An Act of Care: How Grown Ups Support Developmental Trajectories of Children

“If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl.” — MLK

If you can’t crawl, roll. If you can’t roll then get that tummy time in.  This is the story of the stages of development and how children need caring grown ups to nurture our babies so they grow into their fullest potential. This is what to expect when you’re expecting. This is how we care for and nurture children after their basic needs of nutrition, toileting and shelter have been met. Early childhood development is impacted heavily by the mental health of the people who care for them even while they are in the womb. Care is solely based on three actions caring grown ups give: love, safety and consistency. During the early years of life, the brain is constantly and consistently growing and care should coincide with that growth. Grown ups have a mission to foster security, love and safety starting at birth which leads to toddlers establishing a strong sense of self and self-worth. Children not only want safety, love and consistency but they also need it.

Being able to build and sustain healthy relationships to consistently meet children where they are in order to secure a healthy attachment depends on the wholeness of the grown up who is caring for children.  Are those who are caring for children well and healthy? A great question for grown ups to ask themselves is: “How am I feeling?” “What can I do about?”

In reality, a “healthy head start” is not always an option for babies. This is where early intervention comes in as a plan b if the family unit is broken. Early intervention such as head start, home cares and preschool improves the outlook and success of children growing into healthy and thriving adults. Caring grown ups help build a strong foundation also known as the brain. It also aids in breaking a family generational cycle of poverty. Need support?

Here are some resources and ways to support infants and toddlers in the first three years of life: 

CDC’s Developmental Milestones:

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html

Activities for bonding and learning from birth through 12 months:

CDC’s Positive Parenting Tips from Birth through Teenager Years *Bonus with activities*

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/index.html

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Why the Early Years Matter and How to Support Children from Birth through Five and Beyond

Do you remember your early childhood? How did you experience it? What three things came to mind? Did anything not come to mind?

Birth through five years are essential in building a foundation for life and that is where an early learning program comes in. An imprint is left for lifelong learning. Babies, toddlers and preschoolers are born ready to take in the love of their new people, environment, and information. When a child is born they are “making one million neural connections per second” according to Zero to Three.

These connections are made strong by daily continuous and consistent positive experiences and routines. Positive experiences correlate to positive outcomes in the long run of a marathon in a child’s life. A child will learn to trust or distrust people based on their early experiences in childhood. Most of all, grown ups support children as they gain the foundation needed for thriving in their life after childhood. 

How do we do this? How do we support children? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C as the Jackson 5 sang about. Here is an awesome resource that gives age-by-age tips, strategies and activities for children as you help them learn and grow. 

https://www.pbs.org/parents/authors/zero-to-three

It focuses on the whole child centering on emotions and self-awareness, social skills, character, literacy, math, science and the creative arts. 

So, what three things did you think about when it came to how you experienced your childhood? Our three are play, love and care for self, others and the environment. List the top three things that remind you of your childhood. Share in the comments below. 

Meet children where they are in life’s journey. Most of all, care and inspire them to care and the rest handles itself. 

A Bad Child? No Such Thing. Busting the Myth of the Bad Child.

You’re in the store. You hear, “Mommy, I want that.” You peer down to see your child pointing to a brightly colored stuffed elephant that you know he has more than you can count at home. You whisper, “No, not right now you have some at home.” He urges, begs and pleads. You don’t cave in. You stand your ground. Then to your surprise (or perhaps, not to your surprise) as it’s been boiling you see your 3 year old start to cry. He may scream. He may even throw himself to the floor. 

You as the grown up can’t run or hide. What do you do?

During childhood, young children are experiencing a vast array of emotions: big and small, discovering new places and self as they change and grow. As they take in the brand new world around them, they could get easily frustrated especially when they are not able to fully say how they feel or fully articulate their needs. As a result, a child may show this exasperation and big emotions through what grown ups see as challenging behaviors not a bad child but a challenge. Even adults could reach a point or limit of not being able to self-regulate. Imagine how children feel as everything is brand new especially as they grow into themselves.

According to NAEYC, challenging behaviors often emerge in the second year of life. Why? Toddlers are unable to fully label how they are feeling as well as their needs as they are still developing language skills. So, a child will use nonverbal possibly biting or verbal: crying to get their needs met. 

