Put a Bib on It


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Get Outside!

Did you know that sunlight can actually positively affect your mood? There is actual, legitimate research that proves it. I can honestly say that I didn’t need a researcher to tell me that was true, though. I love outdoors. I love everything about it; I love the adventure it brings, I love the learning it brings, I love the exhaustion it brings, I love the smiles it brings, I love the smells it brings. Seriously, I love everything about the outdoors (except maybe the mosquitoes)!!

I was raised to love the outdoors. A lot of our family time growing up was spent bonding outdoors, whether it was at the lake, around a picnic table, playing whiffle ball in the front yard, going on bike rides, or just exploring. I want my children to have the same passion for the outdoors. For that reason, I am constantly on a mission to get outdoors and explore all that it can offer and what I have found is that the opportunities are endless!

Not only are the options and opportunities endless, so is the learning!

climb-tree
Bryce has been desperate to climb a tree ever since he saw his big brother do it. However, he is still too short to get himself into the trees at our house (unlike his big brother) and I have a rule about putting children into positions they can’t get themselves into (I don’t do it). When we were at a park the other day he noticed these bushes/trees that he could easily climb onto. He had a blast working on his gross motor skills and developing his spatial reasoning!

pond
This is Bryce, Drew and I at a pond full of fish and turtles. They come right up to the edge, making it easy to see these animals in their natural habitat. We had a blast watching them swim around and talking about the different things they do and eat. Even without many words, I knew Drew (11 months) was enjoying the experience, he spent the whole time babbling and pointing at all the animals. What a great science lesson!

caterpillar-1
Here we are at a butterfly garden. We got to experience both caterpillars (Bryce is here checking one out, up close and personal!) and butterflies. We even saw some catalysts! As we discussed how caterpillars change into butterflies, Bryce said “Like the book?!” (Very Hungry Caterpillar).  He is using his memory to recall what he has learned from books we have read in the past and making sense of it in his world!

creek
Here are the boys exploring a creek. We saw minnows, felt the water current on our bodies, and touched and discovered rocks. Talking to the children during this outing produced an overwhelming number of new words (vocabulary) we were able to experience: Cold, fast, small, hard, sharp, slippery, wet, current, creek, river, bank, and the list goes on! Books are great, but experiencing the real thing is incomparable!

water-fountain
Here is Bryce at a local park using a water pump to fill up a watering can. He then poured the water on plants, in the sand, on the sidewalk, and anywhere his heart desired (with the exception of his brother’s head). This is a great lesson on cause and effect. If you lift up the handle, water will come out and if you tip the watering can, water will come out!

evening-walk
Even something as simple as an evening walk can lead to learning! Just be sure to take the time for you and your child to notice all the amazing things around. Here, Bryce discovered an ant hill. He had a blast watching the ants crawl in and out and all around. In addition to the experience, the walk helps burn some excess energy before bed, leading to easier bedtimes. It’s a win-win for me!

Get out and enjoy the weather and the learning!


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Play With Everyone!

play-with-everyoneWhen I was growing up, I loved to play. I think that most kids do. I grew up in the country and had lots of long days playing outside. I have three brothers and although we didn’t always get along, playing together would eventually teach us how to get along with, take care of, and protect each other.

One activity I really enjoyed was Scouting. We played often at Scouting meetings and camp outs—while also learning a lot. Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, spoke of Scouting as a game with a purpose, and I have to admit I grew as a person even without knowing I was learning or developing character. I feel that like Scouting, play lets my son grow and learn to adapt to the world around him.

We took our son to play at the park and at a mall play area. It is so much fun watching him move around and choose where to go, what to do and who to play with. It is wonderful watching him explore with sand and water, although he is a mess when he is finished. He and I don’t seem to mind being messy.

He enjoys everything and everyone. He has a character and spirit that reminds me of my grandpa, who never met a stranger. He says hello and acknowledges everyone that he comes across. I wonder what he is thinking. Maybe “Wow, what should I do first?” Or, “Those kids look like new friends.” He tries keeping up with the big kids running and zooming down the slide, and then goes to greet every new parent and child that comes to play.

Many young children don’t seem to care who they play with—which is great! Thinking about recent events, it makes me wonder when society lost this open, non-judgmental friendliness. As children age, they sometimes begin not playing with others for a specific reason, and become exclusionary in who they play with. I can only guess that the reason this happens comes from experiences and what we learn from our parents. Young children of all nations, colors, and religions look past everything and seem to find the positive possibility of a play partner, new friend, or buddy even if just for a few moments. I hope to be able to foster openness to playing with anyone in my child as he grows up.

I’ve been accused of being a big kid even as an adult, and I hope that I can help shape my children’s learning through play like Scouting did for me. I wish my son never loses his character and continues to play, have fun, and enjoy learning from all of the people that he encounters in his life journey. Differences are something that make us special, and being friends with those who are different from us brings new experiences and learning so that we can all grow.


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Perseverance

toddler-running

Allowing children to explore their world is an important part of their development!

Our son is walking, almost running now and trying to be a daredevil with the furniture in the house. He has started looking right at me, smiling a little to see my reaction and then leaping, falling, and testing my reflexes. When he wants to get into something he is a pretty creative and persistent problem solver. We now have to lock the baby gates because he has figured out how to open them without much effort. He is adventurous to say the least and is extremely aware when I am actively present in the room. He has begun the “dada dada dada” as he’s doing something and I’m ready to  hear the “Watch me dad!” soon before he does something like jump from the top of the stairs.

