Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Free Range Kids

In my entry yesterday and comments following, I touched on a couple of parenting ideas that seem to be pretty up and coming these days--the first being helicopter parents, and the second being free range kids.  Quick summary:  helicopter parents are super involved in everything their kids do, and free-range kids have parents who believe in letting them have lots of opportunities to explore the world without Mom and Dad hovering over them.

There's a lot of repercussions for kids when parents and teachers become really entrenched in one particular parenting or teaching strategy.  I think these two ideas are a perfect example of that--how much is too much involvement and at what age?  It's a question that I think most parents struggle with.  Honestly, once my kids became old enough and responsible enough to monitor some of their own behavior, my biggest concern was that someone would think I was unreasonable in my expectations and judge or punish me.

I linked a blog to this one on free range kids (thanks to my good friend Adriana!).  One of the things that's most frightening about this approach is, as I mentioned yesterday, there are increasing legal ramifications for parents who attempt to give kids a bit more "free range".  In my own experience, I have never seen a child who has blossomed under an overly-involved parent.  My experiences in working with all types of children have led me to believe that although some children definitely need more supervision and guidance, it's critical for parents to figure out where the line is to give their children some  range of motion--some room to experience life for themselves, and become autonomous individuals.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Much Freedom Do Kids Need?

A month ago, my eleven and a half year old daughter and I were enjoying a lazy Saturday at home. I don't remember who had the genius idea, but we agreed she could walk up to our local grocery store--a block and a half away--to buy herself a treat and me an iced mocha from Starbucks (I have an obsession, but that's another story!). Anyway, she had been gone for about ten minutes when my phone rang. It was her and she was frantic. Apparently, a man had approached her at the stoplight--in full daylight with tons of people around--and asked her her name, where she lived, how old she was, and when she would be home. He then invited himself over to "play".

Fortunately for all of us, my kid has a good head on her shoulders. As soon as he asked where she lived her alarm went off and she lied. I met her at the grocery store within five minutes and comforted a very upset child. The police came to take a description of the man, then gave me what I would describe as a "mini lecture" on how this is a different day in age. Nobody said it, but the implication was that a good parent would have never allowed her child to walk, at 3 p.m. on a weekend day, to a public place a block and a half away from her house.

Of course, my first reaction was panic and thankfulness. We have only lived in our area for a short time, but it's a nice area--there'a a beautiful park nearby, the grocery store a block away, brand new condos everywhere. But as I began to blame myself for what happened to my child, I had to stop and think--what am I doing?

Since when, in what world, did it become negligent to let your tween walk a block and a half from your house to the grocery store?

I've written lately quite a bit about autonomy--letting kids develop their own ability to self-regulate and to take on tasks independently. Did I make the wrong call? These types of situations are arising across the nation, with children of different ages. At what age should a child be allowed to play unsupervised in his back yard? When is a child old enough to walk unsupervised to a friend's house on the same block?

I don't know. I don't have the answers. It's interesting to me how vague most state statutes are on this issue--most states consider children old enough to stay home when they're able to do so successfully. Huh? Talk about leaving your legal options open for prosecution of parents.

Talk about it below, thanks for reading, and click on the sponsors!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Moving on a Child's Time

Your three-year old is struggling with his new shoes, trying desperately to get them on his feet. You're needing to head out the door, and needing to do it five minutes ago. You reach down to help him, and he yells, "No! I do it myself!" What's a parent to do?

This scenario is replayed over and over across our country in homes and classrooms. The temptation is huge for adults--put the shoe on, already! I've got a job or appointment to get to! But what's going on here with the child is the development of autonomy, of self-help skills, of feeling positive about what s/he can do. We all know we can put our own shoes on, but there was a time when we couldn't. And when we mastered that skill, we felt good about it.

Think back to the last time you attempted something new. Maybe you failed the first time. Maybe you tried several times before you got it right. But once you did, think of the excitement, the sense of accomplishment you felt. You had grown in your abilities. You were less reliant on others and more reliant on yourself. And it felt good.

Kids are the same way. Often, as adults, we rush them through various tasks because it's easier for us. Putting on coats or shoes, changing clothing, washing hair, eating snack, even writing their names on their work--because we have what we consider "bigger agendas". I would argue that for a young child, there is no bigger agenda than accomplishing daily life skills. Teachers and parents who understand this about children allow extra time in their schedules to give children the opportunity to attempt to complete what they start.

Many times in our lab school, we would set up an indoor climber that included four climbing sides, some boards to stand on, and a slide. After observing my adult students, I realized that many of them, out of kindness, would lift small children over the climbing bars to stand them on the boards so they could slide. The problem with this approach was that it did nothing to build the children's large motor muscles, nor did it build their autonomy or self-esteem. Instead, it reinforced the idea that adults were necessary for everything, when they really weren't. After coming to this conclusion, I began working with my adult students to stand nearby, hands out, to catch any child who might lose his or her footing, but to coach the child through climbing the bars. How do you coach? You talk the child through it. "That's right, now put your other foot on this bar and pull yourself up. Good! Keep can do it!" What we ended up seeing was many, many children who would reach the top and turn around proudly, exclaiming, "I do it!" Yes, you did! And before you knew it, they didn't need adult coaching at all.

Encouraging autonomy, or self-reliance, can be a challenging thing in a world that moves so quickly. The important point here is to slow down and give kids a chance to complete tasks themselves. Sometimes those tasks take a few minutes. Other times they take a long time. Sometimes they require adult assistance. But adults should never offer assistance when it's not needed. Let your child or children lead the way...they'll show you when they need your help.

And for the child at the beginning of this blog post? Put the shoe on! You're late for your work! There are priorities here, and sometimes life takes priority over a lesson on shoes. But tomorrow, wake up five minutes earlier so that your child has a few minutes to do it himself. The good feelings he gets--and you get watching him--make it all worthwhile.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Do It Myself!

Several years ago, I was teaching a group of three and four year olds. It was time to go outside, and we were encouraging the children to put on their own coats to the best of their ability. Most of the children hurried around us, swinging coats on haphazardly or trying to twist arms into their appropriate places. Many did the "coat flip" (I'll describe later) that they had been taught to do at preschool--a really easy, successful way for a child to put on his or her own coat. As the hallway cleared, there was one boy left standing....with his arms stuck straight out, like an airplane. When I asked him what he was doing, he responded to me as if his actions were the most natural in the world: "I'm waiting for you to put my coat on."

Children are faced with a variety of tasks to accomplish each day. Some of these tasks are easier than others. Each child is different, and based on his or her strengths and abilities, s/he may or may not be able to accomplish each task without help. But in general, we tend to encourage children to be independent in our society. We want children to learn to do things for themselves, to feel good about what they do.

