rip it up, frame it?


  • What were you feeling when you drew this? Were you pressing really hard, this line is dark! How would this look with crayon?


  • I love the way you laugh! Instead of That joke was funny


  • Show me how you did this!


  • I would have never thought to do that that way


  • I’m proud of you, could be, Are you proud of yourself? If they say yes, you can say, I am too!


  • thanks for helping


  • That was fun


  • It feels great when you help


  • I care that you’ve made the effort


  • Is that an elephant?!


  • Did you like building that?Are you fighting with your brother/sister for a reason? How about we sit and talk through it instead


  • I think we should make some playdough. Want to help? You can help me mix it together and pick the colors


  • How about we finish here and then you can pick what to have for dinner. Deal?


  • I think we should go for a walk as a break. Where do you want to go? That’s a great idea. I’m so glad you mentioned it


  • Would you like to help me change the baby’s diaper? You always know how to keep her happy while we do it


  • Did you have a dream about what you drew here? Seems like it was a funny dream!


  • I think the castle is missing one thing. Do you know what it might be?


  • Wow where did you get your hat? I wanted one of those but it looks so much better on you


  • You’re working pretty hard, want to take a break with me and have some cold lemonade? And then I will help you finish


  • Where did you learn to wash dishes like a pro? They are so clean you could eat off of them


  • Your room looks so great! Doesn’t it feel good to have the floor clean and the toys put away?


  • Did you do this by yourself? Wow that must have taken a lot of work. I love the detail you put into it!


  • Do you think playing the game was fun? What would you change for next time?


  • I am so grateful for your help today. It would have taken so much more time if I had to do it alone. Thank you so much


  • Did you choose this color to show something special or important? It really adds to the picture


  • You played a great game today! What were your favorite parts? Did you enjoy the other teams plays?


  • I love how you drew this animal, is it thinking something special? Did you line these blocks like this to show something? What does it show?


  • I love how you used the bright colors instead of saying that's a pretty picture 



  • This was originally posted on heartsandhandss.com, after spending time with my friend coming up with the different ways to praise a child on afternoon

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    A Thought Or Two On Crying



    When my siblings, cousins and I go out to eat with my Grandmother, she takes us out to a nice restaurant. When the restaurant host puts the menus on the table, she always says, “Go ahead and get whatever you want. It’s okay. Don’t worry about the price.” She’s done this my entire life. It’s the kind of thing that makes sense for her to say considering that she was raised during the Depression and started her own family during World War II. Meeting the needs of everyone in the family depended on staying within the budget. Eating out was a luxury, and even when one could afford it, one still ordered modestly to keep the cost of the entire meal reasonable. Though when my grandmother took us out as we grew up, she had attained a certain amount of financial comfort, which is why she wanted us to feel comfortable ordering whatever we wanted on the menu.



    Except that her telling me not to worry about the cost had the opposite effect. In the millisecond before she said anything, I’d quickly glance over everything, look for the things that sounded the best, and see if they weren’t things I didn’t usually get to have at home. After she said I could have whatever I wanted, I would immediately get self-conscious; that I shouldn’t order whatever I wanted because my grandmother was already thinking about the bill. Before she said anything, I had no reason to be concerned about the cost, but after she said something, I knew she was concerned about the cost. I felt if I ordered what I really wanted, she would think I was greedy or trying to take advantage of her. And I had to wonder to myself, “Well, why wouldn’t I look at a menu and just order what I wanted? Isn’t that what eating out is for?”



    I was thinking about this awkward pas de deux with my grandmother that I faced growing up after what seemed to be the last warm Fall day at the playground, when a girl my son’s age tripped and fell. Her father ran over to her, picked her up and held her as she cried. He rubbed her back, and told her, “You can cry. It’s okay to cry. So if it makes you feel better, go ahead.”


    In the grand scheme of things, what he said was the well-intentioned thing to say. It certainly beats the “You’re okay” response which – while trying to reassure the child that they didn’t seriously injure themselves – infers that s/he has no reason to cry or the “it’s okay” response which may in fact be the abbreviated form of “it’s okay to cry” but still suggests to the child that they don’t have any reason to be crying. As we know, if a child is crying, s/he has a reason to be crying, even if it’s a reason we don’t know or understand. For many children (and even adults who get hurt), crying is often the most natural response. It’s not much different than a knee jerk reflex after a doctor hits your knee with a rubber mallet.


