Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Turning of the Year - 9 recommendations

The turning point of the year is a time to look back at what we have done, and consider what we could do better in the future. In the northern hemisphere where I live most of the time, the days are shorter at this time of year leading to more introspection and reflection. It is a time to take hold of one’s own development and self-education. 

British poet and playwright Christopher Fry wrote the following words in 1951 in his play A Sleep of Prisoners. They also speak clearly to our time, to our moment in world history;

The human heart can go to the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no dark winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.

Where are you going? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake....

What can we each do to wake up? It is no easy task, this “longest stride of soul.” Only we ourselves know what to do to make ourselves into into the better person we can become. How can I better serve the world and the young children who are the future?

I wish you all strength and enthusiasm in your own work at shining some light into your shadows and creating new habits that are more supportive and life affirming. 

As we transition from 2015 to 2016, I’d like to share nine recommendations that are valuable and meaningful for me - some of my favorite resources to help you on your way. .

1. The Alliance for Childhood promotes policies and practices that support children’s healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living. Their public education campaigns bring to light both the promise and the vulnerability of childhood. The Alliance has published various writings in support of healthy development and a sustainable future for our children. They campaign on behalf of the children for a more just and healthy future.

2. For 20 years now, LILIPOH magazine has been offering ideas on living a healthy lifestyle from many perspectives. Their wonderful articles address nutrition and food, health, gardening, social life, education, economics and more. I hope you have had a chance to read some of their issues, if not...now is the time.

3. The Challenge of the Will, written by Margret Meyerkort and Rudi Lissau, offers guidance for understanding young children and human beings of all ages. The tone of this book is very much one of questioning. We are not told what to do, but through the images that are offered we can decide how to best meet the needs of the young child. This little book also looks to the self-education of the adult as a key to the child’s healthy development. When we can wake up and be more present, we can better serve the needs of the children.

4. Helle Heckmann led a program for 1- to 6-year-olds in Copenhagen and has traveled widely offering workshops, lectures and mentoring. For 30 years, her goal has been to support parents and child caregivers who want to nurture early childhood and help young children blossom and thrive. Helle writes an inspiring blog!

The next few listings are folks who support the work of adult self development. They offer tools and paradigms for self-education as well as practices for self-transformation.

5. Rick Hanson is a psychologist, writer and Buddhist teacher. His books include Hardwiring Happiness and Buddha's Brain. Rick’s work examines the relationship of meditative activity and neurology and offers techniques for changing our own neurology. He also offers an online program to help you develop positive neuroplasticity called Foundations for Wellbeing. This program helps you turn everyday experiences into inner strengths including kindness toward yourself, insight into others, grit, gratitude and self-worth.

6. David Richo is another psychologist and Buddhist teacher. His many books include You Are Not What You Think and How to Be and Adult in Relationships. David offers insight into how getting our needs met in our early years (or not) has repercussions in adulthood.

7. Brene Brown has devoted her life to studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her insights into the human condition in our modern times is profound. She also has written three bestselling books:Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. 

Drs. Hanson, Richo and Brown all have numerous audio and video recordings you can access on the internet to more fully consider their work and its implications for your life.

8. The 8-Shields Foundation is dedicated to the work of deep nature connection, culture repair, cultural mentoring and community resilience. They offer support in strengthening families and guidance in developing true mentoring. The practices they offer come from the wisdom traditions and elders of many cultures.

9. Self-care. Nobody can do this for you. You need to find some balance and remember to enjoy yourself. What do you love to do?

I suggest reading delicious novels and listening to great music. Here are a few authors I suggest; Louise Erdrich (Plague of Doves, Four Souls), Terry Pratchett (the Disc World books) and Jane Yolen (Except the Queen). Each of these writers has published many, many books and I haven’t found a single lemon yet.

And as for music, if you ever get a chance to see Bongo Love perform, don’t miss it! This band of young musicians from Zimbabwe play a unique style of music they call ‘afrocoustics.’  Their positive message of love and peace is steeped in an infectious rhythm and high musicianship. 

Make time for renewal and fun! Take some grownup time. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Self-care your way to a balanced life that enriches your children too!

So as we enter into 2016, again I wish you wisdom, strength and enthusiasm to meet the world and nurture the young children who are the future. The world is depending on them! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

5 Guiding Thoughts for the Holiday Season

As a continuation of my previous post, I want to offer some more thoughts for the season.

Many religious traditions point to the specialness of this time of year. What the many traditions speak of at this time of year are light and love. Because of the shorter days and often cooler weather, there is a tendency toward inwardness. This can manifest as quiet reflection, contemplation and meditation, and can thereby be a time of a birth of the true self, that core part of our psyche that we want to guide us to awake responsiveness.

We adults must make the time for this crucial self development activity!

So here are my five guiding thoughts.

1. This is a time of year to remember our human connectedness, human community, and the warmth and love of human relationships. 

Phone or write cards (actual paper in envelopes with stamps) to reconnect with family and friends who you may have neglected reaching out to over the year or years. Sit down and eat meals together without electronic distractions. Experience the warmth of human gatherings.

2. Remember your deep and true human values of giving, compassion, caring, generosity, sharing, warmth, and love.

Out of your care and compassion, what support and help can you offer others who may be in need? A hug for a friend or a meal for a homeless person?

3. How can you help your child toward these through your example?

Rather than a mood of getting, frantic shopping, stress, and the over stimulation of malls, movies, and consumerism, create quiet times reading stories, singing and making things together and simply being together.

4. How about making time for cooking together.?

Surround your child with warmth of the modern hearth, the smells of cooking, the warmth of your activity, the giving of cooking for others, cooking as a gift? Maybe make some sandwiches that you can bring downtown and give away to folks who have less to eat that you.

5. Create an environment of less stimulation for your young child!

The world of stores is so bright and loud and intentionally overstimulating. Find ways to leave your young child at home if you must enter the rushing shopping world. Grandma or Grandpa would be so happy to have time with your children, or maybe you can trade off with other parents.

