Why & How to Nurture Independent Kids Wherever You Live #TeacherMom

I recently had the chance to visit some very dear friends from high school in different parts of a neighboring state. Of the friends with kids, one lives in a suburban style area, and the other lives in an area that is so rural they only have one neighbor (their parents across the street). And I live in a fairly urban area. The differences made me realize that though the ways we might nurture kids’ independence can vary based on where we live, it is always possible.

Here are our examples. Thank you very much to my friends for sharing their experiences!

Rural: Alea, children aged 8, 6, & 3

“We try to involve the kids in whatever it is we’re doing (at an appropriate level). Dennis just brought our youngest home from letting her feed the bottle calf. He’s an abandoned twin. She then brought me the bottle to help her wash it out. Kids looove taking care of babies. Other examples include:

  • The kids also help pick which plants we’re going to plant and help tend & harvest the garden.
  • When it’s nice weather they play outside [on their own] for at least an hour in the mornings before it gets hot.
  • I keep the sippy cups/kid cups in a drawer and not in the cupboard so they can reach it themselves and get a drink from the fridge door.
  • Most days I let them pick their outfits
  • They have some “mandatory” chores but then there’s a “chore of the day” that they get to pick. In general rather than give demands we like to give options.
  • We have also been discussing how letting children have responsibilities fosters independence. Kids want to help with things and how many times do I not let them because “they won’t do it right”? I’ve been trying to let them do the things they can do… They may not wash the windows streak-free but surely I can let them have a rag and a squeegee and have at it …These are hard things for me, but I’m working on them!”

Suburban: Stephanie, children aged 4 & 2

“We live in a quiet, older neighborhood with a fenced backyard. Some ways that we like to encourage independence outside are:

  • Sending our 2 year old into the backyard alone to grab a toy and bring it to the front.
  • Letting our 4 year old play on her own for awhile in the backyard while we’re in the front.
  • Establishing boundaries for bike riding so our 4 year old can ride comfortably without wondering or being told she’s gone too far. 

“Other ways we encourage independence inside our home include:

  • Letting them pour their own milk, water, syrup, etc. The more they try the better they get and I love the giant smile they give me when they pour perfectly. Accidental spills are lessons, not cause for punishment.
  • Letting them serve themselves at meals. They scoop from the serving dishes on the table onto their plates, which lets them choose which foods from the table they want, and how much.
  • Letting them help with the cooking and baking. Our 4 year old is a pro at rolling out sugar cookie dough, using a cut out, and putting it on the tray and the 2 year old loves to stir and pour in ingredients.
  • Letting them do the chores such as vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, sweeping, and raking. Our kids actually ask to help clean! Joining in on the household chores makes them feel like they are part of the team and are contributing to helping our family. I never redo any of their tasks so they always have a full sense of accomplishment.”

Urban: Mary, children aged 8, 4, & 2

We live in a townhouse development of about 60 homes, which is surrounded by a mixed development (single family homes, duplexes, apartments, etc) & close to our city center. We enjoy our proximity to schools, the library, the rec center, and our downtown, all of which we usually access by bike. We also enjoy our townhome common area in which we can send our kids to find playmates close by (and without worrying about driveways as the garages all face a back street). Some ways we work to foster independence based on where we live include:

  • Encouraging unsupervised play as much as possible. Occasionally one of the kids will run inside to report something important, but our area is dense enough that I’m never far away! (see post, “Where’s the Mom?” from last year)
  • Having our oldest to walk or bike to school 1 mile away (usually with a group of friends but occasionally she’ll be on her own)
  • Allowing our oldest to walk to a nearby bakery to pick up family groceries or to select a treat for herself. I love how this has helped her consider how much things cost & how to set a budget for herself.
  • Encouraging our kids to plan their own free time (and working to preserve as much of that free time as possible!) See “Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home.”
  • Biking & riding transit throughout the city together to help my kids learn to feel comfortable enough plan adventures alone or with friends when they are just a bit older.

Wherever we live, opportunities for children to enjoy independent childhoods are in abundance. We can learn so much from one another as we support each others’ efforts to help our children feel confident, responsible, and capable.

What are ways you work to foster independence for children based on where you live?

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5 Picture Books for Trusting Child’s Development #TeacherMom

Alternatively, I might have entitled this, “5 books that remind us of the importance of self-regulation, fostering independence in childhood, and approaching parenthood as a gardener more than a carpenter.”

Whether it’s allowing our children to pick up bread at the grocery store or limiting the endless amounts of structured time in favor of “BeTime,” we can take measures to trust our children to take the lead in their own development. What do you think of the 5 books I’ve hightlighted below? Which ones would you add to the list?