    Which is why I started wondering, if what the dad was saying to his daughter on the playground had the opposite effect of what he intended. I couldn’t help but wonder, if he was in fact projecting his concerns about crying onto his daughter the way my grandmother had projected her concerns about money onto me. When we say these kinds of things to our children, are they actually then saying to themselves, “Well why wouldn’t it be okay for me to cry after a fall?” the same way I wondered, “Well, why wouldn’t I go ahead and just get what I want?” Is the best form of validating their emotional expression to not say anything at all and instead just be with them and hold them?


    I couldn’t help but wonder if we say these things to our children more for our sake than theirs. We want to be good parents. We want our children to feel safe expressing themselves – because honestly, children will express themselves anyway when they have something to express- better it be safely and straightforward in a conversation with us than passive aggressive and potentially dangerous in the world at large.



    But the truth is while scientific study after scientific study proves that crying does indeed relieve stress and is better for one’s health in the long run, it’s still not socially acceptable to cry in public. We tell our children it’s okay on the playground, but by kindergarten they’ve already realized it’s not okay really. Most adults cry - when they do cry - in private, and when they do cry in public, they receive predictions about their professional demise. So are we sending our children mixed messages? Or do they get it’s okay when you’re little to cry because a kid kicked you in the head when you didn’t get off the slide fast enough, but it’s not okay when you’re big? I do cry in front of my son. I even tell him why I’m crying and if I’m sad or upset or frustrated. But I too cry at home, not on the playground.



    In the meantime, my son told me today that he lost his favorite car to the subway track. I asked if he was sad and if he cried. He said yes. I said I could get it. I’d cry too. He said he wanted a new car to replace the one he lost, and then he went one to play with something else, completely forgetting about the lost car. I realized this is indeed the point of crying in the first place, to release an emotion so we can move to other things. It’s funny, the things you learn from a three year-old. He cries and moves on. He doesn’t make his crying at the subway station mean anything about him and he certainly didn’t wonder what other people thought as he cried about his lost car on the subway track. I hope he keeps this freedom of expression as he grows up.


    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Breastfeeding: Join the Boob-olution!

    This video has been floating around the last week or so, and I think it is one of the best breastfeeding videos I have seen on the internet.  It truly should be an ad on TV!


    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Children and the Arts




    This week my husband and I took our three year-old son up to 42nd Street for his first play. The play, White, was put on by the New Victory Theater, a theater company with programming aimed at children and their families. The play, forty minutes long, featured a simple whimsically designed set full of birdhouses, all white. The two characters, Cotton and Wrinkle, care for their birdhouses and go through the rituals of their day keeping everything orderly and white, until one day, color emerges. The play ends with a burst of colorful confetti into the audience and the cast members talking with all the children about their favorite colors.



    When I take my son to the movies (a series at a local Brooklyn theater, Big Movies for Little Kids) I joke that his attention span is the length of the movie minus ten minutes. I don’t know why this is, but it is generally the formula for his interest. The Muppet Movie minus ten minutes. Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus minus ten minutes. Even with this, at the movies, he gets distracted; he wants to walk around, he wants more popcorn or water or to play with the car that is hidden deep within his backpack. But at the play, he sat on my husband’s lap, totally absorbed and spell bound. He didn’t move. He didn’t fidget.



    Whenever state and school budgets come up short, the arts curriculum is generally one of the first things on the chopping block even as studies show that having learning experiences in the arts contributes to academic skills, social and emotional development as well as increases motivational skills. It is through the arts that children learn their cultural heritage and have the ability to experience other cultures. The arts teach creativity, empathy, respect, diversity, and the ability to try new things, self-expression, resourcefulness, and self-direction in addition to a myriad of other things. An education that negates the arts negates humanity and the growth of the individual. An education without the arts fails to teach children the potential of the skills they are learning in school.



    On the surface, the play White taught children their colors, and the contrast of an entirely white world with a world full of a spectrum of colors. But within this, children also were given a subtle message of diversity appreciation, an understanding of daily rituals, how people work together and take care of their environment. They also learned rules, how rules work and when those rules don’t represent the greater good, it’s okay to change them.