Do you know that the light source with the closest spectrum of light as sunlight is candle light? Have less bright lights (including colorful screens) and less loud music for your young children. Read and sing by candlelight. It can be such an enriching experience for you and your children.

Reminder: My books are still on sale for 15% off through December. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stevespit

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What your child really needs this holiday season (and book sale through Dec. 31)

I write this at the beginning of November. Halloween has passed, and I am guessing many people are gearing up for a coming holiday season. Many family traditions involve celebrations and holidays in the winter months. Thanksgiving comes at the end of November. This year Diwali is November 11. In 2015, Hanukkah starts the evening of December 6, the same day many families celebrate St. Nicholas. Yule is celebrated on the Solstice, December 21. Many families celebrate Christmas December 25, and the four weeks of Advent that lead up to it. Kwanzaa starts December 26.

One thing these Festivals have in common is a they celebrate the light in a time of year when the days are shorter. These celebrations generate gatherings of families and friends, sharing food together and often there are gifts exchanged.

What does your young child need this holiday season?

Let’s start out with what your child does not need.
She doesn’t need the new Hello Barbie.
He doesn’t need a new Touch and Swipe Baby Phone.
She doesn’t need the latest Game Boy or Disney Princess Doll.
He can do without a Drone Camera (even if you really want it).

It is not toys and gifts that your child needs. Your child most need you to truly connect with her. It isn’t stuff that is the real need - it is the fabric of a connected life. Connected to family and family traditions, to nature and the seasons, and connected to herself. The example of connecting the adults offer is the style of connecting imitated by the child. It is up to you to show the path to connecting in the holiday season.

It is you that your child most needs. You, the parent available, present and connecting. You are your child’s guide in this life on earth, and you are her example of how to live. To me, holidays are an opportunity to develop and nurture traditions of connecting with each other. And I’d like to share some specific suggestions.

What are the foods that are important to you as part of your family holiday? Do you have the same foods every year on that holiday? That is something that makes memories and helps your child have direct experiences of the cycle of the year.

When I think of foods, I try to think how the child can engage in the preparation of those foods. Can he help cut up the vegetables? Can she pour in the ingredients for the sauces? Can you knead the dough together? Be a creative cook and create ways for your young child to help prepare the food. Food preparation is a social gesture of service. Encourage your child in this way. One tip though - plan for the extra time that these young helpers will add to your prep time.

Another aspect of food is that you can make food together for other people as gifts. Grandma would love some pumpkin bread you made for her. Uncle Steve would be thankful for a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And don’t forget the mail delivery person and your health care professionals. The gift of food is a gift of love!

There are many other types of simple gifts you can make together with your children, the internet is littered with them. You can help your child to create gifts for siblings and other relatives. It is a wonderful sea change when you can shift your family culture from gift-getting to gift-giving! And you have created this opportunity for spending time together engaged on behalf of another person. Incredible!

What about singing together? My fondest elementary school memory is the weeks leading up to Winter Break each year. The school would open a half hour early for those who wanted, and the halls were full of teachers and children singing together songs from various religions and traditions. You can create this on a smaller scale and sing at home, maybe after dinner each evening, or in the car. “Of course,” you say. “That’s a great idea but I can’t sing.” The secret is, your child is NOT a critic. She will be a joyous participant in song with you and you will even discover it is FUN.

How about arranging for some friends and families to get together and walk around a neighborhood knocking on doors and offering songs to the residents? Caroling is great fun and you can even meet your neighbors. The possibilities are infinite.

Maybe you can have a special family outing to a special performance. Perhaps there is an annual artistic or musical performance in your area that you can make part of your family annual tradition, and each year make sure to return as a family in your fancy outing clothes. In my area, El Teatro Campesino presents theartrical productions and every other year they offer a version of the story of ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ they call “La Virgen del Tepeyac.” For my younger daughters, and now my granddaughter, it is our family tradition to head down to San Juan Bautista and enjoy the pageant (it’s really an amazing show) of the meeting of the traditional culture with the Spanish colonialists. 

If giving gifts is important to you, I suggest limit the amount. Wisely choose the one gift that is just right for the child, and that she will enjoy and treasure. Gifts made by you are extra special.  

A gift that is something for the child to do, or make, is a great way to go. How about a tool box or sewing kit and some supplies to go along with it. And then be sure to make something along with your child so she can learn by imitating you (because imitation is how the young child learns).

What about one special book as a gift? Maybe each year, for a birthday or a holiday gift, choose one book that you sense will mean something for your child. And then after he receives the book, read it to him again and again.

Oh...don’t forget to limit your own use of electronic devices so they are not an obstacle to connecting with your child. Have some electronic free time, and make the time to use your smart phone when your child is asleep, or otherwise engaged and you are elsewhere. Be smarter than your smart phone.

The best present for your child is your presence. True connecting with your young child takes some active will on your part to overcome the habits our consumer culture has created. It’s worth the effort.

And as a holiday offering, all my books are available at 15% off through December 31. Click here for details. 

Happy Holidays to you all, whatever holidays you enjoy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two Conditions for Creativity

Creativity requires 2 conditions: opportunity, and a feeling of safety. 

There is a crisis of creativity in our world. Why? Because creativity does not have so much opportunity, and because our world is filled with fears and anxieties. These two things are the cause of the dearth of creativity.  

Several recent articles point to the relationship of widespread portable electronic devices and decrease in creativity. (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-mobile-devices-rob-you-of-creativity/) When we, and our children, are allowed to be bored from time to time, with no devices that entertain and occupy, our imagination is free to be active. The children need these times to develop their own creativity that will be their lifelong capacity. Boredom is the medium that creativity can develop within. Children that are allowed the opportunity to daydream without being constantly entertained develop powerful muscles for self-generated creativity and happiness. (see the late Burton White, Ph.D., Harvard Univ.)

To nurture the development of imagination in young children the essential ingredient is play and lots of it. To create a foundation for adult capacities of creativity, innovation and imagination, make sure that child gets plenty of time for free, creative, unstructured, improvisational play. Play in which the point is the playing, the process. Play where the real world falls away and the experience seems to make time stop. Play that is self regulated by the children and is free of adult direction and goals.

