Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Not-So Incy, Wincy Spider

In Australia, the 'incy wincy' spider does not crawl up the water spout. When I think of our Australian spiders, 'incy wincy' just doesn't come to mind. I also think it will take a heck of a lot more than some rain to 'wash the spider out.' Nothing about these spiders are small. They are often big, hairy and sometimes jumpy and the end all for me (as if hairy wasn't enough!) are the eyes. I do not like to see eyes on spiders, or their mouths for that matter. If you can see eyes and mouths on a spider then it definitely should be banned from the 'incy wincy' category. In fact, they just need their own song all together. I'm sure somewhere Don Spencer ( a famous children's song writer) has written one; along with his Aussie Mossies and Lizards of Oz songs.And if the spiders are none of the things I just mentioned then they are scary because they are poisonous. Face it, Australia is just known for its wildlife; with the eight most deadliest snakes and spiders living here, how could it not be?

I grew up a tomboy. I loved creepy, crawly things; kept some as pets in fact. However, this love comes with certain limitations. I'm not fond of them catching me off guard; especially in my own home. I have a certain perimeter in which I'd like to keep unexpected guests that have more than four legs away. Where we live seems to attract such critters and they find our home an interesting haven. It is great living close to a nature reserve, but sometimes nature just likes to find its way into your suburban home. For instance, we have a skink that lives in our garage, a blue tongue in our veggie patch and too many lizards to count that take refuge in our laundry room on hot summer days. They startle me when I pick up a shoe and see one in there but they don't frighten me. Lachlan thinks it is fun and loves to try to chase the lizards. Spiders, however do frighten me. I don't know why but they give me the wee-be-gee-bes! I'm okay with small ones or even large ones I see in the garden on their webs. In fact I love them in the garden as they catch fruit flies and mossies. In the house, though I freak out. One too many times have I been sitting on my couch minding my own business and have seen a huge, hairy huntsman in the corner of my eye lurking on the wall. It sends me in a panic. I scream, run out of the room begging my husband to save me. The worst is when my husband responds only to find nothing, as I have scared the spider into hiding. I am sleepless those nights and have even gone as far as stuffing a towel under the door hoping to barricade it from my room, knowing of course that a huntsman has no intention of crawling on my floor under the door; I do it anyway though. I spend the night half awake or dreaming of spiders.

All that is nothing compared to what Lachlan and I saw the other month while taking our morning walk. It was a pleasant, sunny day and we were coming home from the dog park with our pooch, Maxwell. Lachlan was pointing to things and I would talk about what they were:
"There is a tree; its branches are waving in the breeze." I went on..."That is a letterbox, where the postman puts mail." Then suddenly..."that is a huge spider web and...wait, couldn't be....oh...my....gosh!!! That is a bird!" There's a bird in the web!" 
 I then began to get goosebumps and shivers and looked away but so astounded had to look again to make sure what I was seeing was true. Yes, between two trees a spider built the largest web I'd ever seen and there was a small bird, now dead captured inside. It was enough to make me want to march my arachnophobic feet home, pack up my suitcase and move out of Australia! I don't know what kind of spider it was as I didn't see it. My best guess is that it was a golden orb or some sort of other orb weaver. Whatever it was it freaked me out and at the same time amazed me. I've found small lizards stuck in webs at the house but never a bird!

Well, yesterday I had another surprise. One in which Lachlan found amusing. Generally when I am startled I scare him (like when I found a praying mantis sitting on my shoulder staring at me, which lead me to strip off my clothes in the kitchen and run out of the room screaming. A bonus to organic gardening, little guests hitch a riding hoping to join us for dinner I suppose). That time he began to cry as he was younger and unsure of what happened. I must have looked like a lunatic as well! This time his reaction was much different. I was out in the garden, trying to pull up some patio blinds. I couldn't reach the string and had to climb on the balcony railing. While doing so I was greeted in the face by a huge gray spider with yellow eyes. I screeched, fell backwards and ran across the yard shaking off my goosebumps. Lachlan ran to look down at me from the top of the porch, with a 'what was that?' look on his face. " I found a spider! It scared me!" He started laughing hysterically. I still had shivers down my spine. "Are you laughing at mommy? It's not funny. I don't like spiders scaring me," I said with laughter in my own voice. "He chuckled more and more." I went to see if I could still get the blinds raised up but first inspected the area for the attacker. The spider wasn't insight. I crept closer and closer to the blind. Lachlan began to laugh again. He could sense the hesitancy in my movements and he thought it was funny. I began to reach for the blind and as I did I saw the spider on the handle of the rope. "Yikes!" I yelped and jumped back. Lachlan was in stitched now. It was more than he could take. His eyes were watering with laughter. I picked him up, twirled him around and began to tease him for finding humor in my fear. We both began to giggle and I knew I must have looked so ridiculous to him. After all,  his mommy was scared of the 'incy, wincy spider!'...what's that all about!?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Time of Exclamation!

