Thursday, August 4, 2016

Childhood described by the Alliance for Childhood

Childhood is a time for learning about the essentials -
about the heavenly world and the earthly,
about goodness, beauty and truth.

Childhood is a time to be loved and to love -
to express fear and to learn trust -
to be allowed to be serious and calm
and to celebrate with laughter and joy.

Children have a right to dream,
and they need time to grow at their own pace.
They have the right to make mistakes
and the right to be forgiven.

Children need help to develop self-mastery,
to transform themselves and bring forth their highest capacities.
Children have a right to be spared violence and hunger,
to have a home and protection.
They need help to grow up healthy,
with good habits and sound nutrition.

Children need people to respect,
adults whose example and loving authority they follow.
They need a range of experience - tenderness and kindness,
boldness and courage, and even mischief and misbehavior.

Children need time for receiving and giving,
for belonging and participating.
They need to be part of a community, and they need to be individuals.
They need privacy and sociability.
They need time to rest and time to play,
time to do nothing and time to work.

They need moments for devotion and room for curiosity.
They need protective boundaries and freedom for creativity.
They need to be introduced to a life of principles,
and given the freedom to discover their own.
They need a relationship to the earth -
to animals and to nature;
and they need to unfold as human beings within the community.

The spirit of childhood is to be protected and nurtured.
It is an essential part of every human being
and needs to be kept alive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Create a "loose parts" play area in your Back Yard


Create a “Loose Parts” Playground for Young Children in your Back Yard

One of the benefits of summer is the array of outdoor activities to participate in any day of the week. One of the drawbacks of summer is the array of outdoor activities to participate in any day of the week. Usually at some point during the season, if we have young children and we are going out a lot, we notice they have reached their saturation point. Too much activity and not enough sleep are draining; running on empty is no fun for anyone and children let us know by their behavior, i.e. meltdowns.

What can we do? Dare to schedule home time; put it on the calendar and celebrate it. Summer is happening in our back yards just like anywhere else, only with less people, less stimulation and more opportunities for self- directed play. In the beginning, if a child is accustomed to adult-directed activities, it might take a moment to make the shift. There are things you can do to assist the child in finding their way into creative exploration of their own environment.

Since the late 1800’s when we first started creating outdoor play areas, their design has evolved along with continuing research about play, but one thing has stayed the same: children’s work is play. Children learn by doing, so we want them to be actively engaged in their environment, to learn about how it works and to develop their physical bodies to meet the demands of ongoing engagement in the world. Give a child a box, a stick, or a pile of sand and they will figure out a creative way to play with it, learning all the while.

In the 1960’s, “adventure” playgrounds were launched in Europe and moved to America. We now refer to the same concept as “loose parts” or “imagination” playgrounds and they are prevalent in Europe and most public parks in major cities in America. How about your back yard? According to this concept, any scrap material lying around (that is safe for handling), is fair game for children’s play. Logs from a downed tree, mulch or leaf piles, mud and sand, etc. serve as raw materials for creations.  Buckets, measuring cups, old sheets or blankets, shovels and a source of water are plenty to keep a young child constructively experimenting with the laws of nature as well as developing their imaginations and confidence.

The other day, I watched a young child (perhaps three years old) digging in the sand at the beach.  He had no tools, only his hands and his active body with which he created a mound of sand and then about a foot away from it, a whole in the sand as deep as the mound was high. Then he practiced jumping from the mound to the ground, then into the whole and back out again. He did this over and over again, delighted each time to witness the effects of gravity and his ability to land on his feet.

His parents relaxed on lounge chairs behind him where he went to check in periodically when he made a big circle around the space between them and his play area. His siblings occasionally joined in the fun but the little boy did not need anyone else in order to engage in his game. He was self- directed. I would be willing to bet that he ate and slept well that night after all that physical movement. Come to think of it, I rarely see a bored child at the beach or in any unstructured play area, especially amongst children who have not grown accustomed to only external directives.  Active participation is the key to healthy development and ultimately success in life, so practice is important.  Let’s consider why “loose parts” play areas serve child development.

According to research available (Kable 2010), these are some reasons:

-          Children can use the parts in any way they choose.

-          Children can use and change the parts in many ways.

-          Loose parts help a child develop more skill and competence than most modern toys.

-          Loose parts encourage creativity and a child’s imagination.

-          Loose parts can be used in combination with other materials to support more balanced play.