The important thing is that the young child’s play must be self-directed and allowed to proceed without adult intervention (unless safety is compromised). When the child in fully engaged in his play, totally gone from the ‘real’ world such as we adults know it, he is making discoveries and connections and laying the foundation for creativity and innovation that will be a lifelong capacity. True early childhood play has no goal or product intended, it is pure improvisation.

Adult fears and worries interfere with the young child’s possibility of play. Fear and anxiety pervade the adult world. Politics and advertising rely on fear as a persuading tool, and it permeates our culture. The children of today are surrounded by the fears of the adults, and the world of the adults is filled with more and more fears and anxiety. Adults' fears interfere with play, the children’s avenue for developing social skills and mastering their own fears. 

As we know, the young child as wholly sense organ experiences not only the sense-perceptible world, but also the feelings and even thinking of those in her surroundings. Fear and anxiety in the adults is experienced in an immediate way by the young child. Fears in the adults around them yield anxious children. 

Anxious children have difficulty entering into free creative play with others. True play can live when the environment feels safe to the child. Then protective and defensive behaviors are at a minimum, and the child can be vulnerable. One has to feel safe to be vulnerable. Play is based on vulnerability. A tense and anxious or fear-filled atmosphere for a child evokes defensive and protective behavior. The nature of play involves risk. So we adults have to establish a foundation of safety so play can arise.

There are so many fears that affect adults in our time. I will not list them, suffice to say that the adults' fears and anxieties can result in the child being unable to let go into play. The nature of play involves risk. Children need a lack of outer control over their play. Yet out of fear, how much adult controlling of the children's play happens? 

Are there ways to decrease our anxiety and fear? Can we learn to let go of control and allow the children to freely play? There is no recipe for these, but we each owe it to the children and the future to find the way. One part of the answer is in finding our own joy so we can create an environment of love and joy. Then the child can play and his capacity for creativity is strengthened.

Play allows the child to control their own fears. It can be a safe environment in which to deal with fear issues. And play can only be in an environment where the child feels safe.
We adults need to create a safe space for the child where they feel cared about, loved, and allowed to express themselves and without our anxiety rising up, so the children can open up and embrace the universe through their play.

There is a crisis of creativity in our world. The way to change that is to nurture an environment of play, play, play for young children.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

“Grandpa, can you see what’s in my mind?”

It’s easy to take things for granted. I was reminded of that when my 6-year-old granddaughter recently said to me, “Grandpa, can you see what’s in my mind?”

As an adult, I experience that the world of my own thoughts is mine and mine alone. (Of course, there are some people who have access to others’ thoughts, but that is rare.) A young child does not have this experience. She can sense what others are feeling and thinking. We all have had experiences when a young child somehow received our unspoken thoughts or feelings. Adults have filters that are not very developed in young children. Additionally, the neurology of the young child is not mature so the capacity for reasoning and understanding abstract ideas is minimal. (See my previous recent posts for more on this.)

Alongside neurological development a complementary process is taking place in the young child. The experience of the separateness of her own self is arising. The newborn experiences a oneness with all sense experiences. That experiencing is of the sense perceptions themselves, but not of a center, a self that is having those sense experiences. You can say it is perception without conception, of experiences without thinking about those experiences. You could say that the newborn lives fully in her periphery without an experience of a center, a self. Relating to the world from a ‘self’ develops slowly over years and is not complete until one is in her twenties.

When I wake up from a dream, I am aware that I have had a dream. When my granddaughter, or any young child, wakes up from a dream she does not have the same awareness that it was a dream. Dreaming and waking experience have the same sense of reality for the young child.

So, the combination of an immature neurology and an immature sense of self leads to my granddaughter’s questioning of whether her mind is her own private domain. And I celebrated her curiosity and questioning of what she experiences and her reflections on that experience.

I am going to keep this post short and sweet and I hope you take away this important thought:

Young children experience the world differently that adults do. In part it is because of the developing brain, and in part because of the developing sense of self. Your young child experiences the world differently than you do!

Repeat after me;

Your young child experiences the world qualitatively differently than you do!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Milburn T. Maupin: A Catalpa Model School

August 12, in Jefferson County, Kentucky, the Milburn T. Maupin: A Catalpa Model School opens. 

The Jefferson County School District in Kentucky recognized that their schools were not producing the desired results. In 2014 they created a contest to find innovative approaches to education that could meet the students’ needs. 92 proposals were entered. On August 11, 2014 two winners were chosen - and one of the two winning innovative programs was a proposal championed by four dedicated Jefferson County teachers in collaboration with Kentahten Waldorf Teacher Training (http://kiwiky.com/). The Catalpa Model is the developmental and multi-disciplinary approach of Waldorf education and meets the Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards in creative and innovate ways. The school district chose a facility and teachers were given the opportunity to join this historic initiative. On August 12 students will arrive and start a new school year at Milburn T. Maupin: A Catalpa Model School - a Waldorf public school in Louisville, Kentucky!!!!

I feel honored to have been part of the summer teacher training for these dedicated teachers, I worked with the early childhood teachers for two weeks this past June. What an amazing process we went through together. At the start of the two weeks, one of the teachers put it so well, “We have to do a lot of unlearning.” And together we did plenty of unlearning and lots of learning.

A central feature of the kindergartens in the new school is that the program is play centered. Play is a developmental ground for the capacities that will be needed for later academic learning. Unstructured creative play for the young child is the laboratory where the child’s own body can develop, where nature and science can be explored and where the social world can be experimented with. With ample opportunity for social interactive play, the children can develop social skills and a deep understanding of the way the world works.