Lachlan, 19 months old
If you are a follower, you'd know by the last blog that Lachlan loves to read. To say that he loves to read is probably an understatement. If there is a word larger than love that would be the one to use. For Halloween I ordered Lachlan the book, Happy Halloween, Biscuit! Lachlan instantly took to this book for three reasons. 1) It has a cute dog in it named Biscuit. Seeing a dog makes him very happy and Lachlan loves to say, "woof! woof!" and pant any chance he can get. I think this comes from many hours of he and I pretending to be dogs around the house and his friendship with an over-sized sausage dog we call Maxwell. 2) The book has flaps to reveal what Biscuit is up to; this is just lots of fun for kids and no matter how many times they read the book and can predict what will be there, they still act like they've just seen it for the first time. Gotta love it! 3) The book has lots of exclamation points in it!

The night before I introduced the Biscuit book to Lachlan, I had read him a book titled, Tiger and the Temper Tantrum (one that I have to say honestly erks me as a child development professional as it constantly uses labels like, 'good tiger and bad tiger.' For so many emotional intelligence reasons it bothers me but that is another story for another blog entry! That being said though the book can be used as a lesson; such as Tiger's mom called him a bad Tiger but he really isn't 'bad', he just did something 'bad.') In Tiger and the Temper Tantrum, 'Yippee!' is written on the very last page. Lachlan started laughing hysterically when I read the word so I said it several times to him and threw my arms up in the air to emphasise Tiger's excitement; she was happy as she was finally allowed to climb on the climbing frame at the park (as all tiger cubs long to do I'm sure) He thought it was hilarious. The next night I introduced him to Happy Halloween, Biscuit! Lachlan pointed to the exclamation mark asking what it was as he knows all the letters and that one looked really strange to him. I told him it was an exclamation. Of course, I'm thinking how can I explain what an exclamation is to a 20 month old, the word itself is too big for him to say at this point in time. He put his hands up in a "what" gesture and pointed to it again. I could tell he was going to persist until I gave him something he could relate to. I then remembered the word, "Yippee!" from Tiger and the Temper Tantrum that we read the previous night and how we threw our arms in the air for excitement. "Lachlan," I said. Exclamation is like, "Yippee!" and I thew my hands in the air. "We do it when we are excited." I then said "Exclamation!" and threw my arms up in the air with excitement like an cheerleader on Red Bull. Lachlan began to laugh. I pointed to the exclamation again and did my little cheer, "Exclamation!" Lachlan joined in, pointed to the exclamation mark and threw his arm in the air and began to giggle. I suppose he had a minute idea of the whole meaning now.

The next day, Lachlan was eating his afternoon snack and drinking from a toddler smoothie pack. I was working next to him at the table and he began reciting the letters he knows on the pack. Lachlan LOVES to share his knowledge. He sat saying, "Mama." I looked over and he then pointed to "S" and said, "Sssss." "Great!" I would say and carry on my business. He would move to the next letter and the next and I would give him some sort of encouraging feedback. Eventually he shouted, "Mama!" and when I looked over he threw his arm in the air like an exclamation. "Exclamation?" I said. He smiled and did it again. I knew there wasn't one on his pack but I thought I'd take a look anyway. "Where?" I asked. Lachlan then pointed to the lower case "i," and threw his arm in the air smiling. I smiled, "Aren't you clever! That does look like an upside down exclamation!" He was proud and although he was wrong I was impressed that he was able to identify it upside down. Lachlan has mastered uppercase letters but he's just figuring out the lowercase ones. Obviously, he doesn't know "i" or he is questioning what he knows since it now looks like something else! In his won time he'll figure out the difference. For now, he should have his moment of glory.

