Simple Sunday-A Simple Toddler Calendar (for when you are away, or when you’re not)

A few weeks ago Dadda and I went on a little mini-break.  It was some highly prized alone time that we were really looking forward to.  It was not lost on us that our now two-year-old would be more aware of our absence than ever before.  This not something we do often and we wanted to make sure he was prepared for what was to come.  It was also important that he was able to feel some sense of control around our time away.

Being that children his age have a sense of time that is mostly limited to “yesterday” (as in that happened sometime before today) and “tomorrow” (that will happen sometime after today) our goal was to use his daily routine to help prepare him for what was to come.

To this end we made the following “calendar”.  I use that term loosely as it really is an amalgamation of his drawings, a few words and mostly large blocks of time before and after lunch and dinner.

Collin’s completed calendar

 

The process went as follows: As he watched I drew a skeleton of his time with his ‘Mimi’ and away from us.  I filled in the major parts of the day and he helped pick ‘icons’ that represented these parts of the day so he could ‘read’ them on his own.  Following that he and his Mimi went through their time together and they both drew pictures of what they would do during open blocks of time.  As you can see he took great pride in his depictions of things like swings at the park, grass, or a picnic.  Yes it looks to us like he just drew all over it but to him it was really his calendar.

Though we have nothing to measure against I feel confident that he was more comfortable with us a way since he had a visual image of when we would be coming home.  He was free to play and free from worry.  Sure he missed us, but he didn’t seem to have anxiety over it.

Finally the calendar served a second purpose.  Playing at the park the evening after we went home he said he “had feelings Mamma Dadda gone”.  We were able to talk about how we missed each other and then he was able to go to the calendar to show us the fun stuff he had done.  He loved talking all about his time with Mimi. The calendar was up for over a week after we got home, often discussed and revisited.

I would totally use it again, even if we are not separated, just to help him deal with the passing of time in other situations.

Happy Sunday all! Hope the beginning of summer is treating you all well!

Melissa

 

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Simple Sunday-How to Keep Your Toddler Busy (for a half-hour straight!)

In our classroom we use play dough with new accessories all of the time.  We use cookie cutters, pine cones, leaves, feathers, random parts to broken toys and sometimes just nothing at all.  Last week I was at a loss for what to do with a bunch of spirited two year olds and opened my cabinet to find some q-tips.  We also use these in many ways, for painting, in shaving cream, to mix paint etc.  For whatever reason it had never occurred to me to put these two together before.

What followed was pure magic.  The magic of toddlers completely engrossed in their work.  Working independently with out looking for guidance from an adult.  They worked with play dough, q-tips and their ‘training’ scissors for almost thirty-five minutes.  I urge to you give it a try if you haven’t already!

Tiny fingers grasp the q-tip with delicate precision.

Many discoveries came about organically like how to pull objects through the other side or how long the play dough will dangle on a q-tip before it falls off.

Porcupines, cakes and umbrellas all around!!

We tried all sorts of ways to insert and remove the q-tips including using the scissors as “tongs”.

They were lined up and counted.

Made into towers.

And proudly shown off (while blowing out the candles of course!)

A beautifully productive, child-led morning of play, learning and exploration.  Hope you all had a great weekend.  Here’s to another week of supporting the play and honoring the feelings of the littles in our lives!

Good Sunday night to you all!

Melissa

Simple Sunday-Staying Present, Moving Forward

The main goal of the ‘Simple Sunday’ post is to chronicle my journey to a more simplified, honest and intentional family life.  In all honesty sometimes this isn’t very simple at all.

In my last ‘Simple Sunday‘ post I wrote about how taking control of my own emotions and giving them a voice is beginning to lead me to a more peaceful, synchronized home life.  And it is, really and truly.  Learning about my own emotional landscape is quite a journey but one that seems to go hand in hand with parenting. I am up for the challenge. Every day uncover new and interesting things about myself or the way I respond to situations with my son or other children in my care.

All of this uncovering can come at a price though.  It is hard for me to ease up on myself sometimes.  Hard to remember that I am thinking in a new pattern.  There is a fine line balancing self-reflection with self-degradation. Sometimes things get busy or I get to stressed.  I am less than patient with Collin or I am not as organized as I should be.  As I learn to be more accepting of others around me (particularly my sweet boy and wonderful husband) I also need to work on being accepting of myself.