The teachers all described a process of letting go of the way they had done things previously and learning how to be open to the children in front of them. Their previous experience in the kindergarten classroom was of academic lessons and much time spent sitting at desks and teacher ‘presentations.’ In all Jefferson County classrooms, including kindergartens, “smart boards” are mounted on the wall next to the chalk board. A smart board is a large, interactive computer monitor mounted on the wall next to the chalkboard and is used for lesson presentation. In the kindergartens of the new program there will be no smart boards and no chalk boards. Chalk boards are waiting for the students when they get to first grade. Academic lessons are first presented in First Grade in the new school. Kindergarten teachers are focused on creating an environment of opportunities for self-initiated learning of the kindergarten students.

In our two weeks in June, the focus became how to understand and work with the principle of imitation. For young children, imitation is the natural way of learning so what sorts of examples can the kindergarten teachers offer for the children to imitate? The approach of explaining and instructing is not effective yet it is something we all have to unlearn because it is how adults tend to operate in the world. Learning how the neurology of the young child functions and how to support neural development is key in all of this. A key neurological developmental feature is that the prefrontal cortex is the last portion of the brain to fully develop and it is not finished and mature until one’s late 20’s. This means that young children do not develop complex decision-making and planning skills until much later in their development. With young children (whose prefrontal cortex is barely developed) adults might be spending a lot of time trying to explain to them, even though their brain is not ready for the type of understanding the adult is expecting. 

I am on my soapbox again; the part of the brain that is key to reasoning, problem solving, comprehension, and impulse-control is the prefrontal cortex. These executive brain functions are needed when we have to focus and think, mentally play with ideas, use our short-term working memory, and thinking before reacting in any situation. Adults tend to assume there to be a more developed neurology in the young child than is even possible. Many educational philosophies also assume this capacity to be present in the young child. These experienced teachers had to unlearn many past practices and grapple with the reality of neurological development, and how best to address that in a kindergarten classroom setting.

Alongside learning how to be an example for the children, we considered what sorts of enrichment for their developing imaginations we can offer. Stories and the songs and poems of circle time can offer inspiration for play. Circle time also offers the children opportunities for integrating their senses and developing more freedom of movement 

Are there ways to engage the children without telling them what to do? Learning only happens when we do it ourselves - it can’t be force fed. So the art of educating young children becomes creating an environment where learning can happen uniquely for each of the children.

Congratulations to the teachers and staff, and the students and parents who have chosen to be part of this new educational opportunity. The road ahead will surely have challenges and the rewards will be worth the struggles. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rhythm Method?

Summertime is in full bloom! August is nearly upon us.

In the summer, our daily routine slips away, meal times are more random and bedtime is usually later than usual. The approaching new school year will be here before you know it. To head off many possible challenging situations and back-to-school conflicts with your young child, I suggest that now is a good time to start moving gradually toward your fall time/school time routine.

Having a daily routine or rhythm is a great way to avoid many daily conflict moments because when you have your routine in place the day just flows. When I use the term ‘rhythm,’ I do not mean a rigid schedule or routine, but a flowing in much the same way the tide has a rhythm. Young children are especially creatures of habit and a daily routine becomes like a habit. With habits, we are not paying attention, we are simply doing the habit. If you want your child to wash hands before eating, develop that habit in her and then you won’t have to ‘nag’ about it all the time.

When there is daily rhythm, a regular order of events in the child’s day, when her day flows from one thing to the next in much the same way each day, she feels secure in that flow and there is much less conflict! 

To create a rhythm of your day, think it through. What do you want in the day, and what do the children need. Then, be consistent in establishing and maintaining that rhythm. Watch to see that the needs of the children and other family members are being met. Adjust your rhythm if necessary to better meet the needs. Then relax and enjoy the lower level of stress you have created for your life and your child’s. 

Young children live much more in the present moment than we adults do. Their development, as well as their sense of security and well-being, is supported by structure and regularity. Having a daily family life rhythm with regular timing for daily routines supports mental and emotional health and less anxiety for all involved.

So, let’s look ahead to having a daily rhythm and consider some aspects of that to work toward.

Sleeping/Waking - Is the child getting enough sleep? (Read The 7 0‘Clock Bedtime by Inda Schaenen.) What about an after lunch nap? Are her awake hours active enough so she sleeps well? Are her last few hours before bed each evening free from all electronic media? It physiologically interferes with sleep.

Having an after-dinner routine that carries all the way to sleep time is important. Here is an idea - dinner, then bath and next brushing teeth. Then into bed for story and sleep. Every day just like this. After the first few days you won’t hear, “I don’t want to brush my teeth.” It has just become what you do. Every day. Just like the tides, you can’t argue with it. It just happens. 

Does your child wake up on her own in the morning? Or do you have to awaken her to be ready for the day’s activities? Make bedtime early enough so that she naturally wakes up in time to eat and dress before you have to take her to day-care or school. Start now aiming toward achieving a waking up time early enough in time for the start of the school year.

Eating/Not Eating - Do some of her meltdowns happen because of low blood sugar? Does an extra snack time need to regularly be put into the day? Is there sufficient time of not-eating to allow the digestive system to work? If your child “grazed” all afternoon and then is not hungry at dinner time, something needs to shift. 

Perhaps a not-eating time for a few hours before dinner could help. In a family, not everyone’s digestive system rhythm is the same. We can find a rhythm that fits most and then maybe for one family member, an extra afternoon snack is needed. It is up to the adults to assess the real food needs of the children, and create the rhythm accordingly.

The best way to start establishing a family rhythm is to have dinner at the same time each day. This will ripple into the rest of the day because if dinner time is consistent, then after dinner activities leading up to bed time will become consistent. And waking up in the morning will become consistent.….Your life will be easier, your child’s life and your child’s care provider or teacher’s will too.

I can tell you now that there will be deviations from the rhythm. It can’t be rigid. Dinner at grandma’s house will deviate from the norm - our rhythm has to be able to flex to include what comes up in life. The friend's birthday party will not fit into the usual routine.

A family daily rhythm functions as a structure from which we can meet life with flexibility. Daily rhythm is a blessing for the developing person and for the adults around her. Creating a healthy rhythm is a secret “discipline" for everyone involved. 

Remember this formula: Rhythm = less conflict.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

That Same Story Again and Again

As I have mentioned before, I love books. I want children to grow up loving books too. If you want your children to become members of the world of readers, they need to see you reading, both to them and reading for your own pleasure and learning. Young children learn by imitating. 