The way children learn is amazing. Think of all the time and effort it takes to learn all there is to know. They amazingly piece things together little by little constantly having to adapt and modify their thinking as new knowledge challenges the old. It isn't any wonder why most parents you meet always say their children just fascinate them. I think it is hard for all of us to wrap our heads around the fact that we used to be just like them; somewhat primitive- every day exploring a brand new adventure; clueless that within a split second converts to expertise as all the information suddenly snaps together and they are suddenly the masters of their domain. I've studied the developing child's brain for years now but I am still fascinated myself at how complex and brilliant it is! I feel so blessed to be able to have my own child and share in his wonderment and excitement. I'm sure you feel the same way about the child or children in your life! And by the way...thanks for sharing in Lachlan's journey with us! :-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Literacy Journey...

Looking at letters and symbols
For the last two months, Lachlan has been fascinated with letters. I would say the whole interest started about six months ago when he began pointing to number plates and saying, "That!" His way of asking what something is. The number plate on my car and his daddy's both have the letter A so that was the first letter that he began to recognise. Before we knew it he was going around and pointing to every A he saw and saying it aloud to us. I didn't think much of it except that I realised that this was his first step in reading symbols, an important building block in literacy development . As weeks went by, Lachlan began pointing to his easel and saying, 'A.' My husband and I followed his command  

Reading a story
and wrote the letter for him to see. Lachlan would get very excited and request for another and another...Before you knew it there were several pages filled with 'A's. At least he insisted that we write them in various colours of his choosing to keep it interesting. While this was going on he began to ask 'that' about other letters he would see; mostly in books or on boxes in the house, etc. As he memorised those he began to ask that we write those as well on his easel. Memory recall in infancy and toddlerhood has always been fascinating to me. We certainly underestimate how much children are capable of doing. Another mistake we often do is put child development in a box and expect children to all be at a certain level. It is important to listen to and observe our children; making sure we don't push them while at the same time ensuring that we are provide a challenge. A child like Lachlan for example who is very much a 'thinker' longs for cognitive stimulation and is intrigued by things of that nature. A child who is a 'mover' for example will yearn for things that stimulate him in a locomotive or manipulative way such a climbing or throwing something. All children have different interest which create different desires. We as parent need to respect that and guide them in the area that fascinates them. Everything else will come together when it needs to. Right now it is all about fun and exploration.

Finding letters in a glossary
Since Lachlan has been having fun exploring letters, I put all my old teaching and researching knowledge together to try to think up creative ways for him to explore the wonderful world of letters. First, I looked at the books we have at home, which are a lot! (I buy sooooo many at garage sales each month.) I took out books with a focus on letters and also those that had a glossory in back or started a paragraph with an extra large letter; these letters jump out and Lachlan really loves to point them out to me. He he couldn't remember a letter he would point to it, look at me and say, "Mama?" I would then tell him the letter. Again, I have always followed his lead. A lot of people when they hear Lachlan name letters assume that I have sat down and taught Lachlan the alphabet. That simply has never been the case. We never sit down in front of a chart or with flashcards and begin reciting letters. I would of course if Lachlan initiated and that was fun to him. There really isn't a need to do that as we are surrounded by print all around our house and when we go out to the shops. He asks and we provide an answer and a dialogue begins. He does have some tag board letter cards but I simply put them in a basket and he does his own thing with them. Since he could crawl he would sit for over half an hour lining letters up along the bottom of the french doors in our house. He didn't want interference from us. He just wanted to look at them and put them in some kind of 'Lachlan order.'

Drawing an 'O' in the air.
I am big on provocation, as I also teach early childhood professionals to use it. Provocation just means allowing a child to expand on an idea they have by asking a question. For older children it is best to ask open-ended questions, meaning ones that will not get a single word response (best used on teenagers as well!) So instead of asking, "Is that a tiger you are painting?" or "What are you painting?;" Something such as, "tell me about your picture," would be a better way to get a descriptive response.