This stage of development, as identified by theorist Erik Erikson is known as autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Most of us are familiar with two-year olds whose battle cry is "mine!" or "I do it!" This is autonomy in action. When children try to care for themselves, to make their own decisions, to do the right thing, we call this autonomy. This is a basic definition of autonomy, which is actually a pretty complicated idea. If you're interested in reading more about autonomy, you may want to look up information about the studies of Jean Piaget or Candice Kamii, both of whom were strong advocates of autonomy and did a lot of research in the field of early childhood about autonomy and its effects on children. For purposes of this blog, though, we'll stick with the definition above.

So what happens when kids don't develop autonomy? According to Erikson, they experience shame and doubt. Shame, because they can't do what other kids are doing, and doubt, because they doubt their own abilities. The ramifications of this lack of autonomy can be stunningly painful--children who, at age three, don't feel they are capable or competent in certain realms of their lives. They can't get dressed, can't use the bathroom independently, can't feed themselves, can't draw or do a puzzle or keep up with their friends on the playground.

My little friend with his arms out like an airplane is a perfect example of a child who hasn't been given the opportunity to develop his own autonomy. Parents are guilty of this in many ways, as are teachers. Nobody can debate that it's easier to put on a young child's shoes for him, nor to pick out that adorable outfit for your daughter, yourself. It's easier to serve a child his food, to pour the condiments, to carry a slowly walking child to the car or wherever you're going. But the cost of performing those tasks? It's pretty high. It sends a clear message to the child: You are not as competent as me, and in some cases, You are not competent at all.

Many times, a parent's interference in a child's developing autonomy has more to do with the parent's needs than the child's. I remember a coworker describing to me a parent's anxiety at her child eating lunch at school without her. The mother had always fed the child by hand, and she was worried he wouldn't know what to do. Her child was five and entering kindergarten.

To most of us, this is an extreme example of a parent who couldn't let her child go, something most of us can't consider as even probable in our children's lives. However, there's more than one way to squash autonomy. Even things as simple as parents involving themselves in children's squabbles can sometimes interfere in burgeoning autonomy. It's a fine balance we all walk, to encourage our children to care for themselves while providing much needed support and caring.

As for my little friend and his coat, we ended up working on learning the classic coat flip. With the fall upon us, this is a great time to start practicing, and children as young as two can successfully flip their coats to put them on. To do a coat flip, lay the coat down, zipper side out, with the hood or neck at the child's feet. Have the child slip both arms into the coat arms, then flip the coat over the head. This may take a little time and guidance, but once a child masters it, s/he will feel incredibly proud of the ability to put on a coat without assistance.

Tomorrow--more about autonomy and ways to encourage it in young children. Thanks for reading, leave your comments below, and click on our sponsors!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eat With Your Eyes

For ten years, I taught with a wonderful woman who was incredibly attuned with children. She was funny and witty, and always excited to work with her class. One of the things I learned from her, though, was the importance of the balance of color and texture when planning snacks for children. In fact, it became such a joke between us that I would call her up some evenings to announce we were eating a "yellow" dinner--chicken, macaroni, corn, and applesauce--just to hear her moan in pain.

She's right, though. As much as I spoke about nutrition in my last post, we do eat with our eyes. Good menu planning includes a colorful variety of foods. When we would plan snacks for the week, we would look at the balance of nutrients, colors, and textures we were offering. Was everything bland looking and tasting? Was it all crunchy? Did we have a variety of nutrients from different food groups?

Nutritionists will be quick to point out that it's overall balance in a diet that is important, not what a person eats in one day. Because of this, it's helpful to look at what you're feeding your family over time, rather than in just one day. Because my children are older, I can't control (nor should I!) everything they eat every day. But I can control what goes on my dinner table, and I try to make sure those things are well-balanced and appealing. A mix of colors, textures, familiar and unfamiliar foods are served on a regular basis. At least once a week, I try to make sure to introduce something new, and at least once a week each of my kids helps prepare dinner.

Here's a couple more simple recipes to try with the kids. Any of these can be teamed up with a drink or additional snack that varies in color or texture from the choice below. It's been great fun discussing food this week--I'd love to hear more suggestions from you about what you'd like to read and discuss in the future. You can leave a message here or email me at!

Tortilla roll-ups: combine a couple teaspoons of cream cheese with a teaspoon or so of salsa. Spread on whole wheat tortillas and roll up, then cut into bite-size pieces.

Fruit and cheese kabobs--chunk your child's favorite fruits and a mild cheese (such as mild cheddar). Help your child slide the fruit and cheese onto toothpicks, then prepare to eat!

Snack mix--This is a super flexible snack that you relies on whatever you have in your house! Combine items such as cheerios, pretzels, goldfish, raisins, or any other small snack-type food in a baggie. Shake and serve!

Banana rounds--Using ritz-type crackers, spread peanut butter on a cracker and top it with a slice of banana. These crackers now come in whole wheat, increasing your child's fiber intake.

Flavored couscous/rice--Using the directions on the box, substitute unsweetened apple juice for all or part of the water required for a plain rice or couscous. Throw in a handful of raisins and voila! a delicious breakfast or snack!

Tomato and mozzarella salad--This is especially awesome during summer months when fresh tomatoes are plentiful. Dice fresh tomatoes in a bowl, and add cubed pieces of mozzarella. Top with a fat-free italian or a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Marinate the salad for a couple of hours, then serve.

Peanut butter/soy butter roll ups--Using a whole wheat tortilla, cover the tortilla with peanut butter and top it with the toppings of your child's choice. Apples, bananas, even shredded carrot can be delicious on this! Roll it up and cut into bite size pieces before serving.

Hummus and veggies/pita: There are a lot of tasty hummus brands on the market. In case you are unfamiliar, hummus is a combination of ground chickpeas and garlic, olive oil, and spices. It can be used as a dip with veggies or spread on pita bread. Yummy AND healthy!

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Every Bite Should Make Your Palate Explode"

I'm late writing this today because I've been at the doctor getting a cortisone shot in my foot. Fabulous! Lots of fun and I highly recommend it to...well, to no one. It hurts. So avoid bone spurs when you can.

Anyway, I came home to turn on the television and rest my foot, and who should appear on a commercial but Michael Symon, one of the Iron Chefs from Iron Chef America. And Michael Symon wants us all to know today what the title says--"Every bite should make your palate explode."