Books are an essential part of life and starting in early childhood there needs to be plenty of experience of books and reading. This can nurture a love of books that can last throughout life. Every bedtime deserves a story to help send the child off to dreamland. Everyday is the right day for a story.

You may have noticed your three- or four-year-old saying, immediately upon completion of a story, “Tell it again.” Or when you sit down together for a storybook, she asks for the same one as yesterday. And again.....

“How boring,” you think to yourself. “Not that one again.”

You have a developed intellect. Your intellect always wants more and different experiences. The young child has an undeveloped intellect and therefore cannot get bored. Instinctively she is asking for something supportive of her developing neurology which is repetition. Repetition supports developing neural pathways and the myelination process. So put aside your boredom and learn to enjoy the same story again. And again...

All of the techniques of child rearing, helpful as they may be with respect to particular problems, cannot offer an adequate substitute for this necessary food [stories] of the child’s soul. J. E. Heuscher,
(A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales)

Reading to a child is a wonderful sharing experience. Telling a story without the book is a profound gift we can offer to our children, and to each other. A told story is given from the heart of the teller (we know a story by heart) to the heart of the listener. There is nothing like this gift and this activity is becoming rare. The oral tradition seems to be disappearing.

By telling a story to a child, rather than reading a story from a picture book, the child must create all of her own images, her own internal pictures, for the story. This inner activity is the basis for reading comprehension - the ability to create inner pictures from the words spoken.

Tell stories! Your young child is the most forgiving audience, and the most grateful. Give it a try. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

SIlver Boxes

This is a story I wrote in response to an exercise at a Nancy Mellon workshop. The exercise was to write about parents who have essentially fallen into the computer and how the children can rescue them. In my story, nature teamed up with the children. Let me know what you think about this.

A boy and a girl lived with their mother and father in a house  near a lake at the edge of the forest. They worked together cooking, cleaning, and gardening. They took care of all the things that needed doing around their house. They worked until the work was done. Then there was plenty of time for the children to play. The family ate their meals together, and Mother and Father told stories. The children loved the stories.

Everyday the children put out seeds and breadcrumbs for the birds. They loved to listen to the birdsong and watch the birds fly about. They especially loved the little finches who came everyday from their nests in the trees near their house.

One day, just as Mother and Father were finishing their busy day’s work a large, beautiful snake came into their yard, and then slithered into the house. His scales were of every color, and when he moved, his scales changed colors.

Father grabbed a broom to chase the snake away but the snake spoke; “Do not be afraid of me. I am here to help”
Mother said, “How can you help?” 

“I have something for you that can make your life easier. It can help in all that you have to do and you will have more time to be with your children.”

Mother and Father were excited when the snake gave of them thin, silver boxes. They each picked one up and opened the lid. A pale blue light shone from inside and the parents stared.
The snake smiled and went away.

The children went outside to play. When they returned, they found their parents still staring at the boxes as if they were asleep with their eyes open. The children couldn't wake them up.

This went on for some time. The parents did less and less around the house and barely had any time for the children.
The children wanted to help their parents but didn’t know how. Their parents didn’t listen.

“Wake up,” the children said. “Wake up.” The children tugged at their parents’ sleeves. They parents just stared at the silver boxes. “Wake up,” the children shouted and they shook their parents.

The snake heard and came back to their house. "Leave them be or I will eat you all up," he said. “We want our mother and father back. We will wake them somehow." 
"Then I will eat you both," said the snake.

The children took hold of their parents’ hands and dragged the parents out of the house. The silver boxes fell to the floor. The snake chased after them, and they ran and ran into the woods, the snake getting closer and closer.

The boy and girl each picked up a stick while they were running. They let the snake get even closer. At last, as the snake opened it’s jaws to devour them, the boy and girl wedged their sticks into the snake's mouth so its mouth would not close and the snake could not speak. The sticks were stuck tightly and the snake couldn't dislodge them. Then snake shook its head and tried and tried but the sticks were well lodged. Then the snake slithered away into the forest and they never saw him again. 

When the snake went away, the parents came to their senses again. Their eyes were awake and they smiled and hugged the children and each other. But they were in the middle of the dark forest, and none knew the way home. They were lost.

Just then seven finches flitted around the family. Two of the small birds had the silver boxes in their beaks. The other finches were singing and Mother and Father and the two children watched them and smiled. The finches then flew away along a narrow path. They knew they could trust the finches and they followed.

They followed the finches through the forest for a long time. Occasionally they could see a star sparkling in the sky through the canopy of tree branches.

Finally they came to the edge of the forest and the finches landed in the branches. They could see the whole night sky. It was filled with twinkling stars. They were on the shore of a lake and the lights of the stars twinkled and reflected on the water.

They watched for some time until, starting in the east, the sky lightened, and then turned rosy and golden as the first rays of dawn appeared. The finches flew over the water and the two who were carrying the silver boxes dropped them into the lake. The boxes fell into the depths of the water, and the finches circled around the family and then flew away.

Across the lake was the house where the family lived. They could see the path around the edge of the lake that led to their house, and they began the short walk home as the new day began.

The enchantment of technology can be an obstacle to connection. Real connection is a human need. Perhaps nature can help break the spell and we can use those silver boxes as tools at our pleasure rather than be under their spell 24/7.

What do you think about this?

Monday, May 4, 2015

What's the Big Deal About Imitation?

For the young child, imitation is the primary learning modality. So many elements of our human-ness are developed in the early years and they are developed through a process of imitation. Among these learned skills are walking, speaking, and methods for dealing with stress and challenges. Humans only learn to walk and speak by copying other human beings! And we develop our habits of dealing with challenging situations and our communication habits, by copying. These habits are firmly entrenched by age three or earlier.

A key neurological element involved in imitation is mirror neurons These neurons 'fire' both when an child acts and when the child observes an action performed by another. It is the same with any age - mirror neurons are engaged when we receive through our senses information (sights, sounds, etc.) about what someone else is doing. They stimulate ‘motor’ neurons as if we were doing the moving or speaking. Mirror neurons are important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation.