    Yet what I really loved about the play was that it was intelligent. It respected children and valued the culture of children. It began with the premise that children are intelligent and discerning audience members. It assumed they are perceptive and emotionally intelligent and compassionate creatures. My son left the play wanting to see it again. I left with a renewed love of the theater. I also left with a profound appreciation for the theater company’s view that children’s theater is just as important and valid as the theater for their parents. It’s rare in our culture for people to view the experience and intelligence of children as just as valid and important as adults’, but it is. And one way to show our children that we think their experience is just as valid as ours is to value the arts that represent that experience.


    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Letting Him Cry

    "You need to let him cry sometimes."

    I can't tell you how many times I was told that when my son was a tiny baby. What I found most irritating about the comment was the assumption that, somehow, I had found a way to have a baby who didn't cry or that if I didn't let him cry enough, he was somehow going to forget how to cry. The truth was that he cried all the time. I just held him while he cried or once I figured out what he was communicating, I would do what he needed me to do and he would stop crying. Just because he didn't cry much during that person's visit, didn't mean that I was somehow magically stopping my child from crying all of the time. (In fact, before we figured out exactly how much I needed to eliminate from my diet for my son's reflux, we went weeks where the nightly routine involved my husband holding my son for one or two hour increments in which he cried the whole time just so I could lie down for an hour or two.) I always viewed his crying as his way of communicating with me and whether I "let" him cry or not, the tears always came because he always needed to communicate. He would just stop crying when it was clear that his message had been communicated.

    However, there are times when I was and am "okay" with my son's tears. There were times when, as bad as I feel about how upset he is, I knew that his discomfort is necessary and only temporary and I communicate that to him by "letting him cry." For example, he always cried when I changed his diaper for the first three months, when I bathed him for about the first six months, when I showered, when he was in his car seat, (a few desperate times) when I put him down because I needed to get some emotional space away from his tears, and, recently, he has been crying when I brush his teeth, occasionally when its bath time, and, on rare occasions, when he wants treats instead of his regular food at mealtimes. What has made those times more acceptable to me is that even though I feel bad for his discomfort, I am not ignoring what he is communicating or irnoring the discomfort he feels. Instead, I am communicating to him that there are some things (like safety, hygiene, or nutrition) are more important than temporary discomfort. I really have no guilt about "letting" him cry when I feel I need to communicate those kinds of messages to him. I also don't leave him alone to cry during those times and I don't do things to intentionally push him. I don't force him to bathe every day just to "make him get over it," when he is having a tough time giving up the control needed to let me bathe him, I only do it two or three times during the week. I didn't take extra long showers while he cried in the other room "to show him who was boss" (as was suggested by some people I knew), I took a quick shower, usually with him in the bathroom with me while I talked him through it. If "letting him cry" tore me up inside or made me feel guilty or awful, I always knew that I should be doing what it is I needed to do to ease his tears. My own guilt is my litmus test about when it was important for him to cry.

    The strongest message I can send him about what is important is to show how responsive I can be to his cries when there is something he is communicating that I can and should do something about it. If he is hurt, I respond to his cries (even if he isn't very hurt and mainly needs my attention because I've let myself be too distracted with other things like cleaning the house or talking to other people). If it is something I can feel good compromising about, then I feel fine compromising. (For example, when he wants mango at lunch instead of oranges.) By showing him that I will be there with him and will listen to him even when he is communicating discomfort and displeasure, I hope that I setting the stage for him to continue to communicate with me when he does use words as his primary form of communication. Sometimes, I do think its okay to cry, but only when there is a genuine, good reason why the cry is necessary. I think that is a very important lesson. How could I communicate THAT to him, if I didn't first respond to his first forms of communication?

    Thanks for reading,
    Shawna

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Learning At Her Own Pace

    My daughter is almost four and a half, and by most opinions and books, she is delayed.  It could come from her prematurity, but knowing her and seeing her I know it is just her personality.

    She didn't smile until she was four months old.  Didn't laugh until she was a year.  She didn't talk with more than one or two words until she was two and a half, and then she exploded with sentences.  Until three weeks ago, she couldn't count past four without skipping numbers.  She still has trouble with colors.