I don't know what he's talking about. I've had maybe two meals in my life that would qualify under that heading, and even then I might be stretching it. Food is a loaded topic for most people. Often, we get lost in the idea that food should equal pleasure. And for a lot of people it does! I'm the first to admit that my good friends Ben and Jerry have lightened up my day on more than one occasion. I'd love the opportunity to dine in one of Bobby Flay's restaurants. When I visited Disney World two years ago, we participated in the dining plan and had some of the best food I've ever eaten.

The problem with this view is that we end up forgetting the other side of the equation--the actual purpose of food. The purpose of food is not for pleasure but for nourishment. Food should be consumed in appropriate quantities, in appropriate varieties. Eating cake may make you feel good for awhile, but it's not nourishing to the body. And ultimately, that weighs down not only the body, but the soul.

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions in our country. Of course there are obvious contributors--a lack of exercise, more sedentary lifestyles, and a variety of cheap, popular, non-nutritious foods. However, I think there are other issues that contribute to this epidemic that are not as obvious. First, there is a tremendous lack of focus on physical development and education in our schools today. Many children are lucky if they receive P.E. classes every other day. Some elementary children receive no recess at all. Quality early programs focus on movement and gross motor activities as much as they focus on language, literacy, or math. Children need healthy bodies.

Of course, we can't talk about the lack of physical exercise in school without mentioning the fried, fatty, unhealthy foods that pass for lunches in our schools. A typical lunch for my son at elementary school consisted of a piece of pepperoni pizza and two cartons of chocolate milk. My daughter's lunch didn't fare much better, although she tried harder. A typical lunch for her was a "chef salad", full of meat, cheese, and fatty dressing, along with a side of canned fruit. Both children had the option to help themselves to a salad bar, consisting of lettuce, baby carrots, and a few other items. I did find this salad bar to be a promising addition, and children were encouraged to take whatever they would like from the salad bar. Apparently, unbeknownst to this mother, chocolate milk counts as a side as well as a drink, and children are not required to be served a fruit or a vegetable. There is an "offer vs. serve" policy in some schools now, in an effort (I'm sure) to save money, in which schools "offer" the components of lunch instead of just serving them. Of course, all of this gets down to two larger issues: first, that children are fed junk through the public school system, and usually, the children who are reliant upon this food are those who are the poorest in our society. Second, our schools are constantly challenged to create healthy lunches on a tiny budget.

When I worked at a laboratory preschool, we focused on providing healthy, fresh food. A typical snack menu for a week might include the following: baby carrots and dip, baked apples, cheese and crackers, and oatmeal with raisins. Whole wheat items and fresh items were purchased whenever possible. With an enrollment of roughly fifty children, we easily spent fifty to a hundred dollars a week just in supplying snacks. Healthy food can be expensive.

But if anything is worth it, aren't our children? Aren't they worth the nutrition needed to perform at optimum levels and to grow optimally? Parents who can afford to have their children pack their lunches are blessed. Having taught in some extremely low income schools, I can testify to the fact that for some children, the only food they eat in a day comes from the school itself.

Sometimes I think we have taught our children Michael Symon's message--every bite should make your palate explode--versus the reality: food is and should taste good and be pleasant, but exists for nourishment of the body and soul. How we make that happen for our children is an ongoing struggle for our society.

To wind up tonight, here's a recipe for those of you out there who love your fall veggies. Consider introducing a fall or winter squash to your kids. One of our favorites is butternut squash, which tastes a bit like a combination of spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. It's a tasty, flexible addition to your repertoire that can either be prepared with savory flavors or sweet ones. To bake, cut your squash in half, place in shallow baking pan with about an inch or two of water cut side up, and stick in your over for 30-45 minutes, until tender. You should be able to scoop it out like a sweet potato. You can go a savory route, adding some of your favorite seasonings and a toss of parmesan cheese, or a sweet route, with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg. Either way, we like ours mashed. Good stuff!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enjoying Your Veggies

Neither of my kids are crazy for vegetables. Sometimes I wonder if I did something wrong, as a mother, to make them this way. More likely, it's just their palates, along with the influence of their peers. Either way, like most parents, I try to find ways to make vegetables more interesting and appealing to kids.

Younger children, as I've mentioned before, have very simple palates. They tend to like foods that don't have a strong taste, and are prepared without too much hooplah. You know hooplah, right? It's that stuff you find in all those cooking magazines and cooking shows--the stuff that makes us as adults go, "Wow...I need to try that!" Yeah, that's hooplah. Kids don't like that stuff, in general.

In my experience, there are a few ways to make food more enticing and interesting to children. The first way, as mentioned above, is keep a simple palate in mind. Baby carrots and dip, tossed salad with dressing, or corn on the cob are tried and true favorites for young children. A caveat on the carrots: watch out if your child is very young--these can be a choking hazard! As always, make sure your child is seated and you're there when s/he is eating; this is critical to ensure that your child is not at risk for choking.

Another way to get kids interested in eating their veggies is by growing them. Children are fascinated by the process of growing fresh vegetables, from planting seeds to weeding and watering, to picking the vegetables and tasting them raw as well as cooked. Herbs are also excellent to explore with kids. The great thing about an herb garden is that children can smell and taste the herbs as they're growing, and use them to "spice up" whatever is for dinner. If you have a small window or patio space, herbs are an easy thing to grow. Some of my favorites that are super-easy include oregano, basil, dill, rosemary, and mint. Mint is a wonderful addition to lots of different types of drinks. Rosemary can be added to chicken or potatoes. Mix dill in with some plain yogurt and a small bit of splenda and stir in some sliced cukes--this is one of my daughter's favorite dishes. And we all know a million uses for oregano and basil. Children will naturally want to taste these herbs as they grow. Encourage your child to taste and smell as they help to care for the plants.

A third classic way to help children expand their palates is through cooking. Even two-year olds can help with stirring, pouring, and spreading. I began cooking with my own children when they were preschoolers; they now, at the tween age, both have decent repertoires of meals they can cook and prepare themselves. Not only have they learned an important lifeskill (more than ramen noodles when they go to college!), but they continue to expand their palates. Tonight, my son is cooking dinner with the assistance of his grandfather, and we're eating a stirfry with rice. By giving children the chance to prepare their own food, they have more control over the process and are more likely to eat what they've made. Plus, both of my kids can rest easy that nothing weird hides in the food they prepared themselves!

A fourth way to add more veggies into your diet is to include simple extras at your table. For example, last night, we had a roast chicken, peas, and dumplings as our main meal, but I included a small bowl of oranges and a sliced tomato as well. Side dishes don't have to be fancy. Baby carrots, cucumber slices, broccoli bites, banana chunks, apple slices--all are perfectly acceptable sides to put at the table and are not only super easy, but super kid-friendly. In our house, we currently are feeding three generations, and one of our favorite sides is salad; however, we all like different things in our salad. So we've settled on a big bowl of lettuce with smaller bowls of different salad "add-ins": red onion, tomato, feta cheese, cucumber, etc. This way each person customizes his or her salad. Not only do we cut down on waste, but we have some very voracious salad eaters!