With human beings, imitation is of much greater significance than other creatures of the earth. A newborn horse will stand up within the first hour after its birth, can trot and canter within hours, and most can gallop by the next day, even if you remove all other horses from the foal’s environment. The foal will also “speak” like a horse without other horses around to imitate.

A human being will never learn to stand, walk or speak like a human unless there are human walkers and speakers to imitate. These three human capacities of walking, speaking and thinking are developed by imitation and are founded on each other.

At first, the baby makes random movements. Repeating and repeating these random movements develops the neural pathways that allow the control of the baby’s own movement to gradually arise. By copying the human walkers around her, the baby learns to walk. Speaking becomes possible because fine motor skill is developing to control the various fine muscle activity involved in creating speech sounds, from jaw movement, air, tongue and lips, to the vocal cords in the larynx. The sounds are copied from the human speakers around her. Speaking is a foundation for thinking because most human beings think in words. First we have to develop vocabulary, syntax and grammar, and then we can think.

Let me repeat; When human babies are born, they cannot walk or talk. How they learn to walk and speak is by copying the other human beings in their environment. If they were not around other human beings they would not learn how to walk and speak like a human. (For example the ‘wolf child of Aveyron’). The children also learn many other things from parents through imitation, notably their strategies to deal with frustration and stress.

Mirror neurons are active when we are learning to walk and to speak. The child’s motor nerves are stimulated when seeing someone else walk, perhaps as preparation for their own walking. The same with the vocal system. When watching and hearing someone speak, the larynx and related organs are stimulated to move in a similar fashion as the speaker’s. This continues our whole life.

It is crucial to understand the role of imitation in learning for the young child. When we grasp the implications of this fact, we have to look at ourselves to see if we say and do what we want the children to imitate. Since the primary learning modality for the young child is imitation, what we do and say, and who we are as adults standing before them is of the utmost importance. 

This is an except from my just finished new book, Conscious Parenting: A Guide to Living With Young Children

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tips for Tidy Away Time

Often there are actions you want your child to take, but he or she is not noticing what is yet undone, or is not participating at all. Coming in from outside, I see a jacket left outside on a bench. I know who it belongs to, and rather than naming the child and telling her to go get it, I say, “There is one jacket left outside.” It brings to the child’s attention that something is left undone, and the action wanting to happen speaks for itself. And the child who may not have noticed checks for her jacket and discovers it is the one left out. Out of her own motivation, she goes and collects her jacket and hangs it on the hook inside. My words of observation were a stimulus for the child’s action.

Perhaps it is tidy-away time, and the child is standing empty-handed, not participating in putting things away, and you want him to help. Again, a spoken observation like, “I see a cloth over there” might help. Sometimes all it takes to bring the child into activity is for their attention to be brought to something that needs to be done, without telling them to do it. Their own inner will takes care of the rest. 

I might pick up a log, walk toward the child who is simply standing without helping, and hand him the log. He take hold of it, and I walk on, not having said anything. He is now holding a log, his will engages, and he puts it on the shelf, and then joins in the tidying away. Or several children have made a restaurant at playtime, and you want them to help put things away. They are still at it; taking orders and cooking food. I pick up a plate and spoon and say, “Here is the food Sally wanted at the dishes store.” And the child delivers the order to the shelf where the cooking toys are put away. Or, folding up various colored cloths, I say, “I need someone to deliver this cherry pie (the red cloth).”A child presents herself for delivery, and takes the ‘pie’ to the shelf where it belongs. Other children come to help put them away because I have made a blueberry pie, lime pie, strawberry, and so on. I have entered into the land of imagination where the children live, and for many young children, this can be an instant cure for the ‘not-helping-at-tidy-away-time syndrome.’

“Take these boards to the lumber store.” “These animals go to the zoo.” (The wooden toy animals) You get the idea. It is important also for the adult to be part of the task, rather than assigning it to the children. If the reality is ‘we are tidying up’ it is far more effective than saying to the child or children, “you tidy this up.”

It is far more effective to participate in tidying up with your child than to expect or demand that they do it all by themselves. Let’s tidy up.” and really do it together. Then when the child is a bit older, she will have the habit of putting things away and you can step back from the activity.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

“Play Ball” - Baseball Season Is Upon Us

I was walking past a playing field the other day and there was a 4-year-old boy and his dad, each with baseball gloves, standing near home plate. The dad was explaining how to put on the glove, which hand to put it on and how to get the fingers in the right spots. 

Then he explained the process of throwing and catching. “Watch the ball. Then grab it with your glove.” He tossed the ball right to the boy, it hit the glove and fell to the ground. “Come on. Grab it when it gets there.” The boy stood there. Dad said, “Pick up the ball and throw it to me.” The boy gleefully picked up the ball and threw it - the ball seemed to fly randomly out of his hand, not in the direction of his dad.

Next Dad explained the rules of baseball. He explained about the bases, which direction to run if you get a hit, where to stand and bat, etc...about 5 minutes of baseball rules while the boy stood still with the ball in his hand.

Suddenly, the boy got a huge smile and a gleam in his eye and joyfully ran around the bases, stepping on one, missing the others, taking two laps, all the while holding the ball. Dad said, “All right, let’s go. I’ll teach you baseball another time.”

This all transpired within about ten minutes. 

I was offered a story to share in this post. I am going to let you in on my thoughts and opinions in writing about this story. I do not claim to have the “one and only way.” And I know I am going against the stream and out on a limb here. 

So....I have said this before, the way young children learn is by imitation.

First of all, four-year-olds don’t thrive with instructing and explaining. If you want your child to ‘learn’ baseball, start with simply throwing and catching. Even better, start with rolling the ball back and forth to each other before you days or weeks later move on to tossing. Back and forth, no instructions - just show him how it’s done. And Dad or Mom, be satisfied with playing the simple toss-and-catch game for months. Throwing and catching develops large and fine motor skills and eye-motor coordination. These are important capacities for life! Try and make it fun, not an instructional lecture. Just do it, don’t talk about it much.