Part of being truly honest with yourself is accepting yourself.  We can all grow, read, and learn from each other.  Parenting done well demands this.  To stay healthy as a family I think it is important that we are always learning and growing.  Moving forward.  However we must make sure to appreciate where we stand, flaws and all.  In the here and now.  Simplicity is being truly happy without a rush to move on to something else.

To truly live a simple life there must be mistakes, allowances for real life.  Time spent giggling while in the midst of a mess. Time honestly apologizing for mistakes.  Maybe a few weeks with too many toys, disorganized still after a birthday party or Christmas gift bonanza.  Blog posts left unwritten and some books left unfinished.

As growing Mammas and Daddas what we need most is love.  For ourselves and our littles.  We need to give them the benefit of the doubt  and we need to do the same for ourselves.  Just being here, now, doing our best is simply the most wonderful part of our job.

Happy Sunday,

Melissa

Simple Sunday- The Rhythm of Family

Some weeks we’ve got it, and some weeks we don’t.  By “it” I mean a rhythm to our family life.  I don’t just mean our routine because by necessity we follow a similar routine every weekday.  Get up, make lunches, get dressed, get out the door to school (me and Collin) or work (Dadda).  Then get home, cook, eat, bath and bed.

Our rhythm is that intangible synchronicity where we are all moving together comfortably.  We are working together to keep the house clean, food on the table and laundry folded.  It is when we all feel like we are able to get what we need and give what others are asking for.

Not that we expect perfection (okay, maybe I do sometimes but I am WORKING ON IT!) It doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or issues to work through.  It means that at the end of the day we are okay with what was left undone and happy with what was accomplished. It’s the steady drum beat of family life, calm and welcoming.  When the rhythm is missing its more like an alternative band at practice, you never know if you’re about to hear a lilting ballad or an all-out screaming anthem.  In short, without our rhythm life seems more stressful and less fulfilling.

As mothers we come to learn early on that “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Whether we like it or not how we feel, act and participate in our family has a large effect on the family ‘vibe’.  Through my beginning study on Nonviolent Communication I have come to realize that when I am disconnected from the rhythm of my family it is because I am not getting my needs met.  In truth this is often because I have no clue what my *real* needs are.  If I am overcome by disorder in the house I don’t always recognize that, instead it may come out as frustration with my husband for not picking up enough.  If I need a break for some me time, I may instead lose my patience with Collin.

I can’t force my husband to do anything he doesn’t want to do (and really he does so, so much already) and I can’t control the fact that my two-year-old is, in fact, acting like a two-year-old.  What I do have control over is how I speak to them and if I take enough time to center myself and feel what my true needs really are.  As mammas we all will have moments when we let things go for too long without checking in with ourselves.  We need to take inventory of where our emotions are coming from in order to give ourselves back the power to control how we react to our feelings.

I know I can help our family’s rhythm to keep humming along by recognizing what is bothering me and doing something about it.  I have found it freeing to say to my self, “Self, you feel like you want more order in the house right now, how can we accomplish this? By organizing that pile of papers?” Then I can choose if I really want to organize those papers right now, put it on a list or let it go.  I can let go of trying to control others as I may have done in the past (“Babe will you puh-leeze organize those papers? and um..do it now?”)

Having space to make our own choices and recognize what we all need  helps us all work better as a team.  In the hopes of helping us all (even the littlest among us) to recognize, verbalize and learn about our feelings and needs I have posted the following two lists on our refrigerator.

 Thanks to the Center for Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication Needs List 

NVC Feelings list

I know we’ll continue to come in and out of rhythm, have good weeks and bad weeks.  Part of getting back into the rhythm is just allowing yourself to be a little off sometimes and then jumping back in.

Thanks for reading! Heres to a great week 🙂

 Melissa

Simple Sunday-Getting it together

The last few weeks have been those kind of weeks.  You know, the ones where you are barely hanging on to the day-to-day maintenance of the house, feeding your family and keeping your sanity? I can’t even say why really.  I know that I always get a little thrown off when there is a big event ( I think this build up then difficult-to-rejoin-life-again habit runs in the family).

It was Collin’s birthday at the beginning of the month and his amazing Auntie Mandy and soon-to-be Uncle Jon came to stay with us.  I was a little thrown by the immense amount of clean up, shopping/meal planning and new-found viruses that descended in the week following.  All in all though it wasn’t that bad.