The last suggestion I'd like to give is adding vegetables to foods they mix well with. I began doing this years ago in an effort to boost my own vegetable intake. I started with spaghetti sauce, and began adding things like frozen mixed veggies or shredded carrot to my sauce. My husband, who I was dating at the time, was so excited about this he began bragging about my sauce to anyone who would listen. One of my favorite dishes is a meat-free chili--I use soy crumbles and add tomatoes, corn, beans, green peppers, and onions along with seasonings to my crockpot for a long, slow cook. My children are very fond of corn muffins that have corn kernels in them. You may be asking yourself how this method of cooking is different than the mom who sneaks one past her kids with the purees, as discussed yesterday. Well, I never hide anything from my kids. It's all out there, and it's all in there. They know there's corn in the muffins, or carrots in the spaghetti, or beans in the chili. I think it's critical for kids to know those things, so they understand the value of fresh foods, and in particular, a healthy diet.

Here's a couple of ideas for snacks/sides/meals that go over well with kids:
*Bean and Cheese burritos--spread fat-free refried beans on a whole-wheat tortilla and sprinkle with lowfat cheese. Roll up and microwave for a minute; cut into bite size pieces.

*Pita sandwiches--spread a small bit of cream cheese inside a pita. Add lettuce, cucumbers, and sprouts, before cutting into small pieces to enjoy. An easy take on this is the classic cucumber sandwich--spread a small bit of cream cheese on whole wheat bread and layer thin slices of cucumber on top. Cover with another slice of bread and cut into quarters.

*Veggie squares--spread a small bit of cream cheese on a triscuit-type cracker. Top with broccoli slaw and shredded carrot.

*Mashed sweet potatoes--bake a sweet potato in the microwave for 8-10 minutes. Peel and mash with cinnamon, a small bit of brown sugar, and a taste of butter. (Sweet potatoes have a large variety of vitamins and minerals and are low in the glycemic index, making them an excellent choice)

*Baked apples or bananas--cut fruit into chunks. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, and dot with low cal margaraine or butter. Bake in the oven or microwave until done (a couple of minutes in the microwave). With apples, I like to toss in a few raisins as well. It's a great fall snack!

*Pumpkin pudding--Prepare instant vanilla pudding per your usual (this works with both regular and sugar free options). Add one can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling!) and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Tomorrow--more ideas for healthy eating. Please click on our sponsors, share your ideas below, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Hide or Not to Hide?

A couple of years ago, a cookbook aimed at parents--and mothers in particular--was published that advocated "hiding" vegetables in children's food. The cookbook author suggested a variety of ways to puree different vegetables and fruits so they could be added to various "kid-friendly" foods. Apparently you can puree certain vegetables and add them to desserts and all sorts of things to boost the nutritional content. The idea was basically to trick your kids into eating their fruits and veggies.

Most parents are familiar with how important it is for children to eat a well-balanced diet these days. We know it's critical for kids to eat healthy foods, and that includes the dreaded fruits and vegetables. There's actually good reasons that many kids balk at vegetables. Most have a bitter aftertaste that we, as adults, are not as sensitive to. Children, however, taste the bitterness in many vegetables and it's not pleasant to them. This leads to a lot of kids turning their noses up to the vegetable course at the family table.

It's been my experience there are other reasons kids reject vegetables as well. One of the reasons may be that kids like things thing at a time, please. They don't do well with casseroles or complex mixtures. Most herbs or fancy cooking techniques are lost on young children. Simple preparation and simple flavor go a long way.

It's very easy for parents to get sucked in to power struggles and other unpleasantries at the dinner table. There are two things children can control--one is their eating and the other, their bathroom habits. Much as you can make a child sit on a toilet but not urinate, you can make him sit at a table but not eat. And arguing doesn't aid anyone's digestion.

It's easy to see how parents would be tempted to "hide" vegetables in their children's food. More recently, I've seen several commercials for Chef Boyardee where parents are trying to "hide" the fact that there are vegetables in the ravioli sauce. First, I kind of wonder, personally, if there's really a serving size of vegetables in that sauce (I guess it depends on who we're serving here!). But more importantly, have we really convinced our children to hate vegetables so much that we should lie to them about it? That it's necessary to trick kids into eating an entire food group?

Part of our job as parents and educators is to help children understand their own needs. One need we all have in developing healthy eating habits is sometimes finding ways to consume stuff that maybe isn't our favorite, because it's good for us. Teaching this lesson is tricky, though, and I've seen it backfire on plenty of parents. I actually knew a family many years ago whose two-year old ended up hospitalized because of food power struggles. The child simply refused to eat certain foods, and the parents were at a loss as to how to help her. The more they harped, the less she ate. It became a vicious cycle, replayed at every mealtime, until their young child was in dire need of certain nutrients. It's an extreme example, but one that most of us can relate to on some level. Who hasn't heard at some point, "What's THAT?"

As a preschool teacher, my role in a child's nutritional habits is much smaller than that of a parent's; however, it's important that every educator think about the impact food has on children. Here are my personal "teacher" rules regarding food: snacks should be nutritional; they should be offered rather than forced; they should be fresh and appeal to a child's palate. Snacks are offered based on their nutritional value, not on their popularity. Of course it's important to note which snacks kids really love, but research has shown us that most kids have to see a food seven times before they'll try it. It's perfectly fine to continue to offer a snack that kids may or may not accept. Often I would have parents ask me if their children ate snack, and I honestly couldn't tell them. I don't feel that snack is critical to development. Typical eating patterns for children vary widely, but usually follow the pattern of an increased appetite for days (or even weeks) followed by a decreased appetite for days. It's normal for kids to go through periods of just not being hungry. And it's also normal for kids to eat--and eat even things they're not crazy about--once they become hungry.

When my kids were younger, one of them was very adventurous in her diet. She was interested in trying lots of different foods and flavors and commenting on her favorites. In fact, she really enjoyed watching food network and for many years we were treated to her Rachael Ray impression--tasting a new food and then smiling as she rolled her eyes all around in her head, making various "mmm" noises before describing the deliciousness of the dish. My son, however, didn't have the same love of adventurous flavors as my daughter. He struggled quite a bit in eating a balanced diet, and we as parents struggled with him. As a mom, I was constantly worried about the foods he ate--was he getting enough nutrients? Enough variety? Was he eating too much fat or sugar? Too many processed foods? What if he chose these foods when he was away from me? Whatever would I do??? (I have some control issues, in case you didn't know that yet.)