One result of instructing young children in the rules and etiquette of a sport is that it eliminates the role of imitation, and the activity of creating the rules for yourself. I can remember as a young child playing ‘baseball’ in my friend’s yard. There were five of us, not the required nine on a team. First we spent time arguing about and finally agreeing to the rules. “We’ll have only 2 bases. And if the ball lands in those bushes, it is a double. If it goes over the neighbor’s fence the game is over and we run and hide, and Mark will pitch for both teams...” We had to create with what was available. And I repeat, we had to create. Co-creating the framework of a play activity is such an important activity. Practicing the creating of rules that work for a particular situation with the particular people involved is an important skill that needs practice starting in early childhood.

I think organized sports for young children is a mistake. 
T-ball, soccer, basketball as organized sports for the under 8-year-olds does not support their development of a variety of skills and capacities. It exposes the young ones to the competition aspects of sports, as well as a focus on winning rather than playing for its own sake, for the fun of it. Additionally, the game requires focus and attention, capacities that are not usually present in young children. Demanding these of young children is stressful for all involved.

Instead of the children having an unstructured Saturday at home, playing out of their own initiative with what is available, and with plenty of time, they are rushed off to the practice or the game.

It is interesting that we use the expression, ‘playing sports.’ Perhaps for adults it is a sort of play activity, though unlike creative play, the rules are hard and fast. For young children, play involves activity that is unbounded by external rules. Play is a creative activity where anything goes and is moderated by the relating to the others involved in the play. Play involves imagination and is not fixed. Play is the essential work of the young child and is part of how the imitation of previously observed events is tried out and new skills are learned. The best way for young children to learn is imitation. It is their natural learning mode. 

Children need time for free play — time to explore the game on their own without structure. It’s then they learn creativity, problem solving, adaptability and conflict resolution, [Luis Fernando Llosa, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated] says. “Look at Wayne Gretzky — one of the most creative athletes of our time. And how did he develop that? He didn’t start playing organized hockey at age five. He played on a pond with friends. And even when he did start playing organized hockey, he would go back to the pond and play for fun. That’s where you learn all the moves and fluidity.” (Blair Crawford, Ottawa Citizen, October 2014)

Have you ever watched parents at a young children’s sporting match? Even though some leagues explain to the parents about wanting the fun of playing to be primary, even though they are asked to model polite ‘fan behavior,’ it turns into shouting and rooting for your child’s performance and that their team win.

At the start I mentioned the glee with which the boy ran around the bases after the delivery of Dad’s instruction. That is the joy that I want to live in the children and find expression in their activities. How can we foster an environment where that joy flourishes? That is what we need more of for the children, and for our own future.

The best way for young children to learn is imitation. It is their natural learning modality. If your child has been seeing people play baseball, and is interested in that game, he will pick up a stick or ball and ‘play’ that he is playing baseball. For a young child, imitation and self-created play is the path to developing the skills required of the sport you are hoping to teach.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The King of the Giraffes

Marshall Rosenberg passed away last week. 
The world lost a great agent for change! 

Marshall described and developed a communication practice he named Non Violent Communication (NVC), sometimes called Compassionate Communication. It is much more than a communication technique, it is a practice to reframe your thinking and your perspective on situations and is a path to move beyond blame and shame habits to an art of real connecting.

My own thinking about communication owes a debt of gratitude to Marshall Rosenberg. His basic premise is that we try to become conscious of our own feelings and needs and how those drive our actions and reaction patterns. His idea is that all action is driven by attempts to get one’s needs met. When we change how we think and are able to see behavior as strategy to get needs met we stop our blaming and fault-finding. We can apply this to everyone we interact with or think about.

NVC as articulated by Marshall Rosenberg has the primary goal of creating and enhancing connection. One of our most basic human needs is connection yet so often how we think and what we say creates obstacles to that connecting. 

The basics of NVC are that first we must be conscious of when to be speaking and when to be listening. When we are listening we have to put to sleep all of our own thinking and inner dialog to be able to truly listen and empathize. 

In examining our experiences, we can be clear about what we observe, what feelings arise from those observations, what needs or values drive those feelings, and then try to do something about all that by making specific requests of others. Mostly though, people criticize, judge, offer opinions, make assumptions give diagnoses, blame, shame and make demands. Phhfew..... No one likes to be shamed or have demands put on them!

Marshall laid out a structure for speaking the ‘hard’ things in ways that support connection, and he aptly described how the communication patterns that do not enhance connecting are so prevalent and tenacious in our world whether on a personal level, or in large group interactions. Read his biography to see what sorts of conflicts he waded into to offer support for resolution.

Most of us are hungry for skills that can improve the quality of our relationships, to deepen our sense of personal empowerment or simply help us communicate more effectively. Unfortunately, most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose; to think and communicate in terms of what is “right“ and “wrong“ with people. At best, the habitual ways we think and speak hinder communication and create misunderstanding and frustration. And still worse, they can cause anger and pain, and may lead to violence. Without wanting to, even people with the best of intentions generate needless conflict. NVC helps us reach beneath the surface and discover what is alive and vital within us, and how all of our actions are based on human needs that we are seeking to meet. We learn to develop a vocabulary of feelings and needs that helps us more clearly express what is going on in us, and understand what is going on it others, at any given moment. When we understand and acknowledge our needs, we develop a shared foundation for much more satisfying relationships. Join the thousands of people worldwide who have improved their relationships and their lives with this simple yet revolutionary process. Marshall Rosenberg provides us with the most effective tools to foster health and relationships. Nonviolent Communication connects soul to soul . . . It is the missing element in what we do. - Deepak Chopra

In Marshall’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, he offers an idea that I think is important to understand especially in relation to adult child interactions.