Here are some research backed strategies to guide children to more positive outcomes that may prevent leaving the store in gallons of tears and energy. 

  • Avoid common triggers or situations that cause challenging behavior: Prepare in advance for activities or store trips. Observation is key here. If you know when you go to the store, he will see a fluffy bright elephant that he will beg for, and prepare one he already has to take with him. Bonus: let him choose which one he wants to take. In the moment at the store: it may not be the “want” of the toy but the “want” of a comforting item that seeing that bright elephant reminds him of.  Identifying patterns in timing, routine, anticipated outcomes or root causes of challenging behaviors can help families better support their child. 
  • Establish predictable and consistent routines and behaviors: Children and grown ups thrive in predictable and consistent routines. It feels safe to know what is coming next. Model kindness and empathy with others and yourself. Your child will notice and show the same. Model how to take care of others, the environment and the self. Keep a consistent and predictable schedule. Have cereal together. Breathe and meditate together. Show and share a calm, supportive, consistent and loving environment.  If ever upset, model that you will need a moment to calm down, breathe and return when ready. Children learn by what they observe and experience. If you curse, your child will. If you’re calm, your child will be. Families are successful by being consistent through predictable routines, setting limits and modeling care and compassion through smiles, intentional verbal, nonverbal praise and action. 
  • Notice and talk about positive actions during the day: Every day is a fresh and new day to get it right or learn from mistakes. Families have the potential to promote positive behaviors throughout the day, not just when challenging behaviors emerge. Catch children’s positive actions and comment on them. Notice other people’s actions too and comment out loud in front of your child about them. For example, wow without Kelly, our mailperson we would never get postcards from Grandma or when at a restaurant, comment on the service. For example, our waiter is so kind and without him we would not be able to order food. Notice and comment on the helpers of our world. Without each and every person’s kindness, we would have a mean and disturbed kind of world.  

Hopefully, these tips help so that next time you find yourself somewhere such as a store, it goes more smoothly and there are no screams or tantrums. Screaming love instead of frustration. Here’s to pinpointing and solving those challenging behaviors. Cheers! Remember, you got this!

It’s not a Dog, it’s My Mommy: Tips for Drawing and Creating with Children

When you see a child’s drawing what do you notice, say or ask? 

Most times, as grown ups, we’ll label what we “think” the drawing / painting / sculpture / creation is that a child made. Or as children create, we will show them what whatever it is “should” look like. For example, take a star — we may show them. What would happen if we didn’t show them but see what kind of star they’d create based on their own observation and imagination? As opposed to getting a replica of the carbon copied four pointed star (as illustrated in the picture below) — we may just get something else more creative and out of the box way of seeing the world in which we live. 

The following are tips for making with children. 

  1. Don’t name it — ask open ended questions. Ask children to tell you the story of their picture / creation and write it down as they tell you the story of it. Ask them to describe it. Think of who, what, when, where, why and how questions. This shows you value their masterpieces as you actively listen and take notes about their work.
  2. Save their creations — save their work and bring it back out so they can add more detail to it or be inspired to make another part. Learn new terms like dip-tic, trip-tec etc. This helps children to work on a project over time and strengthens their attention to detail. 
  3. Display their work — at their eye level. If they want let them help you or even let them do it by themselves. This shows that you value their work without over empty praise such as always saying good job or it’s beautiful. The action of displaying their work whether on a shelf or on a wall says to children: “I value your work. You are a creator.” 

What ways do you inspire and encourage children’s creativity?  

The Gift of Play: Everybody Needs It

Everybody needs a little love in their lives but you know what else everybody needs? Play.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. —Plato

While in Vang Vieng, Laos, we happened to catch children playing from a far distance. No grown ups present. They climbed through tree roots, explored water, caught fish and laughed a lot. They waded water in the stream made their way out and found a large paint roller and rolled it all around in the dirt. I smiled and reminisced as my nostalgic childhood materialized.

“That’s what play looks and feels like. That’s honoring childhood.” My partner and I started sharing about our childhoods. How we were fortunate that ours looked like the childhood the children were playing in right before our very eyes. Childhood is finite and infinite at the same time. It lives on.

No fences, no dittos, no rules. Freedom. To feel and play. True play gives us a push into being in our body and mind. Everything is connected: spatial awareness to making connections. 