As I was struggling with my son and his palate, one of my friends gave me the most common-sense, best food advice I'd ever had as a parent. Offer lots of different foods at the table. Make sure there are things he likes along with things that may be new or different or even disliked by him. I choose what goes on the table and he chooses what goes on his plate.

I immediately saw a change in the amount of variety, as well as the amount of arguing, that went on at mealtimes. My son, left to his own devices and a wider array of choices, filled his plate with a well-balanced meal. And I didn't lie. I never made any weird purees or "hid" veggies in desserts or anything like that. I didn't have to. It wouldn't do any good, life would teach me, because he's now a teenager and still wants to know exactly what is in his food. I have never been able to lie to my kids, so lying about what is in his food would never have worked for me. Not to mention I think it's a slippery slope, lying to children about what they're eating. I wouldn't want someone to lie to me about what's in my food. And to me, trust and honesty are far more important than tricking my child into eating any vegetable.

Tomorrow I'll write about some healthy ideas for simple foods that kids can prepare and eat....and no, there's no hiding of vegetables necessary!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gosh you taste good!

I was eighteen years old when I first was hired to "teach" preschool. I was shocked and amazed by the fact that I could be a teacher right out of high school! (Okay, that was a little tongue-in-cheek, although I was quite naive and thought very highly of myself). I was put in charge of a group of sixteen- to twenty-four month olds from two to six p.m. I was a teacher! And what I didn't know about children could have filled a world book encyclopedia set--or more likely, a decade's worth of sets.

Here were my qualifications: I had a high school degree, I had experience babysitting children, and I was eighteen years old. That's quite a resume, right? Well, that's the typical resume for most afternoon staff at child care centers. So it's difficult when, at age eighteen, you encounter very typical but difficult behaviors of children that you've never encountered before, and you don't know what to do.

For toddlers and two-year olds, one of the most common (but troubling) typical behaviors is biting. When I was eighteen and handling toddlers who bit, I had no idea what to do, other than to try to separate the children who were biting. And often, that's the first line of defense. You identify the biter and you identify the "prey", so to speak. For some children, any old kid will do. These children are biting for various reasons, but the primary reasons include a need for sensory input, a lack of impulse control, and sometimes a lack of communication skills. Some children bite out of frustration, which is often due to a lack of expressive skills--when you don't have the language yet to tell somebody you're upset or angry, you resort to other ways to communicate your idea, and this sometimes includes biting. Some children just enjoy the feel of biting. They may bite toys, chew on random objects, and occasionally bite people. This is more sensory driven. Still other children are exploring cause and effect. What happens when I bite someone? What's the reaction I get? Children exploring this will often bite and then watch carefully what happens around them.

Then there's another kind of biter...the child who bites a specific other child. I got to experience this firsthand as a mom, when my daughter was two and her "best friend" (can you have best friends at two?) decided she tasted really, really good. I'm talking, sprinkle some salt on my kid and we'll call you dinner kind of good. I remember my little girl being bitten six times in a two week span. Her teachers were frantic. Her daddy was getting upset, too, finally telling me, "Michelle, we have got to do something here...she's getting bitten way too often and it has to stop." As an early childhood educator AND a mom, I felt caught in the middle. I understood what was going on from the other child's perspective--that biting is a typical behavior at this age and will most likely pass in time with no problems. But I also understood the impact on my daughter, especially when one day she viewed a bandage on my finger and asked me, "What happen, Mama? Someone bited you?"

Our situation ended up being remedied by careful observation and trial and error on the part of my daughter's preschool teacher. She figured out that the biter really enjoyed the sensory feel of the bite, and that my daughter just happened to be easily available, because the two girls played together regularly. When the biter began to move in, the teacher gave her a clean rag to chew on. I know it sounds strange, but it took care of the urge to bite and my daughter was never bitten again. Success for both kids!

There are two important things to remember about biting. First is that it's a typical stage that many, many children go through. A biting child is not a "bad" child--a biting child is in need of something, and it's our job to figure out what that something is. Often children are ostracized for this very typical, very normal behavior, and it's incredibly sad to see that.

The second thing to remember is that there are multiple reasons that children bite, and as teachers and parents, we must work together to find patterns and figure out the reason a child is biting. Is it out of frustration or anger? If so, we need to help a child redirect his or her feelings more appropriately. Is it impulsive? We need to watch carefully to step in and redirect. Is it a sensory issue? Can we provide the child with other sensory input that would feel as good or preferable to biting? And for the child learning cause and effect...yes, biting hurts! And we need to take care of the person who got bitten, right away. And boy, it would be a lot more fun if we didn't bite because then instead of holding ice on the person who got bit, we could be playing with everyone else.

Biting is a real problem in toddler classrooms but doesn't have to be a frustrating one. When parents and teachers work together, biting issues can be solved more easily, leading to a pleasant environment not only for children but for teachers and families as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Jumping Bean: Getting Back to Nature

The Jumping Bean: Getting Back to Nature: "Yesterday's blog focused on some fun ideas involving trees and getting outside for the fall. I wanted to write a bit today about kids and n..."

Getting Back to Nature

Yesterday's blog focused on some fun ideas involving trees and getting outside for the fall. I wanted to write a bit today about kids and nature.

I would love to tell you I'm some huge outdoor fan, but I'm not. Since I was a little kid, I was always the kind of person who would much more prefer to be curled up with a good book than hiking through the woods. However, one of the things I clearly remember is how much fun I had playing outside with my friends. Whether we were creating our own games or riding our bikes, outside play was always exciting to me. When I was in elementary school, I became fascinated with all sorts of things involving nature, especially at night. Owls, comets, stars, was all fascinating to me, and most excellent reasons to stay up late!

Recently, there has been a lot of focus in early childhood literature on how disconnected children have become from nature. This disconnection didn't happen overnight. In fact, as a child of the seventies, I think some of this disconnect was occurring even then. As our technological and electronic worlds have expanded, our needs to be outside have lessened. Many children no longer spend extended lengths of time outside exploring the world around them. We have increased risks of obesity, allergies, and asthma. We are becoming a people who cannot even tolerate our own outside world.

What do children lose when they are cut off from nature? I would argue that we all lose a large part of our very essence, a part of us that connects us to the earth and the life cycle. The more disconnect we feel from our world, the easier it is to push aside the emerging dangers that our world is suffering from: ozone depletion, pollution, animal and plant extinction, and global warming, among others. We lose a part of our humanity.

