Category Archives: children

Beginnings, endings and the important stuff between

quilt puzzle

In the early 2000s, this poster was used to help explain the concept behind Healthy Child Manitoba.
Although no longer current, the poster is still accurate. It illustrates the partnership between government departments to ensure the healthy development of Manitoba children.

I always thought of it as a puzzle, with those jutting out pieces fitting into the concave parts of the next to form a whole that suddenly became a unified picture.
But years later I have come to think of it as a quilt. The topping is all these services stitched together. The backing is the support given by government and community. The fill is our children and families, connected by the services that are available to everyone. The stitching is the common thread throughout.

Although both analogies are appropriate, I prefer the quilt version.
Puzzles are fun and for many they are play, which relates strongly to early childhood. But quilts are warm and can become fuzzy with usage, reminding me of family and community.
A puzzle can be taken apart. It is much more difficult to take a quilt apart.
If you lose a puzzle piece, what used to be fun becomes frustration. It is much harder to lose a quilt.
And often I find that the value of a quilt is directly proportional to its age and usage. The more fraying the better. Frayed puzzle parts, however, do not make for good play.

Analogies are easy; in life, it is not quite so simple. Families are complicated. Communities are complicated.
But what a marvelous quilt we can create when we spend the time and make the effort.

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Childhood has a beginning and an end, although the latter is not so well-defined. Some manage to keep their inner child alive much longer than others.
The seasons of our lives come to an end as well. Pre-school becomes school-age. School-age become teenage. Teenage becomes adult. The child may eventually become the parent.
Beginnings and endings could not exist without each other. One flows into the other.

As the late Harry Chapin used to sing:

“All my life’s a circle
Sunrise and sundown
The moon rose through the nighttime
Till the day break comes around.”

Or as poet T.S. Eliot wrote:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Here’s to  the further exploration of quilts and puzzles, partnerships and relationships, parents, children and family.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

 

The beginning of each year is a time for looking forward. Perhaps making resolutions, perhaps not. Some of us search for inspirational messages to post on our social media pages.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

These words were written by American writer and humourist Mark Twain, who was born in 1835. It is not hard to imagine the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn penning the words; there are so many waterway references.

Another famous man, born forty-four years later in 1879, said this:

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

He was Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist and author of “the world’s most famous equation”. E=mc2 You know the one.

Fast forward eighty-one years and the British author Neil Gaiman was born. His New Year’s quote is a personal favourite.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

The births of these men, two authors and one scientist, span 125 years. Basically though, their quotes are the same.

Do not be afraid to try.

It’s a message that is equally true for adults and children. And the passage of time will never make it less true.

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Play, Prescriptions and Purpose

A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that doctors should write prescriptions for play during early-childhood checkups.

The report made national and even international headlines, shining a spotlight on the concept of ‘prescriptions for play’.

Few people who work in early child development would be surprised by the report’s contents. We’ve been saying many of the same things for a long time.

“Play is not frivolous; it is brain building,” the report said.

“Pediatricians can play an important role in emphasizing the role of a balanced curriculum that includes the importance of playful learning for the promotion of healthy child development,” the authors wrote.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post September 14, children’s author Katherine Marsh decried the current thinking that:

“Play can’t be just what children do or what they enjoy — it has to serve a purpose”

She continued:

“No one wants his or her child to become a purposeless adult. But part of the joy of childhood is doing things because they anchor you to the moment, not because they will reap future benefits or rewards. There is a sense of mindfulness children feel when they play that so many of us long for as adults. This is why the AAP report is so important — and why we need to implement its philosophy by trusting ourselves as parents and teachers, not by following doctor’s orders. True play is freedom from purpose, and no doctor can prescribe that.”

Prescriptions might be a stretch, but it cannot hurt for family doctors to talk to parents about the vital role of play in childhood.

As for the ‘purpose’ argument, well, no activity can be classified as ‘play’ unless it involves fun and joy. But play DOES have a purpose.

In a sense, play is the work of children. They learn how things work. They explore and discover. They learn how to participate in group activities. They learn how to navigate the world around them. Play prepares children for adulthood.

We can acknowledge that purpose without fixating on it. Fixations can be unhealthy. Play, on the other hand, is part of healthy child development.

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Mud Pies and Puddle Boots

We are nearing mud puddle season, that messy and marvelous time when puddle boots are a necessity.

One spring when I was a child, our farmhouse was an island with floodwaters coming within six feet of it on all sides. That was a very good year for puddle boots, but not so good for other things.

The floods did not happen every year, of course, but we could always count on puddles. My sisters and I remembered going to the beach in the summer, sitting on the sand in the shallow water and making waves with our hands. Why couldn’t we do that in the puddles in our yard?

We went to the house to get our swimsuits and told Mom what we were going to do.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said, but she did not forbid us to do it.