Play gives children practice to what they are learning and observing. It works for grown ups too in life, family and business. Want to learn more about your colleagues in less time? Keep it simple. Kick the typical “meeting” and get out there and play. 

Play Opens Doors

No matter where children and grown ups live or what they’re overcoming, play is essential.

It opens doors and shows us what we’re capable of and what we’re passionate about. It shows us who we are and are meant to be. We all are competent, capable and creative human beings. From birth until we die, we have to play in our purpose.

Play Promotes Collaboration

Listening and talking. Everyone plays a part in it. From role play / interacting with others to make believe / symbolic thinking. Even without someone else…being able to collaborate with yourself in your own world is the art of meditation. Play is meditation.

Play Gives Grace to Fail and Try, Try Again

Riding a bike to kicking a ball. You ride, you crash. You kick, you miss. You try again.

What did you love to play as a child? As an adult? Did it change? Why? 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

How do you notice and celebrate the fall? There are so many ways to acknowledge it with children in natural ways. Bring in and celebrate the changing seasons with some of these creative ideas. Please feel free to share some of your family’s ideas in the comment section below: sharing is caring! These sensory and awesome activities are simple to set up and perfect for inviting your child to explore and notice the wonders of Autumn.

1. Take a Walk to Notice the Changing Leaves

Change the lyrics of the classic Bear Hunt song to “We’re going on a leaf hunt” and take a walk together as you notice the leaves falling as they crunch beneath your shoes and spy the changing colors. Walk while collecting colorful various sized leaves as you go. Invite your children to tell you what color, texture and size of each leaf in fun ways. For example…notice the size by pondering outloud: “I wonder if it’s bigger/smaller than your hand?” “How does it feel?” “Where did the green disappear to?” “How did the color change?” “Which is your favorite shade?” Once you’re home, invite your child to sort the leaves by size, shape and color. 

2. Sensory Play with Fall

Sensory play is vital for babies and children and there are lots of amazing ways to represent the colors of Fall. Invite your child to change the leaves with food coloring or Tempera paints. Wonder out loud: “If you could change the colors of the leaves, what color would you change them to?” “How does a leaf change its color?” Offer Blue/Red, Yellow/Red, Yellow/Blue primary paint combinations to discover what they turn into.  

4. Sing Autumn Songs click below for some ideas

5. Read Books about Trees: list of ideas below: **add your titles in the comments below** *Bonus Make Your Own Book Using Colorful Leaves

The Lorax, The Giving Tree, Stuck, Because of an Acorn, The Kids’ Family Tree Book, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, The Tree Book for Kids and their Grown-ups

6. Observe, Draw and Pick out Some Favorite Trees 

Take a sketchpad outside and draw what you see. Plan to revisit and plant one of you and your child’s favorite trees in the spring!

5. Paint / Collage with Leaves

Use leaves to paint and collage with. Make a large Fall mural inspired by the Fall. **Bonus Make a fall wreath together for your door or a neighbor’s door. 

6. Rake the Leaves 

Don’t forget to JUMP in them! Make up a story using the leaves together. 

7. Make Leaf Rubbings / Pressings

Grab a paper, crayons (and/or pastels), playdough/clay. Place the leaf/leaves on the paper. Place a paper on top and then use the crayon (writing utensil) to rub. (Another variation is to do pressings by pressing the leaf into playdough/clay to make impressions/imprints. See it by clicking below: 

https://www.firstpalette.com/craft/leaf-rubbings.html

8. Visit a National Park and Chat with a Park Ranger

Visiting parks and nature is a wonderful way to get up and personal with nature, especially trees. Talking with a park ranger who is an expert could turn into a life changing memorable experience as you make meaning out of the trees and their importance. If you’re local to Fiolina the Arboretum is an iconic place to visit many types of trees from the smallest Bonsais’ to  the tallest of Sycamores. A perfect place for that sketchpad we mentioned earlier.

Have Fall inspired ideas you want to share? Let us know by commenting below!

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com 

Bringing in the Holidays: Ways to Celebrate a More Meaningful Holiday Season with Children

In the middle of the holiday hoorah from relatives to gifting presents, families may forget the why of the holidays and what the deep significance of the giving season is all about. Have you ever given a present to see a child open it and be more fascinated by the wrapping paper and cardboard box? It’s a reminder and lesson how the season is not exactly about the gifts but how the time is spent.