Although the loose parts plays areas do have a “loose” quality, there is some upkeep involved. Children benefit from starting and finishing their play in an orderly environment. Each item has its place in a container or shed, the sand is covered to keep cats out and there is a quality of being settled when the child’s play ends. The clean-up ritual not only restores order but it announces the transition to the end of playtime.

Consider preparing an outdoor area for your young child to encourage the creative free play that supports development and say goodbye to boredom or overstimulation that may come from too many adult directed outings. Summer is sweet and ephemeral like childhood; refrain from overdoing it with young children but rather let them apply their energy and enthusiasm to explore their world in the way that only they can!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

When the Sun goes to Sleep after the Children's Bedtime

The longest day of the year is fast approaching. How do parents of young children meet their child's need for twelve to fourteen hours of sleep when night falls after their bedtime in the summer?

Here are some suggestions. Get room darkening shades or curtains to block the sun. Stick to your rhythms. If you usually have dinner, bath, bedtime snack, teeth-brushing, then book-reading before lights out in bed, then do it in the summertime, too. Fortunately with the large amount of outdoor play in summer, children tend to be exhausted in the evening.

If your child does not appear tired at the end of the day, don't misread a second wind as healthy energy; it's overdrive fueled by stress hormones. Keep your child from experiencing this; stress hormones wear down the body and disrupt neurological connections from building. While children are growing and moving so much, they need restorative sleep and stress hormones can keep them from falling asleep and staying asleep during the night. Especially, avoid asking your child if he or she is tired; children are not capable of reading the signs but they do know what an admission of fatigue leads to.

If you stick to a regular bedtime rhythm most of the time, you can probably stretch it by staying up later on holidays or special events during the summer, especially if those evenings are followed by leisurely mornings.

Considering that tired children have more accidents and less positive social encounters with others, you will want to think seriously about your child's sleep schedule. Start with the time you need to get up in the morning and work backwards from there. If you get up at 7:00 a.m., plan on a 7:00 p.m. bedtime, 6:30 p.m. snack, 6:00 p.m. bath and perhaps dinner at 5:15 or 5:30 p.m..

If that sounds too restrictive for you, remember that your child will not be young forever; it is actually a short period of time. Although each day may feel long (and it is if your child's bedtime is late), the early childhood years are short. You will be doing an act of kindness to yourself (think of what you can do with childfree evenings), your child (who will be happier and healthier), and anyone your child encounters during the day.

If you need assistance or more information, talk to your child's teacher or contact a sleep consultant. Others can provide support if you provide the motivation. It's well worth the effort.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Springtime, Children and Mornings

Springtime, young children and mornings, they share a lot. They are all young, fresh, and full of growth potential. With the future and all it's possibilities ahead, they exude hope.

If you are reading this, you might be interested in young children. How do your mornings look? Since morning has the power to set the tone for the day like early childhood sets the tone for a person's life, what are your habits?

Many wisdom traditions suggest movement, meditation or centering, whole foods and a calm setting to reawaken the body, mind, and soul and get ready to greet the day. Often young children wake up early and the adults might not be ready to wake up yet. What can you do?

Begin with the reality of being woken up and decide when it's acceptable to start the day, anytime before that, it is still night so time to sleep. If you establish morning rhythms, you will find mornings are more manageable and you can begin while still groggy with sleep. If you prefer moments alone before your child wakes up, plan accordingly or consider it a shared experience.

If you stretch and move to awaken your body, children love to move, you might find yourself with a willing partner, although be careful to not expect adult-like performance. Quiet meditation might not work in the presence of a child, but a meditative song or verse might. As far as food goes, having a plan is helpful. My father used to set the table at night so when we came downstairs, the bowls, cups and spoons were sitting out ready for us. Time is precious in the morning and every little bit that can be done in advance helps.

Having a plan of what to eat for breakfast takes away the need to figure it out in the morning. You might stick to the same meal; oats can cook in the crockpot overnight and be ready for us when we come to the table with perhaps various fruits available as toppings. With repeated weekday breakfasts, that makes weekend breakfasts special with their potential for variety, although I know people who prefer to eat the same thing everyday regardless of the day of the week. As a matter of fact, I've read that President Obama chooses to eat the same thing everyday to reduce the number of decisions he needs to make.

