Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let It Be

We can learn a lot from the Beatles; specifically Paul McCartney's mother who used to whisper those wonderful words of wisdom, "Let it be." Those lyrics always seem to run into my head whenever I'm around a bunch of parents who are supervising their children doing an art and craft. Lachlan is in a few play sessions throughout the week and there is always a craft time. Now 'craft' to me is an activity that one sets out to do with an anticipated outcome; such as making a wind chime or a sock puppet. Craft time at play group consists of an example of something for the children to make with the same materials provided so they may replicate it. That is craft. We don't do many craft projects at home. We are more of an expressive arts family so I leave out all sorts of materials (known as the hundred languages of children) for Lachlan to decide what he'd like to create or invent. He enjoys both art and craft so it is nice for him to have the opportunity to do both.

I always get itchy eyes however when I watch these craft experiences at play groups and even some schools I visit. There are always a handful of parents who just can not 'let it be.' For whatever reason they take over the child's craft or direct them as to exactly where they should place something. I feel sorry for the children of parents with this type of personality because they miss out on an opportunity to practice important developmental skills and also to be creative. Can't craft after all have a creative element? Why can't a child decide what colour to paint the wind chime or what creature he wants to make his sock puppet. Who cares if the chime doesn't sound lovely to us if it sounds lovely to the child? So what if the eyes of a sock puppet are where the ears should be if the child can say in the end, "I made this myself!"

A classic example is one I witness every week of a parent taking over her child's art activity. Every week the parent asks the child if she wants to do a craft and the preschooler skips over eager to participate. It begins well; the child selects her materials and begins pasting them to the paper. Soon she is interrupted with "don't paste them all around the same spot!" The child doesn't skip a beat though and continues to paste them where she wants them to go. Again the mother chimes in, "Spread them out." (The chorus of 'Let It Be' begins to play in my head...)This time the mom moves the already pasted items to another location on the paper. The child so used to this just sits back and now looks around the room at what else she can play. (how I really want to whisper those words of wisdom...)The mother oblivious of the child's lack of interest now continues working on the art project and finishes the entire thing and also making corrections to her daughter's previous pastings. Quite proud of herself the mother says to her child, "Now look there. You did a beautiful job on this picture!"....Now I'm telling MYSELF to 'Let it Be!' because I want to say, "Are you crazy? Hello? YOU did a beautiful job, not your daughter. Well, she was doing a beautiful job until you decided to become the craft Nazi and take over her creation!!" Of course being the good sport that I am and afraid that this reaction might be frowned upon at play group, I bite my tongue and focus on Lachlan's creation. His of course looked nothing like the example. There were pieces here, there and everywhere. It was beautiful to him and that is all that mattered. He had a big smile on his face when he was finished which tells me he was quite proud of his work.

I understand that when children reach primary school that they may be asked to replicate something and may be graded according to how well they completed the task. Generally in this case, the child is asked to make something that is within their developmental capacity. The teacher wouldn't ask them to make a bird house if he didn't feel the child could use a glue bottle and read directions on a paper. The objective of many of these assignments are just that; seeing if the child can follow simple part directions. Young children however are still trying to fit all the pieces together of how things work and how they will appear if they do this or that. They are working on holding scissors and crayons, squeezing glue bottles, drawing squiggles which will become lines or circles over time. They need the freedom to just 'be' to get the feel of how to make things work for themselves. It takes a lot of experimentation and trial and error for them to do this. This is in fact how children become good problem-solvers; by testing the waters out for themselves and figuring out what works and what doesn't. If parent step in before a child waves the white flag, we are taking away important learning opportunities and also sending the message of  'you can't do this on your own. you need me.' Let's let the children figure out when they need help. Most of the time they will ask for it and if you have a shy child or one who gets frustrated easily, simply ask them if they would like help before you jump in.

Well that's all from my little soap box this evening. A little food for thought. Hopefully something will resonate within some parent that is reading this. If you have been a craft Nazi, it is okay. It doesn't mean you are a bad parent, it just mean that perhaps you can examine your tactics and try to loosen up a bit. Try letting your child be in control for a change. You might even have time to have a cup of tea during this time. Imagine that? Until next time...Happy Parenting!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just a Little Snail Tale...

Spring is approaching over here in our neck of the woods. It is arriving with much anticipation as we are ready to enjoy a little warm sun on our faces and some trips to the beach. More importantly, spring offers a rebirth of all Mother Nature's creations; baby birds in nests, spiders webs glistening from the morning dew, baby blue tongue lizards trying to find a place to live. The is a lot of curious things going on in our backyard!

Over the last few weekends my husband and I have been making us of the good weather to prep our garden beds for their spring plantings. Since our trip to Europe, quite a few weeds decided to make an appearance so we had quite a bit of work cut out for us. Lachlan enjoyed his time running around the yard playing with our dog Max and watching me pull weeds. While pulling weeds, I discovered a gardeners night mare: snails. They are a pesk to the garden, but very interesting for a child...an even me! I was labeled a 'tomboy' as a child and still live up to the name. I brought the snail over to Lachlan. It was all curled up in the shell so I think he just thought it was a seashell and began to say, 'shell.' I told him, "That's right. It is a shell but something lives inside of it. Watch and see." Slowly the snail began to uncurl itself out of the shell. Lachlan stared with much curiosity. He looked at me with a face that said, "What in the world?"