I guess if I had to place blame on my lack of organization these last few weeks it would be on my lazy and wonderful choice to just not care for a while.  To laugh with my newly two-year-old son and ever so supporting husband.  To not judge myself because I come home too tired at the end of a long day to write an inspiring and thoughtful blog post (though I swear they are up there…floating around somewhere).

The benefit has been that I have found that burning bright in Collin’s eyes is a new light.  It is as if the spirit that was in him from birth is just now exploding out of him.  The jolly head bops that always accompanied any musical interlude have now given way to full-fledged dance moves (seriously I swear he choreographs this stuff!) He is just more HIM than he ever has been and I have been relishing getting to know him these last weeks.

In honor of keeping it simple this Sunday I am now working on ways of organizing my life so that I am able to get done what I need to do, what is most important to me and what keeps the rhythm of the family humming along.  While leaving time to continue to rediscover my son everyday (and maybe my husband too if we’re lucky) First off for me was to simplify my meal planning.

We have been eating a mainly vegetarian, sometimes vegan, locally grown, as-whole-foods-as-possible-due-to-time-and-financial-constraints diet for a while now and we really have been putting more effort into it since the beginning of the  year.  This has been great fun, but planning a menu can take me two hours and it is complicated to try out new recipes in the hour I have between arriving home and putting dinner on the table.  To that end I have mocked up a simple meal plan, dinners only, to help me keep a rhythm without getting boring.  I was inspired by the “Organize your whole life” series that has just started over at Modern Parents Messy Kids (great site, btw!). Through them I found this great post that was right up my ally, this is the main template I used to make my own meal plan (minus the shopping list on the side, I use my phone for this). This organizing thing is not my forte and I’ll never claim it to be.  I just want to figure out a plan that works for us!

Any advice? What has worked for you? How do you decide what needs organization and where you should just simply get rid of!?!

Thanks for reading! Happy Simple Sunday 🙂

Simple Sunday-Simply looking beyond the “seen”

Last week at nap time, admitedly the roughest part of my school day with Collin, we lost connection.  He was yelling at the top of his lungs, other children were trying to sleep, my co-teacher and I had things to do (wash dishes, take lunch breaks) and he just. would. not. stop.  In anger I walked out of the classroom leaving him with another teacher to help him fall asleep.  I am sure this may seem fairly benign to some, but I have NEVER left him without a proper ‘bye-bye’ I always let him know where I’ll be even if it means a few tears and he is usually fine with this arrangement.  On this day however I said “Fine! If you don’t want mommy to put you to sleep then Sandra can” I grabbed the dishes and left the room as he began to scream and sob for me.

I wasn’t gone long, I did my dishes and came back to the room to my boy sweating, sobbing, and gagging.  He wasn’t just angry that I left he was heartbroken because in essence I had said “Fine, if you won’t listen to me you don’t get my love right now” He was confused, sad and disconnected from his Mamma.  It hurt us both.

The beauty of something like this though is that we can grow as parents.  Our relationship can grow as Mamma and son.  We can reconginze our selves as fallible human beings with emotions that pass through us.  As the emotioal cloud lifted I looked to others for support and discussion.  My husband is always great at talking me down and reminding me that it is no good for a child to have a mother who never feels, mistakes happen and you will work through this.  I checked my phone and found this wonderful writing from Lu at Parent2ParentU

Imagine that, instead of LOOKING at our child’s BEHAVIOR, we thought of what is happening behind the scene…BEHIND THE SEEN. 🙂

So, our child is screaming and writhing on the floor, and we think immediately about the state of her BRAIN in that moment. 

Or our child is sullen, anxious, withdrawn, and we think immediately about the state of his brain and what’s weighing on his HEART.

Our child is agitated, hiding, dangerously impulsive, quick to blame, and we think immediately about his learned STORY, his internal TURMOIL.

Behavior is NOT automatically a story of (im)morality, future trouble, failure, or deficiency. But, if we don’t practice “parenting BEHIND THE SEEN”…we can unwittingly co-create this story! ♥ Lu Parent2ParentU

Aha! That is exactly what I was doing! I was focusing on just what I saw, just the immediate moment of him not being quiet.  I was already worked up and ready for a break.  This was a beautiful reminder to look beyond what is going on right in front of us and look deeply into our children’s emotional lives.