    We have been told many times to get her checked and make sure she doesn't have any major issues.  I watch her play, I watch her learn, and it reaffirms our choice to let her learn as she goes.

    We've seen her play with kids a year or two younger than her and they know more colors and numbers and the other parents look at us like we are doing something wrong or there is something wrong with her.

    Talking to other parents, I've come to realize that most parents have become so dependent on milestones, delays, and markers that we have tried to force our children to grow up before they are ready.

    When I meet other parents in the playground or at meetings, most ask if she is in pre-school or if she is going to kindergarten next year.  They don't ask about her, they only ask about how developed she is or will be.  We are so focused on schooling our children and teaching them as soon as we can that we forget they are children.

    For the last four years, I've let my daughter learn as she went.  I haven't pushed her, and I have sat back as other parents look at her as if she's broken or that she should know more.  I've loved her and been there for every need she could have.

    Three weeks ago, she sprouted.  She changed.  She became fascinated with learning the things she didn't care about before.  In three weeks, she is now able to count to 25, she can write every number and letter, she can spell her name and write the numbers 1-10 from memory.  She now knows different songs and sings them to me.  She tells stories.  It's like a light came on and now she can't get enough of learning.

    If I had pushed her, if I had tried to get her learn all of this before she was ready, I know she would have shut down.  She's just like me.  I've worried and I've wondered, and now seeing what can happen when you let children learn as they want to learn is just fascinating.

    I've always thought that most parents cannot wait for their children to grow up.  From birth, we are worried about when they are sleeping through the night, when they are eating enough solids, when we can wean them, when they're supposed to walk and talk.  We worry so much about them lagging behind that we forget that all children are different.

    My daughter's  best friend is thirteen months younger than her.  She knows some things better than my daughter and some worse.  Watching the two of them has reaffirmed to me that all children are different.  My child won't learn the same as my best friend's child.  Her child won't learn the same as a sibling.

    In a way, it is reassuring that she is able to learn and that she wants to learn.  As a parent, you do worry.  That's what being a parent is.  However, your worry about development, unless there is an issue, should not hamper when they are ready to learn and when you think they are ready to learn.

    Children learn better when it is their idea.  Children learn better when their teacher, whether it be a parent or friend or a teacher from school, work with them to see what their focus is on.  Where they are in their learning.  There is no cookie cutter method for teaching a child.  There is no set time when a baby or child should be doing something.

    We are letting our daughter learn at her own pace.  And just from the last three weeks, I know that this was the right thing to do.

    Know your child.  Know their needs.  Know their signals.  Don't push them to things they aren't ready for.  Just as how you wouldn't enjoy that, they don't either.  Children don't all grow at the same pace or stride, and sometimes, we all need a reminder that there is nothing wrong with them because they are a little "delayed".

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    How to Prepare for Life: Play




    I spend a lot of time reading and researching preschool education. Even after my husband and I decided we wouldn’t participate in the rat race that preschool education entails in New York, I still spend a lot of time reading about how preschoolers learn, or why they need play, arts, crafts, exercise, and to self-direct their play and interests. I even read up on the preschool methodologies, the Waldorf, the Reggio Emilia, the Montessori, the unschooling, the basic play based and so on. Aspects of each school of thought resonate with me, but what I eventually realized was that I want my children to play and have good experiences as children. I know the schools will stress reading, writing, math, and social studies. I don’t know that they will teach him creativity, or how to explore and experiment in the world on his terms.



    When I watch my three year-old son play, I watch him assimilate the world around him. Generally, his favorite toys are not toys at all. He has an old office phone that he uses to pretend to call for a taxi to take him to the Fort Greene playground. One day last week, our corkscrew also served as a pretend phone that he could use to order himself a vehicle and take-out sushi. Earlier this week, he carried around a ladle and serving spoon in his backpack. In the bath, he makes pretend ice cream and tea with the few remaining cups of his infant stacking cups. The lid from the orange juice bottle becomes a muffin he serves me with my “tea.” I gave him foam letters to play with in his bath only to watch him sort them by color, count them, and then put them away. The next night he took his Hot Wheels Carrying Case into the bath and put his letters in the spaces where the cars go. This morning he held up a piece of leftover ribbon and asked, “Can I play with this?”



