Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Let me be honest...

Living in San Diego has some real bonuses!  The weather has to be the most notable one.  Coming from Colorado I really appreciate the year round mild, usually perfect, weather.  My kids do too, and they take full advantage of it.

We have a safe, private back yard at our home.  The children pass in and out freely and I feel comfortable with them playing out there unsupervised (yes, I said it!) - unsupervised!  They are now six and almost two, and together or even alone they really enjoy spending time in our back yard.  They have an empty garden box for digging in, sidewalk chalk, plants to water, flowers to cut and arrange, a broom for sweeping, bikes/trikes, and balls. There are also a variety of bugs, lizards, birds, bunnies, and plants for observing.  Most importantly though, they get fresh air and vitamin D.  When they start to get a little crazy inside I suggest they go out and play.  Being outside immediately has a calming affect on them both.  Sometimes my daughter just sits out there and reads a book, while the little guy makes mud cakes for her.  I often her them laughing while they are out there; I think they actually get along better when they are playing outside than in.

As you can see they get plenty of essential exposure to the great outdoors.  They don't lack in outdoor time, but I still feel I need to take them to the neighborhood park.  I have a love-hate relationship with the park.  The playground equipment allows children to strengthen and coordinate their gross motor skills in ways that ,unless you live on a rural farm or ranch, or practice a hunter/gatherer life style, your children probably do not get.  While I love this opportunity for my kids to climb and develop their muscles in ways that they do not do otherwise, I don't love the other parents at the park.  I don't like how parents follow their children around the park wherever they go, telling them what to do next, to be careful, to say "sorry", to take turns, and to be nice.  Imagine what would happen if the parents just sat down on one of the many benches along the perimeter of the playground and just left their kids alone!  They just might learn that they are capable of doing things on their own, or how to interact with another child who wants to do the same thing as them, or what happens when they jump from the steps instead of carefully walking down.  We wouldn't want that would we?

Not only do these "other"parents burden their own children with their constant interference,  but they also give me looks when I am not following their lead.  As if I am a bad parent, just sitting on my butt, too lazy to take care of my own child.  Well enough is enough.  I have finally decided to be honest with them.  When they are following their child around and telling them to be careful of my little boy, or to take turns with my daughter,  I tell them I really don't mind if they let the children just figure it out on their own.  When one of the poor, unsuspecting, parents tries to inform me that one of my children is trying to get up the slide, or might need a little help with the monkey bars, I politely tell them that I am observing them and at this point I would like to allow them to try to do it on their own.

I have tried this new method of honesty at the park, children's museum, and the children's art studio.  Each time it has actually gone over quite well.  Some parents are relieved to hear my point of view.  They admit that they agree, but feel pressure from other parents to follow their kids around telling them what to do.  One mom even told me that her kids look at her strange when she acts the helicopter parent, because she is only like that at the park, and when other parents are around!

If you are one of the "other" parents who truly feels the need to follow your child around at the park, I invite you to try to sit back and just let them be the next time you go.  I am not encouraging you to let them get hurt or to bully.  I would certainly intervene if I thought one of my children was in danger of serious injury or was bullying another child.  However, it is important to remember that children will face physical challenges as well as confrontation from peers throughout their life, and the park just might be one of the best places for them to begin learning how to deal with such situations in a safe and peaceful manner.  What better time is there to learn empathy, self-control, respect, or even the law of gravity!

If you are more like me, and have felt the pressure to act like an "other" while at the park, I invite you to just be honest the next time the situation arises.  You will not only be standing up for yourself, but for your children too.

It is a beautiful day...who's up for a trip to the park?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Follow the Child

People, especially new moms, often ask me when it is time to help their children move to a next stage.  Be it potty training, eating, sleeping, walking, etc., parents want to know when they should do something to help their child progress.

Isn't it funny how we think we are somehow in control of when our children develop a certain skill or progress to the next stage of development?  I guess in a way we are; we can certainly hinder their development by not providing the opportunities of independence and exploration that they need.  However, when it comes to pushing them to the next step, we really don't have much influence at all.  Maria Montessori figured this out.  She proclaimed, we must "follow the child!"  As parents or teachers it is our job to follow the child allowing him to develop at his own pace according to his own schedule.

This is difficult, because we feel like it is our job to teach our children.  How can we teach them if we are following them?  Shouldn't we lead and they follow?  If we always lead our children, than all that we can hope for from them is to someday be where we are.  Don't we want more for our children?  I want my children to know more than I'll ever know and to accomplish more than I will ever accomplish - to reach their fullest potential.  Rather than teach them what we know, let's allow them the freedom to surpass even our wildest dreams for them, on their own path and in their own way.

To follow the child successfully we must first prepare their environment.  A prepared environment is one that allows the child to follow his inner teacher, to explore things that are of interest to him and to learn through his own endeavors.  Children who are allowed to play/work independently without constant instruction and interruption from the adult respond with joy and deep concentration.

A prepared environment for your child will contain: developmentally appropriate toys, real (glass, wood, metal) objects, child-sized tools (utensils, scissors, dishes, etc) and furniture, beautiful things (art, flowers, nature), and a clear and easy to maintain order.  The environment will be constantly changing as the child grows - this is where the following comes in.  As caregivers we observe the child, and based on those observations, we adapt the environment to meet the child's needs.  We don't give him things to do that are senseless and without purpose.  We don't give him things that are either so easy that he is bored or so difficult that he is defeated by them.  We pay close attention to where he is at, and more importantly, where he is headed, so that we can provide the exact tools he will need.  We prepare the environment, and then we step back and give him the freedom required to master a skill or one's self.

In Discovery Of The Child, Maria Montessori wrote, "That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendour during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration.  It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom."

I encourage you to take some time and follow your child for a change.  You might be surprised where he will lead you.