I don’t know about you but it can be hard for me to ‘take a deep breath’ or just calm down when I have anger coursing through my veins.  My mind knows I am not reacting in the most compassionate or considerate way but I need a tool to get me back to ‘home’.  After reading this I jotted down three simple questions to ask myself next time I was in a similar situation (read: a situation where a power struggle was brewing and a behavior was escalating)

So for next time, my “Three questions to see behind the seen” :

  1. What need of mine am I expecting him to meet? My need to not have people or property harmed? Alright…but my need to have calm and quiet? How can I reasonably expect that from a 23 month old? In many cases where a power struggle is brewing we see a parent expecting some need to be fulfilled by a child.  A need for order, a need for quiet, a need for them to eat ‘healty’ food.  This reflection allows me to look more deeply into what may be causing him to behave in a certain manner instead of continuing down a path of control.
  2. Have I stopped to think about the his need behind the action? If I have yet to stop and think about why (in this case Collin is rarely if ever tired at the time I was trying to lay him down for nap) If I neglect to take this step I will be fighting a losing battle from the beginning.
  3. Who has the ‘burden’ of solving this problem? If Collin reaches out to hit someone I hope to be able to hold his arm and say “I can’t let you hit him” The burden of solving the issue should be on me as I am the adult in any situation (even if I forget to act like it on occasion) As he grows he will be able to take more responsibility for himself and his problem solving but I will always be there to offer support and suggestions.  I never plan on leaving the entire burden of solving any major problem on him if he is making it clear (with behavior or otherwise) that he needs the help.

There you have it…here’s hoping I’ll just do better next time!

Thanks for reading!

Simple Sunday-Some Simple Honesty

Something has changed in the way that Collin relates to those around him.  He is more conversational and will stop in mid-sentence to look deeply into our eyes as we discuss something.  He will look up at me as we are reading a book to judge my face, my tone and my reaction.  When I try to express my frustration calmly and honestly he will say “Mamma angry” as he analyzes what is going on.  It isn’t that his looking at me is new, this is looking into me.

As a teacher I have built many strong relationships with children I work with.  My support of them emotionally during the school day can noticeably enhance their learning experience.  With your own child  the ability to deeply connect is ten times greater and within the moments of connection lay building blocks for emotional resilience that will last a lifetime.

I admit that as I look deeper inside myself I don’t find answers.  What I find is more confusion and work that needs to be done. This week a few articles have been circulating regarding building resilience, emotional intelligence  and handling strong emotions. (Awesome articles, check them out!)  As I read through these I think two thoughts:

1- Wow, I totally do this!  I empathize with what he is feeling, connect to his emotional side and put words to his complicated emotions!

2- Oh my gosh, this is rough! How do I express my emotions without labeling or blaming him? How can I stay calm and empathize with him when I am frustrated as well?

 

I have found that expressing myself as calmly as possible in very simple terms is all I can do.  It is also one of the best things I can do for him.  I can help to empathize and verbalize his emotions for him, until he is able to do it on his own.  I can be honest with myself, not expecting too much.  Giving both of us the gift of a relationship worthy of those sweet eyes that look so deeply into mine.

Of course I continue to do work on myself.  On understanding him.  On managing my daily stress level so he is not an innocent bystander if something explodes.  But really, as parents we have so much to do.  So much to do right, everyday.  The beginning of strong relationship is built on honesty and care for others.  That I can do, everyday.  The rest we have a chance to do, again and again and again until we get it right.

Happy Sunday! Have a simply great week!

 

 

Simple Sunday-Some simply great sites

As I have begun this foray into the blogesphere I have found many sites that have given me information, challenged my thinking, filled my planning book with new ideas for actvities and shown me I am not alone in a love for play and respect for the child.

Below are just a few of these great sites:

1-Janet Lansbury:Elevating Childcare  (informational, full of deep respect for the completeness of a child from birth, based on the teachings of Magda Gerber and honest posts on her journey as a mother)

2-Childhood101 (everything is here from parenting, ideas for playful learning to eating and organizing your home)

3-Teacher Tom (what can I say!?? I just love him, all his posts and what he brings to the table…check it out!)

4-Play at home mom (this is a popular one, if you haven’t ‘liked’ them on facebook go ahead join the club and do it.  You’ll get regular ideas for fun, opened play ideas that are fairly inexpensive and easy to do at home)

5-Aha! Parenting (this is such a resourceful website for information on connected, positive communication and discipline, Thanks Dr. Laura Markham!)