In an effort to reconnect with nature, there is a strong push for teachers and parents to think about getting kids outside and involved with the world around them. I was recently reading an article about a preschool that is held outside in the woods. The school has been open for several years and has no actual building to house it. Instead, with the assistance of teachers, children have created all sorts of structures to serve as shelter as needed. Days are spent exploring the woods, learning about plants and animals, and following the children's ideas of what is needed to survive in this type of habitat. Unusual? For sure. But a program like this, allowing for tremendous interaction with nature, is certain to help children develop a connection with the natural world.

So what about those of us who aren't signing our children up for a preschool in the woods? Or for teachers who have a whole class of children and can't teach an entire day outside? I think, for me, one of the most important components in providing a strong nature education is opportunity. Giving kids the opportunity to explore the world around them, particularly outdoors, is critical in helping them to construct ideas about their world as well as to develop an appreciation for it. Activities such as gardening, nature walks, raking leaves, or picking up litter are easy ways to build a connection to the earth.

A couple of years ago, my family was returning home on a Friday evening after having dinner. We decided to drive down by a local lake, just enjoying the beautiful weather and our time together. It was twilight, and as we got closer to the lake, the traffic diminished and there were several wooded areas. As we approached one clearing, we all gasped in surprise and pulled over. In the clearing, literally five miles from our home, were several deer grazing on the grass. Does, bucks, and fawns all together grazed a mere fifteen yards from us. We were joined by several other onlookers, all of us silent--including the many children--taking in a once in a lifetime moment. Many times, the deer looked up at us, then moved a few feet to graze some more as we humans stood in awe of these beautiful animals. The memory of that evening burned strongly in each of our brains. My hope for my own children is that they remember moments like that, and understand that they share a fragile ecosystem with many, many living creatures.

What are your thoughts about children and nature? How do you provide meaningful experiences for kids? Thanks for reading and remember to click on our sponsors!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tree Perspective

I'm a thinker. No matter how I try, I have tremendous difficulty moving away from wanting to analyze everything ad nauseum. Just ask my friends--or, I'm sure if you hang around this blog long enough, you'll probably have days you'll want to say, "Enough Michelle! Could we please make smoothies again???"

So after spending the last two posts discussing liking kids and how to build rapport (heavier subjects, for sure!), I wanted to switch gears and talk about something else--trees!

Recently, I was having a conversation with several friends about necessary components for art. Is technique more important than self-expression? Or vice versa? For me, self-expression in the early years is critical. It's what drives us to want to create, and that drive then opens the door to learn--and teach--technique.

Fall presents a perfect opportunity to begin to introduce a wonderful opportunity in color and perspective for young children, and it focuses on trees. We all are familiar with the changes trees undergo throughout the seasons. Giving children an opportunity to follow the seasons through the changes trees undergo encourages them to explore concepts of time, color, texture, and season. Trees provide authentic opportunities for kids to explore math, science, and sensory concepts, and with a little assistance, reading, writing, and art activities as well.

Help your child or class find a tree that interests them. Spend some time exploring the tree and talking about it. How tall do they think it is? What does it feel like? Can they reach the leaves? Do they think it will look different in awhile? Touch the leaves and the trunk, and talk about those textures. You can even take a piece of paper and have the kids do a rubbing (rub the crayon, long ways, across the paper when it's pressed up against the tree). Have children estimate how many leaves are on the tree.

After you've had time to pick your tree and talk about it, grab a clipboard, some paper, and art materials such as crayons, markers, chalk, or pencils. Go sit by the tree on a nice day and have the children draw a picture of the tree. Talk about the colors and the shape and the line that you see. This is a great opportunity to teach children initial, beginning concepts about line, shape, and perspective. Remember, you're working with young children, so their pictures will NOT look like trees in many cases!

Whenever we encourage young children to explore art, it's incredibly important to accept their efforts without criticism. Some children will produce drawings that strongly resemble your tree. Some children may focus on a leaf or a branch. Still others may just explore with the materials themselves--scribbling with one or multiple colors. This is still an important part in the artistic process and should be honored.

Now--here's the absolute best part about this project--you repeat it at least three more times during the year. Not only will the children be learning about the concepts we discussed above, you will see a progression in their own artistic and observation skills over the year. You will have documentation of not only your tree but your child. What children are able to observe and record and be inspired by in the fall can be vastly different than in the spring. It's a fun project for everyone and focuses on putting kids back in touch with nature, which I'll write about tomorrow.

Thanks for reading and commenting, and remember to click on our sponsors!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Building Rapport--aka Tell Me Again How To Like You???

Have you ever been in the middle of, say, a meeting at work or school or church, and you're listening to someone talking, explaining their point of view, and you suddenly realize, "I don't like you!"?

Sometimes that happens to me. The reassuring thing, as an adult, is that I have the perspective to understand that whether I like someone or not really isn't always relevant. I don't have to like someone to work successfully with them on a project. I don't have to want to hang out with you in order to cooperate to make something happen. I think this is because I've absorbed the idea that I don't have to like you...I only have to respect you.

As adults, we often confuse the concepts of liking, loving, and respecting. For children, this can be even more confusing. To me, these are all completely different ideas. Most of us want to do right by young children and are very uncomfortable with the idea of not "liking" or "loving" all children. I mean, we're kind of conditioned to it, right? Have you seen that Pampers commercial they show around Christmas, with all the babies from around the world, sleeping to Silent Night? Come on, what kind of person couldn't love all those babies?

Human ones, that's who. Children are people, and as I wrote yesterday, they have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. Some are easier to get along with than others. And some--shockingly--don't like US.

It's been my experience that most adults, out of their own well-meaning sense of responsibility or guilt, try to force themselves to like or love children, when really, those are emotions that have very little to do with the equation. When you're talking about building a relationship with a child you don't mesh with, I would propose the key is building rapport.

Rapport, to me, has two very distinct, yet equally important, components. The first component is building trust. According to Erik Erikson, a psychological theorist, the first developmental challenge we all face is building trust. Trust is developed in infancy by warm and predictable responses to a baby's needs. If trust is not developed, it becomes difficult for the child to develop the trust bond later in life. Unfortunately, many children do not develop the trust bonds they need as infants to grow into well-adjusted adults. Surely, some of us are aware that we also have a problem with trust. It's a normal and good thing not to trust everything and everyone, but not so normal and good to trust no one, or to force our loved ones to jump through hoops to prove their devotion.

Building trust with young children is like building a castle. You have to start out with a foundational structure. You build trust by being stable, predictable, and kind. By being respectful and honoring and nurturing respect in others. By treating kids how you want to be treated. Yes, it's very golden-rule. But it's critical in order to assist kids to feel safe.