Exploring magnet letters
Pre-verbal toddlers are a bit trickier when it comes to provocation for obvious reasons. They can however understand the majority of what you are saying so if you ask them a question they can answer you by pointing or doing another action to communicate. Body language where you'll be getting the most of your info. Lachlan does some sign language so he indicates to us if he wants 'more' or something. If he is ready to move on he is very eager to say his favourite word, "no!" Regarding provocations, if Lachlan is showing me his magnets with the letter A and saying A, I might ask him, "where are the other A's." This often triggers something inside of him to create a new idea. For example we were out the beach house last week and he was playing with his letter magnets and he began grouping all the A's and O's and E's together and also sorting them by colour. This was just something spontaneous we noticed him doing while we were eating. To expand upon this I might ask, "where are the yellow O's" to see if he can identify the colours. Again, go with the flow. It works the best. That particular time I just let him play. I would encourage you not to interrupt every independent play session your child is engaging in to "test" him. Allow them to have their time and avoid interrupting their train of thought.

Lining up letters
Saying "R"
Something sad I often see is the systematic teaching of young children. I say 'sad' because it makes learning become a chore. Because I use a more emergent and natural approach I actually see it as militant and very authoritarian; which is probably harsh but the style really makes me feel so many emotions. Sure flashcards may be fun initially when they are new but being expected to sit and memorise or recite them time and time again becomes a drill and the fun is lost. Learning is lost because it has become something that is no longer meaningful to the child and let's face it; children will not want to learn unless the experience is meaningful to them.Think about that: what is meaningful to your child? It most likely is something very different to what is meaningful to you. This is when we have to go back in time, be nostalgic and think about what inspired us as children. Generally it is something so simplistic. For me it was dirt, leaves, sticks and water. With those resources I could do anything, make anything, be anywhere. I could create a meaningful piece of work and I'm sure I didn't really care if it was meaningful to my parents. (That's the whole ego-centrism stage talking in childhood)

While I've been writing this blog I've been go back through all my photos of Lachlan related to his literacy development. There are so many! Every stage we seem to have incorporated some new way of learning; letter cards, magnets, drawings. One thing that is constant every day though is books. Any literacy expert will tell you that there is just nothing bad that will come out of books! We eat them up in our house! I've included a lot of photos throughout the year of Lachlan and his literacy journey. He has changed so much; especially after learning to walk--he lost all that baby fat!

A quiet place, alone reading
So the best I can offer is to let things occur naturally with your child; a no pressure approach. Infancy and toddlerhood is a time of exploration. There will be plenty of taking orders when they reach school-age and the working world. Let them make sense of their world in their own unique way and allow them to find their own interests. When you do this, they will find passion and love in something as they can claim it as their own accomplishment. Offer guidance and support and expand upon what you see they are wanting to learn. All of this takes a lot of listening and observing. For some parents it will take patience and a new way of thinking. Children truly become confident and talented in areas that excite them. They show this by smiling, clapping and persistently returning to the same thing over and over again. Please don't take that away from them. They will tell you the type of learner they are; whether it is a hands-on, visual or an auditory one. It is up to use to listen and follow their lead. So give off the computer and see what your little one is up to and let him or her teach YOU a thing or two....Until next time :-)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Fun

It is that time of year--Halloween! I would say it is my favourite time of the year but I now celebrate Halloween in the spring, not the Fall so it puts a whole new perspective on things. I love Halloween, more specifically I loved that Halloween was in Fall. What American child doesn't have fond memories of picking out the perfect pumpkin from the patch, going on hayrides, hearing ghost stories while eating s'mores warmed by a campfire and of course the most pleasant sound; leaves crunching on the ground. I seriously feel all warm inside just thinking about it!