Simple Sunday – What I miss

This weekend at the tail end of an eight hour CPR class I got hit with the worst virus to attack my body in years. Since I became a mamma I have not really been sick enough to be completely out of game. Sick enough to neglect laundry, most definitely. Too
sick to carry Collin up the stairs? No
way. Until this nasty virus snuck up on me.
Luckily I have a husband who didn’t bat an eye at having to take over all childcare responsibilities. Yet, I couldn’t really enjoy this break from caregiving. As I lay there in bed I came to realize how much I love all of the day to day simple interactions I share with my boy. The first few hours, fine, but after that I started to crave our easy interactions, the weight of his body on my hip, our diaper change giggles and silly inside jokes.
There was a time early in his life when I would have given anything for this time off. Time off from the constant worry early motherhood brought me, time away from someone else’s needs. Time to just be with my husband as we used to. Now I just feel simple gratitude for the good health (sniffles not withstanding) we all usually are blessed with.
Even though I was around Collin during these last few days of hazy illness I feel as if I haven’t seen him. I miss him terribly. I can tell he misses me too and now that I am (relatively) healthy and back to school he is home with the same bug. Apart again. It is the touch and nearness that we both are so used to that is lacking.
What if one of us was chronically ill? What if we didn’t have the time to cuddle, hug, hold hands and explore the world as we do everyday? There are many families in such a situation. I wouldn’t imagine anyone would want pity, but I would think they would want us to be more grateful for what we have.

During this holiday season, when worry about money overtakes your joy for the season, long lines and holiday traffic sit the Grinch upon your shoulder, or family squabbles make you wish for it all to be over too soon turn to your child (or just one nearby if you come to this blog by way of teaching) share the little moments. Escape with just them if you must. Hold their tiny hand. Take a deep breath and remember how amazing it is that both of you just ARE.

Simple Sunday-The KISS method

I feel as if we have fallen head-first into the holiday season. We had a great long Thanksgiving weekend with my side of the family, including a three-day stay with Collin’s Auntie Mandy and Soon-to-be Uncle Jon. This week has been filled with tree lightings, snow and santa sightings. Collin is excited, he feels the happy energy of love, family and music filling our house. Every year is more fun with him around. I enjoy the changing of the seasons more as we look forward to the exciting moments we will share as a family.
As any mom knows the holidays are not all laughter, singing and cookies. It takes a lot of work to prepare for each event, outing and gift exchange.  Many days I feel a pull to do more, plan more and spend more.  Then I am reminded that this is not what the holidays are about.  Particularly at his age what he needs is for us to slow down, enjoy the moments and celebrate the small, but joyous moments of the season.

When I get too consumed by commercialism I always have Daddy there to remind me to K.I.S.S. or keep it simple stupid! Simple is usually more memorable in the long run anyway.

In the last six years of teaching preschool every holiday season I see families who really enjoy the time and families literally on the edge of cracking…this is what I have learned from them.

Here are five ways to K.I.S.S. this holiday season if you have a toddler:

1) Don’t over schedule! With only four weekends in the month of December every single choice you make will affect the availability of your time, patience and self.  Only say yes to events that you think you truly will enjoy or that will have meaning to you and your kids.  I know, easier said than done, but it is worth a shot.

2) Keep your child’s development/age in mind when planning events.  Try to be sensitive to their sleep schedules.  Is it worth it to stay up to spend a few extra hours with a much-loved but little seen family member? Probably.  Is it worth it to miss a nap (with cuddles and a nice book) to stand in line for the mall santa? Probably not.

3) Plan events through the season that will only involve your immediate family.  Quite time for just Mom, Dad, and kiddos can be hard to come by these days but for most younger children this is really all they really want. Allow loads of extra time for these activities so your child can move at his/her own pace and explore what they want.

4) Allow your child to be involved on their level.  If they want to do something, let them, even if it isn’t the “right” way to do it.  Let them have ownership of the holiday.  Does that mean some cookies may end up headless? Ornaments may drag on the floor? Yep.  Will they be more engaged and proud of their participation? Yep.

5) Incorporate the season into your daily life.  Whatever is most joyous for you, singing, cooking, crafting, pick something and do a little bit each day.  It will help keep your heart in the right place 🙂

Merry Christmas!!

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