We dashed back to the puddles and sat down in the water.

It wasn’t much like being at the beach, after all. First, the water was cold. Second, wet mud has a completely different texture than wet sand. And third, the disturbed water was dirty.

We needed baths afterwards and our bathing suits needed to be laundered. We did not ever try it again

But we learned a lot that day, things we would not have learned as quickly or as well without the experiment.

It may be wet and messy, but playing in mud puddles is good for children.

A child’s neurological system is naturally designed to seek out the sensory input it needs in order to develop into a strong and capable individual. If a child is spinning in circles just for fun, it is because he or she needs that sensory input. Movement and physical play facilitate the development of new connections (synapses) among brain cells and the overall organization of the brain. As these connections develop, child’s fine and gross motor skills, socialization, personal awareness, language, creativity, problem solving and learning ability are improved. This is why they need to climb the trees, jump on the bed, run through the woods, splash in mud puddles. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will encourage their cognitive skill development.

You can read more at https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/splashing-mud-puddles-beneficial-children/

Or go to http://www.letthechildrenplay.net/2011/08/10-reasons-why-we-should-let-children.html Here is a condensed and paraphrased version.

1. Playing in the mud can make you happier.

Scientists have discovered something that playing in the mud can lift your mood.  Recent studies have revealed that dirt contains microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which increases the levels of serotonin in our brains, helping to relax, soothe and calm.

2.  Playing in the mud connects you with nature.

If you never know something, it’s hard to care about it. Many kids these days never know the outdoors beyond the school playground or their own backyards, if they even have one.   

3.  Playing in the mud can make you healthier.

Research has shown that playing in the dirt – including very wet dirt – is good for a child’s immune system.

4.  Playing in the mud can make you smarter.

Studies have found that playing in the dirt can make you smarter.  The same release of serotonin that occurs when playing in M. vaccae dirt has also been shown to improve cognitive function.

5.  Playing in the mud helps children to learn and develop.

Sensory, hands-on play feeds children’s brains.   Playing with mud – a delightfully sensory experience – can help children to learn and develop.

6.  Playing in the mud helps develop positive dispositions.

Having an area outdoors set aside for mud play – a mud patch or a mud pie kitchen for example – provides a space for children to retreat to for some time alone in a soothing sensory experience or to play with peers co-operating, communicating, negotiating and sharing.

7.  Mud is a wonderful art medium.

Mud can be moulded and decorated and it responds differently than sand, clay or play dough.

8.  Mud play welcomes all comers.

Mud is an open-ended material that meets the different needs and interests of different children.  A younger child might be right into the sensory experience while older preschoolers are busy making their own mud bricks.  With mud, there is something for everyone.

9.  Playing in the mud encourages creative thinking.

Playing with open-ended materials like mud stimulate creativity and imagination – things that are hard to jump-start later in life.

10.  Childhood memories.

Which brings me back to my own memories and perhaps yours as well.

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What’s in a Village?

Lots of children.

So says Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College and the author of an article in Psychology Today entitled “The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It.”

“Children learn the most valuable lessons from other children, away from adults,” Gray says.

In fact, he turns the much-used African proverb around to suggest that the village raises the child because of the presence of many children within its boundaries. He quotes J.R. Harris (1998):

The reason it takes a village is not because it requires a quorum of adults to nudge erring youngsters back onto the paths of righteousness. It takes a village because in a village there are always enough kids to form a play group.

Gray says that children are biologically designed to pay attention to the other children in their lives, to try to fit in with them, to be able to do what they to, to know what they know.

Throughout most of human history, that’s how children become educated and that’s still largely how children become educated today, despite our misguided attempts to stop it and turn the educating job over to adults.

There are many lessons, he says, that children learn or can learn from other children that they cannot or are not likely to learn from adults.

  1. Authentic communication

For example:  an adult points to a red ball and asks “What color is that?” Gray argues that this is not an honest question, since the adult knows the answer. It is not really a question at all; it is a test.  A child would never ask such a question, nor would a child give false praise to another child, the way that adults praise a child’s artwork, for example.

2. Independence and courage

According to Gray, the ultimate goal of childhood is to move away from dependence on parents and establish oneself as one’s own person. Part of gaining independence is gaining courage to face the challenges and deal with the emergencies that are part of every day life. Children must learn to manage fear.

3. Creating and understanding the purpose and modifiability of rules.

Adults follow the rules when they play a game. Children make up their own. When playing with other children, they feel free to challenge ideas about the rules. They learn to negotiate. They learn that rules are not ‘fixed in heaven’, but made by humans to make the game more fair.

This is an important lesson, Gray says. It is a cornerstone of democracy.

4. Practicing and building on the skills and values of adult culture

Children incorporate into their play many of the skills and values that they observe among adults. That is way farmers’ children play at farming, for example.

