Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Father's Day Letter to Eleanor

Dear Eleanor,

At the time this letter was written you are 10 months old.  You're father's first Father's Day is finally here.  I witnessed demonstrations of his love for you the second you were born.  He rushed out of the room to be by your side while the doctors made sure you were okay and requested lotion for your newborn feet because he thought they looked dry.  

From that day forward, I've witnessed moments so tender and sincere, I don't want them to get lost as years go by, 

I want them to belong to you.

During your first week at home, you woke often in the night. Together, your father and I, changed your diaper.  As I prepared to nurse he held you close and rocked back and forth.  He whispered, 

"Oh my god, she's just so precious."  

Every night during those early weeks he said those exact words, at Midnight, 2am and again at 4am.

When he went back to working 12 to 16 hour days, he came home exhausted, but without hesitation, happily swept you up, tucked you snuggly in the moby wrap and walked around the block to lull you to sleep.

If you were already in bed after he returned home,  he would tell me, "if she wakes up crying, I get to go in."  One night you woke up in the middle of his dinner.  He jumped up so quickly, soup spilled all over the floor.  In a pseudo-panic, he looked at me, then at the soup and back at me.  I said, "Well, go in!"  He ran into your bedroom just to get a chance to hold and comfort you for a few moments.

And there's more...

Your father can't even open the book, "On the Night You Were Born" without crying, let alone read it to you.

One afternoon, he carried up your clean clothes from the downstairs laundry room.  While hugging your laundry, he paused and said, "I even love holding her clothes."

The best part is, the feelings are mutual.  You look around for him in the morning,  flash him an open-mouthed grin whenever you get a chance, squeal and kick your legs when he plays the banjo, and share a special head bobbing dance.    

Because of your father's ability to confidently and warmly care for you, as the years go by, your relationship with your father will be filled with moments as heartfelt as these. I feel so blessed to  witness the special bond I see nurtured everyday and  I hope this note will forever serve as a reminder of how much you are loved.

With Love, Your Mama

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Testing Mom

I flipped over a newsletter I received from a popular Chicago parents organization.  On the back, was a full page advertisement with the headline;  

"Are you smarter than a 4-year-old?"  

Below were two multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble questions with the tag line; 

"These are the types of questions your child will face on a Chicago Public School test."

Luckily the advertisement offers relief!, contains 100 FREE questions so that anxiety ridden, well-meaning parents can, 

"Prepare your child for all of life's tests."

However, the Testing Mom mentality comes with a long list of sacrifices to children's overall health; socially, emotionally and cognitively, in addition to damaging relationships with their caregivers.  Therefore, like cigarettes and other products that are required to display warning labels, this website should not be exempt.  By pressuring children to prepare for future and mind numbing worksheets, children suffer the following consequences. 

1. Interrupted or deficit of play 
There is SCIENTIFIC evidence that play is the BEST way for children to learn and is CRITICAL for healthy development.  As children attempt to extract information through the free exploration of materials, meaningful play comes to an abrupt halt when a series of adult driven interrogations and demands are dispensed.   

Count the blocks! Name the shape! 
What does a pig say? What letter is this?

Luckily, infant specialist Magda Gerber, has offered this pearl of wisdom, 

"Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning."

2. Conditioned self-worth:
If the child gets the answer right, an enthusiastic, "Good job! You're right!"  typically follows. If the child gets the answer wrong, they are quickly corrected and tested again.  Furthermore, through my experience, the pressure to perform increases when there is an audience.  

The result of the testing/correcting/testing again does not predict or promote academic advancement, but instead it ensures that the child is conditioned to define his success and self-worth by seeking out the 'right' answer for positive external validation. 

3. Wasted time:
Sometimes it is to my delight that a child answers the test question completely out of the ball park.  At a preschool I once observed at (children were ages 2-3), the teacher believed that the children were ready to memorize the months of the year.  During circle time, she overheard one child say the correct month when quizzed. She singled her out and asked her to repeat the answer louder for the class. 

Teacher: "Jessie, what month is it!?"  

Jessie: "PURPLE!"  

Why did Jessie respond with the answer purple?  It's because Jessie, at the age of two, has more important things to do with her time than to memorize the months of the year.  See #1

4. Closed questions = Closed minds:
Closed ended questions stunt conversation and cramp critical thinking skills.  Open-ended statements and questions such as, 

  • What do you think? 
  • What happens if...?
  • Tell me about...

encourages young children to think deeply about their experiences and gives them an opportunity to express their unique perspective. When adults objectively listen with curiosity, children's thoughts and ideas are respected, validated and unveiled. 

5. Induced childhood amnesia:
While frantically taking advantage of all those TEACHABLE MOMENTS and opportunities to quiz and test, play memories of our own childhood are forgotten. These memories serve as a powerful reminder of the magic we experienced as young children.  

Now, remember favorite moments of your own childhood.  Take some time to relive favorite activities. Stick your fingers in paint, squish some play dough or feel the grass beneath your feet.  Rediscover and delight in the health benefits of idle time.  Oh, and burn those test questions.  

To avoid the harmful side-effects of the Testing Mom mentality, prepare children for life and unleash their potential, by fiercely protecting their right to a childhood. Have real conversations, real experiences and ask questions that matter to rediscover an innate sense of wonder and love of learning that is anything but standard.  


The Value of Unstructured Play Time for Kids

Time Goes By So Fast: Play Makes Meaningful Memorie

A Scholarly Response to ‘Tiger Mom’: Happiness Matters, Too

Alliance for Childhood