Here are 8 ways to bring in a more meaningful holiday with your loved ones. 

  • Write letters, draw pictures, make cards, make bracelets and send care packages to essential workers such as EMS, Armed Services (Military and First Responders) who are away from their families during the holiday season. An awesome organization to do this through is Operation Gratitude. Families, teachers, children may volunteer at https://www.operationgratitude.com/
  • Take care of wildlife by decorating an outdoor tree with yummy snacks. Roll pinecones in peanut butter and bird seeds and place nuts. Wildlife will thank you!
  • Encourage children to connect and interview their grandparents and/or family members. Ask for favorite family stories. Retell stories. Record it for memories. Get some inspiration from: www.storycorps.org
  • Move together. Each day pick a movement activity to get moving. Dance to you favorite songs, take walks/hikes to look at lights, play basketball/soccer and if there’s snow: sled.
  • Adopt a family in need for the holiday season. Usually you will receive a list of what the child(children) are wishing for then let your children pick out the presents for the children. Become an angel today! https://adoptafamilymaryland.com/how-can-you-help-1
  • Admire the lights and stay present with your children. Hot cocoa, books, movies and love. The memories made will be remembered much longer than the presents. It’s about the time spent, not money. 
  • Wear pjs outside and build igloos, snow castles and snow people.
  • Travel someplace else to volunteer or just because. Most of all, spend time, use talents and make treasures together. 

How does your family bring in the holidays?

Code the Life You Want

3:08 am. How did we get here? I stretch and I yawn into the morning. Into the new day as I give thanks and am filled with gratitude to see another day. During the pandemic, I was deeply moved and inspired to move. To change. To dig deep within myself. I just needed a shovel. During the pandemic, we went virtual as we taught and learned online.

Some grown up students loved it and some did not. Some children loved it and some did not. For instance, I had a student who loved typing on the keyboard. He inspired me to dig deeper within myself. He gave me a shovel without even knowing it. While many times, I push and cheer others on, deep down I knew it was time to push and cheer on myself as well.

I noticed something. Literacy in action as he typed. We were singing Dem Bones and he started typing the sounds of the song out. Not because I told him to but because he wanted to.

What do we do in a world where computers and technology are a part of it. We embrace it and work alongside of it, learn to work with it and even create it. As I am learning coding now, I think about the past languages I learned and recognize coding as a language. Another language to communicate in.

Commas and quite frankly, punctuation matter in the code. You miss it or make a mistake then the code will not work. It will be null and void.

As we started returning to “normal” I didn’t want the old normal. I craved a new normal. So, here I am coding, creating and writing the life I want. The life I need. One that is far from normal. Love and light leads me. We are life. It is now almost 4:00 am on a Tuesday and this will be reaching you at 8:26am. on May 26. Happy reading. Happy living. You are life. Remember that.

The Little Things

What were the little things you carried in your pockets before the world made you empty them? Mine literally were rocks and dandelions. I would marvel at a rock as I found it fascinating. I loved and still enjoy collecting rocks. Ultimately, it’s not about the things you buy, it’s about the experiences you have. The moments made into memories. It’s about the little things you care about. Perhaps it keeps you up at night or wakes you up really early in the morning. Perhaps it sits with you for awhile mid-afternoon while you have your tea. It calls out to you. It knows your name without ever having to say it.

When is the last time you noticed or discovered that little thing you care about? When you saw or realized it did you marvel and sit with it for awhile? Were you present in the moment with it? When is the last time you did something about it? No expectations. Not because you have to but because you want to. Not following steps walking into “adulthood” but into “yourself hood” When will you follow your calling? Your own footsteps, left foot, right foot one in front of the other? Not for money but for your soul. Those are the kinds of things that are worth carrying in your pocket. Noticing and fulfilling the little things that you care about are victories.

I remember a little thing. A student of mine wanted to take a worm back to the classroom. So, he put some dirt in his pocket. Then he put the earthworm in his pocket. He carefully sprinkled a bit more dirt on top of the worm in his pocket as well so the worm in his own words would have a home. Think of the care and careful consideration he took to look out for the worm as he fulfilled his mission of bringing it back into our classroom.