5. Getting along with others as equals

The adult-child relationship is not equal. The adult has all the power. By playing with other children, children learn how to get along with peers: how to pay attention to the needs of others, how to share, how to negotiate, how to assert their own needs and desires.

And here’s something else that Gray turns inside out and asks us to re-think. We bemoan the ‘screen time’ that our children have; we want to ban or limit that time. But Gray says that children are using the Internet to connect because adults have prevented them from getting together anywhere else. They have creatively found a way to do what they have always done.

If we did ban or limit screen time, Gray says, while still banning children from public spaces without adult supervision, we would finally succeed in destroying the culture of childhood.

We would prevent children from educating themselves in the ways they always have, and we would see the rise of a generation of adults who don’t know how to be adults because they never had a chance to practice it.

Gray’s entire article can be found at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201610/the-culture-childhood-we-ve-almost-destroyed-it.

Gardeners and Carpenters

An interview with psychologist and author Alison Gopnik in the August 22 issue of Macleans magazine is worth the read.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.

She is an internationally recognized leader in the study of children’s learning and development and was the first to argue that children’s minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions. She was one of the founders of the study of “theory of mind”, illuminating how children come to understand the minds of others, and she formulated the “theory theory”, the idea that children learn in the same way that scientists do. In other words, they formulate a theory and then test it to see if it works.

Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion-dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and thereby a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong – it’s not just based on bad science, it’s also bad for kids and parents.

Drawing on the study of human evolution and on her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is immensely important, the goal shouldn’t be to shape them so they turn out a certain way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and very different both from their parents and from one another. The variability and flexibility of childhood allow them to innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting” won’t make children learn – rather, caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.

– from the front jacket flap, “The Gardener and the Carpenter”, Alison Gopnik 2016

Gopnik uses the carpenter as a metaphor for the 21st century parent. The carpenter knows from the outset what he wants to create; he has a plan. Using the tools at his disposal, he whittles and joins and sometimes hammers. The end product is his. If there are faults with it, they lie in his execution of the work.

The gardener, on the other hand, plants the seed and has no idea what will grow. But he gives the seed the best chance he can. He waters as necessary. He culls the weeds that come up around the plant. He keeps an eye out for pests. His job is to watch over the plant as it grows, but he has little control over what the adult plant will look like. It may look nothing like the picture on the seed package.

A carpenter actively participate in the creation of his project. When it is done, he gets to keep it. A gardener on the other hand oversees the process, but possession is temporary.

A person could play with the analogy for a very long time, finding much to think about.

 The concept of parenting as a verb is interesting and relatively new. As Gobnik says in her interview in Macleans, we don’t ‘child’ our parents or ‘wife’ our husbands or ‘husband’ our wives. So why do we ‘parent’ our children?

If you would like to learn more about Gopnik’s theory, read the Maclean’s article. Better yet, read the book.

When it’s summertime…

“Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

There was nothing like a Saturday – unless it was the Saturday leading up to the last week of school and into summer vacation. That of course was all the Saturdays of your life rolled into one big shiny ball.”
Nora Roberts

There is indeed nothing quite as full of promise as the month of June. It is the month of lady slippers, cowslips, tiger lilies and wild roses. It is the month of dragon flies, fireflies and croaking frogs. It is the month of end-of-year parties, field trips and school’s end. It is the countdown to summer solstice.

Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.”  

-Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth

Feel the grass beneath your feet.

Lie under a tree and watch the leaves.

Lie on your stomach and watch the ants march by.

Collect sticks and build a house for the fairies.

Listen to the wind.

Dig for worms.

Grow some vegetables in a pot.

Go on a nature hunt.

Head for the park.

Collect shells at the beach.

Pick berries. Eat berries.

Make a nature bracelet by wrapping duct tape around your wrist, sticky side up. Go for a walk and put things you see on your bracelet – small sticks, leaves, flowers, pebbles.

“A dark night, lightened up by thousands of glowing fireflies… It’s magical…”
Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Catch fireflies in a jar – and then let them go.

Singing in the rain,

I’m singing in the rain.

What a beautiful feeling,

I’m happy again!

Play in a puddle.

Catch the rain on your tongue.

Put a bowl outside and guess how much water there will be in the bowl when the rain is done.

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Bake cookies and make ice cream sandwiches.

Build a fort in the living room out of a big cardboard box.

Eat your ice cream sandwiches inside your fort.

Rainbow 1984

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky.

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man.

William Wordsworth

Count the colours in a rainbow. Draw your own using whatever colours you like.

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by. ~Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Read outside. Read inside. Go to a library.

Make a book about the animals you have seen on your outdoor trips. A is for ant. B is for bird or bee or BEAR! C is for caterpillar or cow. D is for duck or deer.

And maybe when September comes, you will be able to say:

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

What a wonderful wish for parents and children everywhere.