Preparing clothes, bags and anything else you can get ready the night before helps. Having enough time in the morning helps to reduce stress. Given that morning sets the tone for the day, avoiding stress and the body chemistry impacting hormones that go along with it, you will want to have a plan to make mornings as smooth as possible. When stress hormones trigger survival mode, it makes it impossible to take in and digest information, to learn. It can take hours for the body to achieve homeostasis again, energy that is better spent on other things.

Take time to think it through. Like planning for a successful garden, or in the case of a young child a successful life, you can plan for a good start to the day. Once you have a plan, try it out and see what the impact is on your day and on your child's life. If it works, do it again.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Striving for Balance

Since the equinox, it's officially spring. It's the time of year when the forces of Lady Spring and King Winter battle for supremacy but in spite of King Winter's efforts, we all know how it will work out. The forces of spring are greater at this time of year and under the snow and in the cold, we find daffodils blooming and tulips sprouting. It's a good time of year to consider balance which is a dynamic process. It's like steering a boat; it involves micro-shifts from side to side to stay on course, keeping an eye on the goal.


Balance in parenting involves two primary gestures: one that involves embracing and holding near, the other is about setting limits. You can think of it as "Yes, I love you" and "No, you may not do that." Each gesture supports the other and generally speaking, we might struggle with one aspect or the other depending on our experiences and temperament.


It's important to know ourselves. If our personal emotions are strong and clouding our parenting decisions and throwing off our balance, we have some inner work to do. Often fear lies beneath imbalances. Questions can be helpful. Ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?" and then listen without judgment to the answers that come. If you are feeling angry, you might ask, "Is there something I cannot change that I am having trouble accepting?" If you are feeling guilty ask, "Is there a mistake I need to address?" Fear, anger and guilt can become a vicious cycle that blocks our judgment and equanimity; it's good to explore.


The key to self exploration and finding balance is to develop objectivity (easier said than done). Feelings of sympathy (It's good and I like it) or antipathy (It's bad and I don't like it) do not hold sway over the greater forces of wisdom in the universe but they do impact our emotional balance. Seek to accept all the things that are outside of your power to change and remember to make any adjustments that are yours to make. Just as the captain of the ship keeps an eye on the goal and steers with objectivity, that's our task as well, even or perhaps especially when the weather is stormy. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thoughts about Right Speech


Did you ever listen to yourself? The other day, I opened the refrigerator and a container of blueberries fell out all over the floor. After a moment of complaining while picking up the rogue berries before the dog ate or stepped on them, my husband asked me why I was wasting my energy getting upset over such a small thing. Good question I thought and I continued to ponder my thinking and its outward expression, my speech.  What came to mind is that my mother often reacted to sudden spills and surprises in that way, although she often calmly negotiated the bigger things. I suspect my maternal grandmother was the same way. So where do our thoughts and our words come from? You got it! We pass down our thoughts to our children through what we say. Most of what we think is not original; it was given to us as a child by an adult. So listen to yourself, your internal as well as spoken words. That is what you are teaching your child. Since we are entering the season of rebirth, there is great potential for change at this time. If you start by paying attention and then recognize a habit of thinking and speaking that you would like to change, decide what thoughts you would like to tell yourself and practice them. That internal conversation will be reflected in your speech and ultimately, your child’s thoughts and words. What would you like to hear?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What does your Child need Most?

We celebrated Candlemas or Ground Hog's day this week, acknowledging the return of the sun with notably longer days than winter solstice time just six weeks ago. The seasons of the year, the festivals we celebrate, and our daily habits and moods are affected by the sun. We notice when it is shining and when it is covered by clouds. We feel warmth in its proximity and cold when it is distant. It affects our sleep rhythms. The sun is what makes the plants that nourish humans grow. Can you imagine that in the life of a young child, the parent plays a role similar to that of the sun?  Parents provide warmth, predictable rhythms, and the essentials for growth. A parent's sunny gaze warms a child's soul and encourages connection. On the other hand, when a parent is stressed, overwhelmed and unhappy, there is a negative impact on a child's development. A longitudinal study conducted at the Life Stress and Human Development Lab of the University of Wisconsin in Madison showed that parental stress impacts the DNA of developing children, influencing brain development and behavior. In particular, the DNA changes that were found in adolescents who experienced parental stress in early childhood impacted the creation of new neurons in the brain, those that are crucial for neurological development, learning, and memory. Although parents might consider that there are many things to do in order to be a good parent, in the end, perhaps the most important one is also good for the parents. Manage stress. Be happy. Bestow a sunny gaze on your developing child.