The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice. The intention behind the punitive use of force is to cause individuals to suffer for their perceived misdeeds. When we grab a child who is running into the street to prevent the child from being injured, we are applying protective force. The punitive use of force, on the other hand, might involve physical or psychological attack, such as spanking the child or reproofs like, "How could you be so stupid! You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Two kinds of force: protective and punitive
When we exercise the protective use of force, we are focusing on the life or rights we want to protect without passing judgment on either the person or the behavior. We are not blaming or condemning the child rushing into the street; our thinking is solely directed toward protecting the child from danger.
When we submit to doing something solely for the purpose of avoiding punishment, our attention is distracted from the value of the action itself. Instead, we are focusing upon the consequences of what might happen if we fail to take that action. If a worker's performance is prompted by fear of punishment, the job gets done, but morale suffers; sooner or later, productivity will decrease. Self-esteem is also diminished when punitive force is used. If children brush their teeth because they fear shame and ridicule, their oral health may improve but their self-respect will develop cavities. Furthermore, as we all know, punishment is costly in terms of goodwill. The more we are seen as agents of punishment, the harder it is for others to respond compassionately to our needs.

Sometimes Marshall called Nonviolent Communication ‘Giraffe talk.’ 

The giraffe has became a symbol for NVC because it has a very large heart, its long neck allow it to have an overview and its big ears can orient ahead or behind. You might have noticed my 'logo.' I chose that image because of the giraffe that is prominent in it.

Marshall Rosenberg, the king of giraffe-speak is gone, and his influence lives on and on.

Marshall Rosenberg was a wise and funny human being who affected my life and the lives of millions of others. As Michael Mendizza said, “Many hope to leave the world a better place. If Marshall, a tough guy from the streets of Detroit can, and he certainly did, so can we.”

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Try Leaving Out The Word “Okay,” Okay?

“Sally, it time to get out of the pool and go now. Okay?”
Dad is speaking. He has already showered and is dry. Sally is 5 years old.
“Sally, you need to get out and shower so we can go, okay?”
“Sally, come here and I’ll help you out so we can shower.”
(Sally swims farther away.)
“I’m gonna count to three. One...two...three...”
Sally stays out of reach.
“Come on Sally, we have to go, okay?”
“Don’t make me count again.”

This monologue went on from Dad until finally he went back in, grabbed Sally, and carried her out. She was crying, he was clearly angry. As an observer I could see that this interaction did not go well for either Dad or Sally. I wonder how long either or both of them were charged up and angry with each other? Have you ever been in a similar situation?

The basics seemed to be:
  1. Sally wanted to stay in the pool
  2. Dad wanted to leave.
Some observations:
  1. Dad did not acknowledge what Sally wanted.
  2. Dad finished a number of his sentences with the word ‘okay’ while rising in pitch.
  3. It wasn’t okay with her. She did not comply.
  4. Dad’s counting seemed to have some implied consequence that did not manifest.
Dad, I have some suggestions. Feel free to take them up or not next time. Try saying something like, “Sally, I know you want to stay in the pool. I’m sorry we have to go. We’ll come back again soon.” Acknowledge her feeling, but do not try to fix it. Occasional sadness is an inevitable part of life.

As an experiment, try leaving out the word “okay,” okay? When we end a sentence with okay it becomes a question. I don’t think Dad was offering the option of not getting out of the pool, but the way he used language made it seem like a question. When we ask a question, we have to be prepared to accept a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. How about, “I want you to get out of the pool now.” “I need to get us home for dinner.”

I remember one morning when my youngest had been playing in the living room. She was about 3 years old. I had an appointment and had to bring her with me, and I like to leave the house tidy when I go, especially the common areas like the living room. I looked around at the toys and cloths and clothes and said, “You need to clean up this stuff so we can go.”

A flash of realization zapped my head. AHA! She did not need to clean up, it was my need. I had a need for tidiness and a need to be on time for my appointment. Neither of those were her agenda, needs or values. It was my agenda. Now, I try to own my needs when I speak. “I need to go soon.” “I need the house to be tidy.” You get the idea. Sally did not have the need for getting out of the pool. It was Dad’s need.

And what is this counting thing. I have heard many parents and teachers use this count down (or up) method of attempted behavior control. To me there is an implied punishment if what the adult wants the child to do (or stop doing) doesn’t happen in time. It is a veiled threat. I am not an advocate of threatening to get the behaviors I want to see. 

In the swimming pool story, it was an ‘idle threat.’ There was no ‘punishment’ awaiting Sally’s non-compliance. And Sally knew it, based on previous interactions with her dad. Maybe Sally likes to hear her dad count. Maybe she is just learning how to count and she enjoys hearing her dad filling in that hard-to-remember number ‘two?’

I have no idea what was going on inside either Dad’s or Sally’s feelings and thoughts. I do know the interaction was unsatisfying for them both and did not serve to develop their connection.

So, I’d like to offer a do-over for Dad and Sally at the pool.

5 minutes before getting-out-of-pool time. Dad and Sally are both still in the pool. “Sally, we are going to get out and shower soon. It’s almost time for dinner.”

Dad and Sally are both still in pool 5 minutes later. “Sally, we’re getting out now.” Sally cries, “I don’t want to get out.”

Dad, “I know you don’t want to get out. You love the pool. We’ll be back again.”
Perhaps Dad has to carry Sally out of the pool (they are both still in pool). She cries, he says, “I know your are sad. I love the pool too. It is time to go home for dinner and we’ll be back again.” And off to the showers they go.

End of discussion. Sally can cry more if she needs to. Crying is natural when we grieve for what we want and don’t get. Dad is caring, he acknowledges Sally’s feeling. And he is firm and not giving options when there aren’t any.

It’s not easy to change habits. (See some of my previous posts.) If we examine our interactions in the clear light of objectivity, it can give the impetus we need to make the changes we want to see in ourselves. We all want connection, especially with our children. So I offer these suggestions to make connecting easier, and steer clear of potential obstacles to connection. All habitual reaction does not foster connection. We simply are not there to connect with. When we can be more mindful and alert to what is going on, we can be present to connecting. And that is what our children truly long for!

P.S. What do you think about this? Do you have any scenarios that could use a do-over and you need some ideas?