As dangerous as some of his actions seem he is exploring his world and testing me a little —sometimes a lot. What I find really encouraging is that he is getting better at being a problem solver. He might fail for what seems like days to master opening something or getting to a book that he really wants that slipped under a chair. He never seems to get frustrated and continues to try. I could get it for him, and I do sometimes, but he is learning and it is inspiring to  see his mind working. I want to do all that I can to help him persevere as an independent little person so that he grows up and is able to see things through, meet goals, and ultimately be successful. But even if he can’t always follow through, achieve goals, or win it all that it isn’t the end of the world—we get up and try again.

I’m reminded of the persistence of athletes during the Olympics. Many people remember the Dream Team from the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, but I remember a runner from that year. His name is Derek Redmond and he was a projected to win a medal. During his semifinals he tore his hamstring. He could have stopped, maybe he should have. But he tried to hobble toward the finish. Then a man came running onto the track through the security and judges. That persistent man was Derek’s father, and after he reached his son they gradually crossed the finish line together. I’m sure that it would have been great to win a medal, but a father and son crossing the line together is what life is about. Things happen in our journey, and it’s how we handle these bumps in the road that helps us learn and grow. Derek had worked so hard to get to the race and he probably would have gotten to the finish line on his own but sometimes it’s okay to let someone help out. This is the kind of relationship that I want with my son.


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Positive Risk Taking

PositiveRiskI want to raise children willing to take risks. The kind of risks I’m referring to are willingness to try or do things, even if they seem scary or overwhelming. I want my children to be confident in their abilities, even when faced with difficult circumstances or situations. I want my children to be willing to speak their minds and stand up for what they believe in. I want my children to know that I am completely supportive of them and are behind them (whether physically or philosophically, or both) in everything they do.

However, risk is something that can be difficult to teach. I have thought often about this, and have come up with a few things I do that I believe will help build confidence in my children.

Validate feelings. Whenever my children seem hesitant about experiencing something new, I always try to put what they are feeling into words for them. At library story time recently, they had a puppet show.  Afterwards, the librarians brought out the puppets for the children to meet. For whatever reason, Bryce (3) was hesitant to go up to meet and touch them. He clung to my leg, looking at me with eyes that made it clear he was nervous about approaching them. Rather than marking his fears as irrational and dragging him to the puppets, I reassured him and validated his feelings by saying, “I understand you feel nervous about going up to the puppets, we can go when you are ready.” We waited, watched all the other children go up to the puppets, all while talking about what the children that were visiting the puppets were experiencing. We talked about how the puppets were nice to everyone they met and how the children smiled as they said hello. As the line was dwindling down, he said he was ready.

Encourage and support, but don’t force.   Encouraging positive risk can start at a young age. In a world where safety seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, positive risk doesn’t mean “unsafe”. When we go to the park, I let Drew (10 months) climb up the stairs of the climbers and slide down the short slides. I never lift him (or Bryce) up onto something. If they want to be there, they will persist, acquire new skills, and grow confidence in their abilities. Their look of accomplishment is worth the wait!!

Avoid reasoning and bribing. Telling a child they are going to like it or that it is fun likely is not getting to the heart of the problem. Bribing children will likely not lead to overcoming the fear either. Providing reassurance that you are there to support them when they are ready to take whatever challenge they may be facing will help them to overcome their fear in order to take a risk.  In my house, we try to never bribe or reason when it comes to food.  We lead by example and talk through when one of our children are squeamish to try something.  We discuss how everyone is eating it and each of us talk about how it tastes. We never force any of our children to eat anything, yet all three children will always eat anything put in front of them.  In Florida, we all even tried alligator without having to persuade anyone!

Foster independence and exploration. Children are naturally curious.  At a park recently, Bryce saw a boy go up a climbing wall that was bigger than he had ever been on. I observed him watch the boy in amazement and awe as he scaled it to the top. I then watched him slowly approach the climber. I could see and sense his hesitation, but he continued to approach it. He looked back at me for support; even though I was a little nervous for him, I smiled and nodded in encouragement. Then he started up the wall. It took him awhile to navigate the wall, but he made it to the top. I could see the pride in his face as he turned around and smiled at me.

Acknowledge Success. Take time to acknowledge when children overcome fear and take a risk. Retell what occurred to help solidify in the children’s mind what occurred. After Bryce climbed the wall, I said, “You were nervous to climb that wall, but you did it and it was fun!” In the face of future challenges, your child will remember that he felt that way then, but it ended up okay.


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Why I Love Our Sensory Table

sensory-tableSensory tables are a wonderful addition to any child’s toy collection. We have had our sensory table for just over a year now (since Bryce was almost one-and-a-half-years-old). Honestly, it is probably one of my—and his— favorite toys (Notice I did not say easiest toys). It is so versatile and can keep the little guy entertained for long periods of time. We have enjoyed everything from cotton balls to snow to beans, with many different types of “accessories” to play with including scoops, funnels, wooden spoons and cars.

Recently, a friend and I were chatting about my sensory table. Her son is exactly one year younger (exact same date, just minutes apart) than Bryce. She mentioned that she didn’t think her son would do very well with one. She said her son is just way too messy while Bryce is so clean. I had to laugh at the assumption—to think we have never had a mess from our sensory table! I explained that while it may seem like he is reasonably clean now, things haven’t always been that way, nor are they always that way.

When introducing the sensory table to Bryce, we spent time demonstrating how to play with his new toy. We focused on keeping the contents inside the bin and cleaning up those that did fall out. He even has a child sized broom and a Dirt Devil Hand Vacuum he uses for when things get a little out of control. We are consistent when it comes to cleaning up after himself, and this goes for not only sensory table play, but also for everything we do.

Although it may seem like a never-ending task to ensure that he cleans up after himself (and occasionally a never-ending battle to actually finish the cleaning), I know that in the end he will get better at cleaning up after himself and as this article articulates, there are many cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, physical and creative skills to be learned through fun and engaging sensory play!

For me, the gains outweigh the mess. Bring on the sensory play!!