The second aspect of building rapport that is absolutely just as critical as trust is setting boundaries. When you tell a child "no", it should be because there's a good reason to set that limit, and when you follow through, you're demonstrating you mean what you say and you're going to follow through. A lot of adults falter in this, and for good reason. Many are afraid children will lose respect for them or not like them anymore. They fear that a difficult child will become even more difficult. In reality, challenging children need boundaries even more. Imagine, for a minute, if you were suddenly released into the world knowing that you could do whatever you wanted with no human-imposed consequence. Now imagine that you haven't had the life experience to figure out what natural consequences you might come across. Anything could happen. It's a frightening feeling for children to not know the boundaries, to not understand what is and isn't okay and acceptable. By setting boundaries, you send a message to children that you care about them enough to keep them safe. Setting limits and boundaries should always include a short explanation, such as, "It's not okay to throw the block because it could break something or hit somebody." This helps kids understand that boundaries aren't random.

Building rapport takes time. With some children, it can take a very long time. But once rapport is established, there's a mutual respect that almost always blossoms into liking, and even loving, one another.

Yesterday I mentioned a child who had said some rather unkind things to me. Actually, the gist of what he said was "F- You!" He spat and cursed and ran away from the classroom. He climbed on the tables and jumped at the overhead lighting. As I navigated the waters of building a relationship with this kid, I figured out that I needed to do more than just tell him what to do or not to do, and I needed to do more than show him that I cared about him. I needed to do both, in a consistent, caring way. This kid taught me about rapport. He taught me that if I invested in him, and invested in the beginning steps of our relationship, we could have a kinship that meshed as well as the most natural ones in the world. And what I learned from that experience was that once he knew I was on his side, that I meant what I said and he could trust me, that I could earn his respect. The behaviors I had struggled with initially dissipated, and any issues we had were more easily remedied through calm conversation. He knew he would be heard, and that's something we all need to know.

I don't want to send the idea that every kid comes around quickly, because they don't. But every kid is worth the time and investment of building rapport. And we, as the adults who have to live and work with these little people, are worth it too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Great Un-Equalizer

Every one of us has people that we feel a kinship with and others that we don't. When I was beginning my career in teaching, I didn't understand that this principle applied to children as well. I was full of excitement and just KNEW that with my kind, loving soul I would love every child immediately, fully, and equally. Not only that, but they would love me too. After all, I was fun and dedicated to quality care and education. I would treat them with the utmost respect. What's not to love? (If you're not laughing yet, wait a few years and read this again. You will.)

The first time I had a kid chuck a shoe at me, the first time I had a kid tell me to, well, go do some rather unseemly things to myself, the first time I had a kid look at me upon our initial meeting and burst into tears screaming "MOMMY!", I began to realize that this principle of relationships applies to everyone, not just adults. It took me several more years to understand that it was a normal process and some people just click better than others. Just like we as adults have certain people we prefer, kids do too. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I think this preference applies to the parent/child relationship as well. When I was a kid and my brother or I would ask the inevitable question, "Who do you love more?", my mother would always answer with the kindest, most politically correct answer possible: "I love you equally." Teachers often do this also, in telling children that they love every one of them, how wonderful they all are, how they are equally favored.

Well, I don't know about you, but for most of the people I've met, that's a lie. Some kids you just click with more easily. This happens not only in classrooms but in families as well. Some kids are easier to talk with, to hang out with; they challenge your authority less and are overall easier to get along with. Sometimes there's just a natural bond. Other times, the bond is harder to develop.

The lie of "I will love you equally" is one that, in my opinion, is far more damaging to kids than the truth. To me, the truth is, "I love you, and I value what is unique about you." I have never loved the children I worked with--or my own--equally. Love is not something that you can measure, in my opinion, and that isn't the answer kids are after anyway. Everyone wants to know that, regardless of whether they mesh easily with you or not, that you see them. That you hear them. And that you value who they are, their uniqueness and quirks that set them apart from other people.

When I was growing up, my dad's office always had a huge Christmas party for the staff and families. One gentleman would dress up as Santa and deliver a gift to every child. As I grew older, I came to understand these gifts had been pre-purchased by the parents of each child and given to "Santa" to distribute. My brother and I always got the same gift. My mother wanted us to feel like we were equal in her eyes. Instead, I always felt like I wasn't seen, I wasn't special. I was finally able to verbalize that around the age of ten, and because I was blessed with such a wonderful mom who tried very hard, the next year I got a different gift than my brother.

Here's my point today: nobody has to be "loved" equally to be valued. Seeing individuality and responding to it is far more important than that everlasting work of trying to make life equal. Life isn't equal and it isn't fair. Our job as parents and as teachers is not to provide children with what is equal; it is to provide children with what they need, and often needs are extremely varied and unique. Seeing children for who they are and loving their individualities is far more difficult, but far more rewarding for everyone.

Tomorrow's topic: Building stronger relationships with kids who you don't feel a strong kinship with.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Joy of the Smoothie

One summer a few years ago, my daughter and I had been playing around with making smoothies at home. She has some digestion issues that make it more important for her to consume acidophilus, the live culture in yogurt. Well, if it's yogurt in a little tubey-thing, she'd eat it, but not out of a cup. I learned a long time ago that logic is lost on some kids--I could not ever convince that kid that the same yogurt in the cup was also put in a tube, so some corporation could rip Mommy off.

Anyway, we experimented with all sorts of yogurt and fruit and juices, and we had a grand time doing it too. Fruits that she normally wouldn't touch went down easily once whirled into a magical smoothie. The same with yogurt--suddenly the stuff from a cup was a delicacy! We got so into it that I bought one of those magic bullet-type machines. It actually turned out to be a decent investment, because both of my kids were able to use it with few mishaps. I fondly remember that summer as The Summer of The Smoothie. Oh, how we drank our way through our fruits and dairy!

Since I was teaching a summer program at the time, it occurred to me that a fruit smoothie would be a perfect snack as well. My coworker had previously made her version of "smoothies" with ice cream (yeah, I call that a milkshake like you do too!). You can't beat ice cream--it's good--and of course all the kids loved it. Keep in mind, we only had that smoothie once--I don't want anyone leaving with the impression that I'm a teacher who regularly pumps preschoolers full of sugar. In fact, I tend to do the exact opposite. There's nothing quite as feisty as a bunch of three year olds hyped up on sugar and adrenaline. And medical studies can prove as many times as they want to that sugar doesn't cause hyperactivity. That's fine. I'll just stick with my twenty years of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I figure either way, I'm not giving kids tons of sugar, regardless of its effects. It's just not good for you.

Okay, I I decided I would veer out into new and unexplored territory, making a healthy smoothie with nonfat vanilla yogurt and fruit, and a tad of orange juice. (Yes, I do recognize that all of those ingredients contain some form of sugar...but it's go with it!). Keeping it simple, I created a strawberry banana smoothie that I was hopeful would go over well with the palates of preschoolers.