I always imagined that I would share these wonderful moments with my children someday. I had to come to the sad realisation when Lachlan was born that those would not be his memories; that his would be much different. Leaves do not change colour that much in Australia, if at all, and finding a tree that actually drops enough leaves to jump in is like finding a needle in a haystack. And there is again that whole Halloween falling in spring which all together just doesn't feel right to me. Just like sipping a nice cup of hot cider doesn't feel right when it is 90 degrees outside either. Lachlan however will only know what he will grow up with. Warm Halloweens and smoldering Christmases will feel like home to him, something that I can't see myself ever understanding. It is amazing all the simply things we take for granted; like snow on Christmas and acorns in Autumn. We don't realise how much we will miss them until we experience life without them. I never thought in a million years I'd reminisce about acorns as an adult but I haven't seen one for so long and I think about how I used to love to collect them when I was a child and save them for the squirrels in the winter...squirrels, something else I miss!

This year was Lachlan's first memory making experience regarding Halloween. Last year he was only 8 months old so he couldn't get involved in anything. Halloween typically hasn't been celebrated in Australia either. It hasn't been until the last few years that shops even started carrying costumes. Trick-or-treaters are rare and when they do arrive at your door step they just stand there looking at you like a deer in headlights dazed and confused. I find myself instructing them on what to say and what to do. "Say 'trick-or treat?', Now you may take some candy from this bucket." Some children I even had to dismiss as they weren't sure what to do when they got the candy. "Okay, have fun. Happy Halloween!" They still stand there in a daze. "Perhaps the neighbours are home..." Finally they snap from their comatose state and walk slowly down my porch not sure of what just happened. Such a far cry from my childhood where we generally followed behind a mob of other kids and tried to make our way to the front door, stretching our arms through any place in the crowd it would squeeze. The goal was simple...feel around until you felt crinkly plastic wrappers, clinch and withdrawal as fast as you can without dropping any candy. We'd shove it in our candy bags and make our way to the next house. The children here take inventory of what they just received; they are rookies. We professionals knew to take what you could and evaluate the goods later, wasting no time.

We didn't take Lachlan trick-or-treating this year. We aren't big into sweets for toddlers especially since he has no idea what the purpose of the tradition is. Also he does not like to dress up at all so why make him do it. Perhaps next year he'll be more comfortable with the idea. We did however buy a few pumpkins (which were imported, I might add and pricey!) for us to carve. I was looking forward to seeing how Lachlan would engage in the experience as he is not a fan of things gooey. The kid asks for a napkin if he gets yogurt on his finger; I didn't see gooey, stringy pumpkin guts hitting a homerun for him...and I was right. He was intrigued by the initial process however. He watched curiously as I carved the top off the pumpkin as was very eager to remove it to see what was inside. He removed the lid and placed it back on when he began to see the stringy lid. I took the top off again and he took a step back, leaned forward very carefully, not getting too close and took a peep inside. He was okay with everything until I began to scoop the goop. He really didn't like it and insisted that I put it back inside. In the end, he took a bath, went to bed and I carved his pumpkin later that night.

 Perhaps next year will be more exciting for him. I just can't help but to think that there was an important element missing for Lachlan. Kids just aren't meant to get their pumpkins in the produce aisle at Woolworth's and have it sitting behind them in the shopping cart why I move on looking for the milk aisle. Perhaps Lachlan just didn't bond with his pumpkin. Afterall he didn't get to search the patch for the perfect one and have it cut right then and there from its lifeline. He never could claim it as his own. I'm sure this is just a bunch of American sentimentality talking which my Aussie friends may not understand and heck, Lachlan might never understand it either. But if there is a will, there is a way and I'm determined to one day have this kid get lost in a pumpkin patch while his mommy is snapping photo after photo for his memory book. Perhaps one day. Until then...Happy Halloween!


 To gear up for Halloween Lachlan and I have been doing a lot of fun Halloween activities: we painted pumpkins on canvas, made Halloween cookies, read various children's Halloween themed books and also sang finger plays. Here is one of Lachlan's favourites below. Perhaps your child will enjoy it as well...

Five Little Pumpkins
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, 'Oh my! It's getting late.'
The second one said, 'There are witches in the air.'
The third one said, 'We're not scared.'
The fourth one said, 'It's Halloween fun!'
The fifth one said, ' Let's run, run, run!'