"It is a snail." I told him. "I'm going to put it down and we can watch it crawl." Together we watched the snail slowly slug its way across the patio, shooing Maxwell away who was just as curious as Lachlan. We watched the snail retract itself when Max tried to touch it with its snout. We saw how gracefully it would uncurl and push out its little eyes. "See those little black dots? Those are his eyes! They really stick out don't they?" When Lachlan was comfortable he picked up the snail and examined it closer. It was nice to see him up and close with nature and at an age where he can explore more freely. The experience really got me excited about all the nature experiences that are in store for us this spring and summer. It also inspired me collect some nature items on our family walk that afternoon. In the evening I set up Lachlan's table with some interesting things to explore; a few seashells of various sizes and textures, a pine cone and a leaf found on our walk and also a magpie and a cockatoo feather. I provided a magnified glass for Lachlan and showed him how to use it. First we had fun looking at one another through the glass, then we began to explore the objects. He particularly like feeling the different textures. I even encouraged him to try a little experiment with me by blowing on the objects. We blew on the shells but they wouldn't move. The pine cone shook a bit when mommy blew on it. The feather flew off the table when Lachlan blew on it. What a surprise it was for him! We each grabbed a feather and practiced blowing them off the table laughing the whole time.

Hopefully our little experience has inspired you to go out into nature this week and find a few things to get curious about! Until next time...Happy Parenting!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Owning It

There is something absolutely beautiful about witnessing a child accomplish a goal. Toddlerhood is full of these moments. Really, isn't that what the toddler years are all about; discovery, exploring and most importantly taking on tasks beyond your reach and persevering until you make it within reach? This is where the majority of frustration is birthed--in that place between the child's reach and the final goal of achievement. Toddlerhood is challenging because children are constantly trying to do things that are beyond their capabilities. They have an 'idea' of the way something should be and they are frustrated when they can't make it so. I think this is one of the most important aspects about the phase that caregivers need to realise; it is a phase that is so necessary but yet so frustrating for the child! Not only is it frustrating, it is kind of scary. Toddlerhood brings with it a whole host of new abilities; walking, climbing, reaching for things a little bit higher, etc. It is kind of like riding a bike without training wheels for the very first time; you
know you are in control but there are so many factors to consider: how do you balance on the bike, how fast do you petal; what happens if you fall? Before you know it you are just wibbling-wobbling down the side walk and when you turn to look for your dad you realise that you are on your own. Now what?...Crash! The fear of the unknown--it is scary stuff! Toddlers are now left trying to answer the ultimate question: will I or won't I?

Bending to place a peg on the top
We often think that the children who answer with 'won't I' are obedient children and will disciplined. This may not be the case at all. They may just lack courage and confidence to attempt the unknown. A host of things could be holding them back: fear of the result or the most worrisome: fear of failure.This is always that hard one to observe; children watching something so intently but afraid of trying because they don't want to be disappointed. This is a good example of why it is so important to offer activities or tasks that are within the child's reach to complete. The feeling of success and owning the success only comes when children can repetitively achieve a task; it brings so much excitement to them and joy to their hearts--and their parents who witness it!

I was reminded of all these thoughts today while I was watching Lachlan play (by the way, play-based learning is the most important at this age!) As I've mentioned before, I like to change out Lachlan's toys to keep him stimulated and interested. I put out some chubby pegs for him to explore after dinner. While I was cleaning up his 'toddlerhood' dinner mess from the floor I was interrupted by laughing and clapping. Lachlan only claps when he is really excited so I stopped what I was doing to see what was going on. There he was standing in front of a tower he made looking at me with a huge smile on his face. I fortunately always have my camera handy and was able to catch this moment. As you can see by the photo he was quite proud of him self. Lachlan continued to stack more pegs on his tower. The Daisy Maxi pegs are great because they are able to sway and lean which adds a new dimension to tower building. Lachlan was working out that he could lean the tower towards him a bit to place a peg on, this was important because if he didn't have this option the top would have been out of his reach. When he was finished he pushed the wobbly tower vertical. I then saw him do something I'd never seen him do before: anticipating that the tower might fall, he places his hand to the side of the tower about an inch away, ready to stabilise it if need be. He did this several times and I was pretty amazed that he had pieced that thought process together.

 Ready to catch it if it falls
The most important part of the process of course was the fact that I let Lachlan own his accomplishment. I didn't step in or advice him what to do or how to build his tower. When it was wobbling, I didn't run to the rescue afraid of the aftermath; which for some toddlers might mean tears or a tantrum of frustration; the frustration bit is something that can certainly happen to Lachlan, especially when he isn't well rested! We are ready to support those moments in our house though and know that such emotions must be tolerated. I think because we support independence, tolerate the unhappy moments and offer affection and empathy when Lachlan is ready to receive it; that we have a confident child in the making. He is realising that he owns his own accomplishments--and as for those moments of failure?--well, we are teaching him that those are okay and not really failure. We learn something from them and when needed, mommy and daddy help guide him. After all, that is what parenthood is all about.