Success! Not only did they drink it, they drank ALL of it! Fruit and yogurt and all, and asked for more. It was one of the best snacks we had that summer.

The best part about a smoothie is you can suit it for all year round, and you can adjust it to your own tastebuds. Some people like sweeter smoothies, and may choose to add an artificial sweetener or honey to their smoothie. Others, like me, may just enjoy the taste of the fruit. Here's a basic recipe to experiment with--feel free to add or change any ingredients to make it your own!

1/2 cup of sliced strawberries
1/2 frozen banana (this helps make it cold)
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (I use nonfat sweetened with splenda)
1/4 cup orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Feel free to add your recipes below. If you don't have a blogger account, it's easy to create one and takes about two minutes, and then you can comment as much as you'd like! Also--remember to click on our sponsors...they help make the Jumping Bean possible!


This morning, as my kids were getting ready for school, there was a lot of grief. Somebody needed to use the bathroom while somebody else needed to brush their teeth; people trying to figure out when to eat breakfast; kids making mad dashes in changing their minds about what to wear, what to take to school, and if they had packed their entire lunches. If you have older kids, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's basically falling back into the routine of school.

When my kids were younger, I was a huge nut about routine. We woke up, ate breakfast, brushed teeth and hair, and got dressed. Always in the same order. Every. Single. Day. Not a lot of excitement going on, and as any parent of a young child knows, that's a GOOD thing. When the excitement stays down, the drama stays down, and unless you're hugely into that kind of stuff at six a.m., life goes a lot more smoothly!

Young children rely on routine like you and I rely on our planners. It's the planner in their heads. Kids who know what's coming next are able to meaningfully guide themselves and practice self-discipline. Anyone who's ever spent time in a classroom with young children knows that the more kids can self-discipline, the less the adult has to monitor and direct all behavior. And after all, isn't self-discipline the ultimate goal for people--the ability to make good decisions without being distracted by all the other possibilities?

Whether you're a teacher or a parent, following a routine helps to eliminate all the "extra" barrage of possibility, so that time goes more smoothly. It helps kids know what's next, helps them feel more secure in being able to predict their day, helps them begin to make good choices. If a child knows that he is supposed to eat breakfast before brushing his teeth, and the family always eats breakfast before brushing their teeth, it's one less decision he has to make. That creates a sense of security and stability, so he can focus on decisions that are more age-appropriate, like which pair of shoes he's going to wear to school.

Teachers of young children utilize this concept all the time. When I taught two- and three-year olds, we never varied from the routine. Young children are creatures of habit, and if you vary their routine, craziness will ensue! Case in point: several years ago when I was teaching at a lab school, I used music as a cue for children to come to the group area. When the children heard the music, they would get a carpet square and join us for group time. One day, one of my student teachers decided to play music during centers. In and of itself, it was a fun idea, but it turned into a meaningful (and hilarious) reminder for us all when the music came on and fourteen little children began gathering carpet squares and heading to the group area. As the teacher told the children they did not need their carpets and it was okay to keep playing, one little boy continued toward the group area shaking his head, saying, "We don't need our carpets, we can keep playing." Routine is so strong for young children that the routine will and often does override any other directions!

My own children are now eleven and thirteen, and are at an age that they need to start developing routine for themselves. Making decisions about whether to dress or eat first when preparing for school are important life skills for them. School just began in our city last week, so it will take a couple of weeks for them to iron out the kinks in their routine (and boy, will I be glad when they do!). But in the meantime, I'm resting easy in the fact that developing a routine is a learning process for everyone.

Are there tips and tricks you use to develop routine in your home or classroom? What helps things go more smoothly in your neck of the woods?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Welcome to The Jumping Bean!

Welcome! I'm so excited you're joining us! This blog is designed to be a place for adults who work with and rear young children to come for ideas, advice, and hopefully a little wit and wisdom. This blog will be a supporting aspect of an e-newsletter, which gives more detailed ideas and has an opportunity to hopefully answer more questions from readers!

To start off the first Jumping Bean blog, I thought I'd share a little bit about myself. My name is Michelle and I'm a mom of two wonderful children. My oldest is thirteen and my youngest, eleven. In my early twenties, I was lost in the maze we call "higher education"--I couldn't decide what I wanted to do with my life. I received a bachelor's degree in 1992 in psychology, and while I will never regret pursuing that degree, it left me with limited career options. I had begun working in child care centers during college, and continued to do so after I graduated. I couldn't figure out where to go from there, and in desperation decided to pursue a Master's degree in Social Work.

Social work is not for the faint of heart. To this day, I believe social workers, especially those who work in the government system, have one of the hardest jobs known to man. I completed a year long internship at the Department of Social Services in Norfolk, VA, and learned during that year that my future career prospects were not a good fit for me. A year away from graduating, I switched careers to pursue a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. By the time I completed my first class, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I received my Master's degree in December of 1998 and began teaching children in at-risk programs immediately after. Two years later I found myself in Oklahoma, married with two young children.

My children's early years now seem a blur, although I'm sure when they were young each day was truly twenty-four hours....and some probably seemed like many more! Once I was in Oklahoma, I accepted a position as an Instructor at a large university, where I taught at the laboratory preschool as well as undergraduate classes. The best part of my job at that time was its flexibility. I had the good fortune to have a career that allowed me to spend time with my children when needed. Both of my kids attended the lab school and I was able to be nearby. I will never regret that decision.

What I learned, though, in those early years, was how much pressure I put upon myself to be a good mother, and how difficult it was to meet my own expectations. Over the years, I have heard from many, many parents how they question themselves about parenting decisions, how isolated they sometimes feel, how they worry that they are not providing optimal experiences for their children. Gone are the days of our parents and grandparents; parenting is a muti-million dollar business. Everyone has a theory, and every theory promises that your child will be the best and the brightest, the most socially well-adjusted. In a world of so many competing ideas, what's a parent to do?

Enter the Jumping Bean! At this site, you can expect to get honest-to-goodness ideas for fun with your kids, based on strong, developmentally appropriate practices. Gain some great guidance tips, some meaningful learning activities, or grab a healthy snack idea and get cooking! Maybe you'd rather make some playdough with your kids--we'll have that too. Here at the Jumping Bean, the goal is to be a supporter of parents and teachers, so that we can all make the lives of children better.

Thanks for tuning in--and make sure to click on our links. Sponsors help to make the Jumping Bean possible! Then leave a comment below with your ideas of what you'd like to see, or just give a shout out to other parents and teachers, and be sure to sign up as a follower!