If I had interrupted this play and told him to empty his pockets and that a pocket is no place for an earthworm even to transport it then we would have missed out on all of the learning with earthworms, anatomy and how to care for them and how they care for our Earth creating nutrients for plants and other organisms. It started with one worm and turned into so much more.

A worm. A single worm created a moment which created a memory and is in the process of possibly creating an entomologist. We all have an inner child, an inner soul. Nurture it. Nurture the little thing you love and yearn for whether it’s an ant or the sky. You are drawn to it for a reason. When someone asks you why are you “fixated” or “stuck” on something. Ask them, why not? Keep your wonder and your fascination especially in a world that is “stuck” and “fixated” on being busy and moving onto something else before really getting to know and work with what it started with to begin with. Studying and observing earthworms doesn’t take a week or month. For example, Darwin studied earthworms for forty years.

What were the little things you carried in your pockets before the world made you empty them?

Four decades Darwin hung out and observed the worms. So take your time with your passion and purpose, on purpose. The little thing you care about. The little thing that keeps knocking on your brain and on your heart: your soul. It’s worth it. Nurture it, care for it and be there with it for awhile. Sit with it. Walk with it. Crawl with it. Do whatever it is you have to do to be with it for awhile. Keep it safe, give it a home. Put it in your pocket. Take a decade or two or three or four or even more with it. Slow down and move with it in a world that wants to move onto the next thing. It warms. It cools. It warms. It cools. Stay with it for awhile. Savor it like the last bite. In fact, save the best bite for last.

So what is it and what will you do with it?

Ps. Here is a book entitled Finding Me by Viola Davis that may encourage you to dig a little deeper than the earthworms.

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Can I Have a Word or Two?

It’s Halloween time and I’m reminiscing when I was little and went trick or treating. You know when grownups would and will ask a child: “So what do you do?” And, children do a song or dance? I sang the little witch song and changed the word witch to (can you guess to what rhymes with witch—change the w to a b).

My sister was shocked and everyone laughed. In that moment — I realized the power of words.

I knew and realized in that moment just how powerful words are and the effect they may have on us. Most of all — words can incite us. Words can also invite us to talk or push us away not to talk and forever hold our peace.

My sister cursed like a sailor. I would curse at school as I tested out the words and expressions she used. Such as: #1 B#tc$ to describe best friends and sister Bonds. F#€|< it or f#€|< you when angry or frustrated. I went to school — testing out these words and phrases with friends but no grownup ever knew.

We test out words and expressions.

This brings me to another moment in time as I was teaching and all of us were outside on a field trip (giving a plug to the National Building Museum in Washington, DC). We were in the blue construction room: Play Work Build exhibit where my class aka engineers, architects and builders were building and constructing very cool creations and structures! One of my Fireflies as he was trying to fit a square peg into a circle and he was exasperated by all of his unsuccessful attempts (he kept persisting and showed a lot of resiliency!) and to everyone’s shock and dismay minus my own: he said, “Awww, f bomb, it’s not fitting!

All of the grown ups stopped and stared at us and looked very carefully at me. I was the responsible grown up for this class. I looked at my firefly that lights the night sky and who clearly just lit up this space like the Fourth of July. I got low and spoke low. I said, “I see you learned a new way to express exasperation and frustration. What word can you use instead of that one? I said, what rhymes with it?” He smiled and said, “Oh, shucks, oh muck, ohhh tuck, ohhh luck” we laughed. I took the stigma and the struggle away. Again, language can incite us. Language is explosive. Language (most of all — the connections in the brain) are also exploding for preschoolers at this time.

If we reprimand or dismiss, shut down or get shocked how do we model? If we kick out, put in detention, suspend or expel how do we teach?

Teachable moments happen each and every moment. Don’t overlook them or dismiss them. Don’t lock it up and throw away the key. Words are caged birds begging to be free. Teach with compassion, love and understanding.

Restorative practices, compassion, learning and justice is meant and intended not only for preschoolers. It is for all ages, stages and levels of life. Meet children, youth and grown ups where they are are and help them to where they are going.

Bonus: listen to some of my stories made up from my heart and brain.

https://podcasts.apple.com/za/podcast/the-story/id1505653221