    While he has letters and numbers in his bath and had letters and numbers on the fridge as magnets (before they got lost to the Toss and Scatter game), we don’t quiz him on what they are or what sound they make or what have you. It’s purely about surrounding him with them and letting him explore them on his terms.

    Whether it’s in play or education, my husband and I believe in him self-directing his experience. I don’t know exactly what he learns by sitting in a cardboard box and steering while holding a corkscrew to his ear (other than very bad driving habits undoubtedly learned from New York City cab drivers), but I know it’s important to him – otherwise, he wouldn’t do it. Given that he’s three, I trust that he can learn something from everything he does.



    Everything I’ve read about how three year old children learn, from David Elkind’s Miseducation: Preschoolers At Risk to Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby, says it’s completely inappropriate to push early reading or math skills on your children, that in the first years what is most important is their social and emotional development, that kids can learn curriculum anytime, but social and emotional experiences to a large extent get hard wired at this stage, and you only get one shot at hard wiring. However, the more I read up on the schools around me in my neighborhood and city, after I read the catch phrases that we’re all familiar with (play based, encouraging creativity, diverse experiences, nurturing environment, etc.) I found that many of the preschools still mention their program will prepare children for school. Even if on the outside it looks like the kids are just playing, they really are gaining reading readiness skills or learning simple addition and subtraction or what have you.



    I assume I find this information on preschool websites, school tours, and brochures, because more than one parent voiced their concern that if they allowed their kid to play all the time, how could they possibly be ready for school. Or will their child be behind the other kids who didn’t play all day? Yet I felt confused; if all the research (I’m finding) says young children need to play and pushing curriculum too young can backfire in their social and emotional development as well as their interest in school and learning, then why are the preschools in my area reassuring parents that their child will probably be phonetically reading by age four?



    This month’s Scientific American Magazine has an article, “The Death of Preschool” by Paul Tullis focusing on specifically this question. Academics vs. free play in preschool has been a debate among early educators for decades (Silly me. When I started researching all this preschool stuff, I thought it was a recently new concern in early education), and now, as Tullis maintains, there’s research to prove that play is the absolute best way to nourish young children’s educational lives, yet the trend in schools continues to push academics.



    I can understand the urge to push academics on young children. I can understand that parents want the best for their children and to have all kinds of opportunities available to them, and one way to get those opportunities is to do well in school. I can understand that no parent wants their child to struggle to learn or experience the feeling of being behind one's peers (or god forbid label themselves as "dumb"). Yet I have to admit, I am left wondering why is it parents don’t trust that interacting with their children is enough to prepare their child for school? Many states now do test children to make sure they’re ready for kindergarten, but isn’t this “being prepared for kindergarten” thing getting a little out of hand? Even those of us who say we don’t push academics on our children still defend our play-focused households with anecdotes about how our kids learned their letters from the subway or that when they break their crayons, they say now they have two crayons, so clearly they are learning math and basic addition. If we were truly play based, we wouldn’t need some result of playtime to reassure ourselves that our children are learning.



    The truth is, what impresses me about my son is not that he knows the alphabet or how to count or that when you break a piece of chalk, you then have two. What impresses me is that he can walk into a Starbucks and intuitively know that the bathroom is in the back and walks in that direction when he has to pee. It impresses me when he tells another child on the playground, “That’s not playing nice” or that he doesn’t want to play rough. I’m constantly impressed with his creativity, like how he takes a bunch of pennies and throws them on the floor as he yells, “Money thunder!” and I think, yes, that’s what I want you to do in school, to take two separate ideas and find a way to link them. Today, my son was ill, and my husband and I were impressed that instead of whining or throwing a tantrum, he just went and put himself to bed. The truth is what impresses me about what my son learns and has learned are the things that can’t be measured on any test. While they all contribute to him developing as a human being, I don't know that they are necessarily "preparing" him for kindergarten. But these are all skills he learned from interacting with my husband and me and from playing. So if our children are already learning how to engage with the world from us as parents, playing, and just experiencing life, why can’t we trust that they’ll also learn whatever they need to learn to be ready to start school?