“They stopped thinking she was perfect and started worrying about what might be wrong with her. By the time she was seven years old, there wasn’t a single minute when Princess Cora wasn’t being trained.”

Princess Cora & the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz & Brian Floca

“”We’re bats,” said Mother Bat. “We can see in darkness. Come with us.” Stellaluna was afraid, but she let go of the tree and dropped into the deep blue sky.”

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

“The bird said, “Ask yourself where it is you want to go, and then follow the signs you already know.”

The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside.”

Windows by Julia Denos

“Getting to get the baguette is Nanette’s biggest responsibility yet.”

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

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On Feeling Like We Can’t Nurture It All… #TeacherMom

On a given day, a parent might come across lists of ways they should be nurturing their children’s…

…creativity

…resilience

…confidence

…problem solving

…empathy

…assertiveness

…fine & gross motor skills

…communication skills

The list goes on. And meanwhile, we have days where just getting dinner on the table feels like someone should be giving us a medal.

While it is true that all of these require individual, concerted effort from time to time, the truth is that trying to tend to all this nurturing on an individual basis each day would be like drinking from a fire hose! When we try, we’ll quickly find ourselves under a crushing weight of what I’m going to call “nurture-overload.”

Instead, here are ways we might avoid that overload and feeling of hustle:

  • Follow the child’s lead. Allow their questions or daily tasks to drive the discussions and inform how you help them connect to various skills and traits.
  • Read together regularly. If it is a regular part of your time together, you can depend on a healthy exposure to many different concepts.
  • Trust your child’s independence. As we allow kids to have responsibilities as they grow (and not allow media hysteria to color what we view as age-appropriate), many of these skills will strengthen naturally. See if you can count how many skills and qualities might be cultivated in this Sesame Street example below (from one of my favorite websites, LetGrow.org)

We want our children to grow up to have all the skills and traits they’ll need to be caring, capable adults. If we step away from worry about getting it right and step toward more trust, we may find that these things come more naturally than we might anticipate!

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In Which the Preschool App Gets Me Revisiting Scaffolding #TeacherMom

Have you ever downloaded the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app for your kids? If so, you probably know that they adore & can independently play all the games except two. And you probably know exactly which two I’m talking about:

“Put the Fruit Back Together…”

…and “Match the Fruit”

These two games take more stamina than the others. You can’t just start tapping randomly until it moves on until the next game. Which leaves me three choices:

#1: Do those hard games for him so he can play the rest of the game.

#2: Take a firm stance that if he can’t do it all on his own, he’s not ready to play.

#3: Do the hard games together, helping him hold his finger and talking through the process (where did we see the other banana?).

I have tried all three! The teacher side of me would definitely choose #3 every time, but the truth is, sometimes life gets messier than that. The game is usually only even out when we are at a long appointment. Sometimes, he tries to insist on #1 while I am trying to speak with the doctor. Sometimes, I try to assert #2, but find he really does want to give them a try again on his own.

The more I reflect, the more I realize that the only truly damaging stance when it comes to the scaffolding we give our kids is one that is rigid and not sensitive to context.

We like to think of scaffolding as a nice linear graph, gradually releasing toward complete independence in a smooth, graceful line. But really, there are plenty of dips, spikes, and wild turns along the way, all of which require patience for our young students, and for ourselves.

Even for something as silly as making a monkey cheer you on when you match a pair of honeydews.

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Intentionally Cultivating Abundant, Intrinsic Learning #TeacherMom

I wonder how often I’ll be surprised at the abundance of learning that can happen for kids without the personal intervention of adults.

The latest episode occurred when my 8 year-old asked Google to show her a picture of the solar system so she could create her own LEGO model. This launched when she decided to build a spaceship, which got her thinking, “where will the spaceship land? It’s more fun if there’s a place for the person to land and explore!”

Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Can you tell which is which?

Her exploration was packed with play, discovery, pleasure, energy, and joy.

All this was all fueled by her own delighted fervor to learn. No assignment. No sticker chart. No carrot and stick.

While this learning venture was all her own, there have been intentional steps toward a culture of intrinsic learning. Steps like…

saying no to reading programs that would get in the way of self-selected reading.

…setting up a learning environment with invitations to explore.

intentional language (“what amazing science you’re exploring!” “your interesting connections really make me think.”)

…discussing independent time-management & balance.

second-guessing my agenda before second-guessing her developmental readiness.

treasuring play. As written in a recent Washington Post article,

“the art of the joy of childhood is doing things because they anchor you to the moment, not because they will reap future benefits or rewards. There is a sense of mindfulness children feel when they play that so many of us long for as adults.”

Leaving a child to their own learning devices still actually does involve quite a lot of effort on our part. Sometimes the things to which we say “No” are just as important as the things to which we say “Yes.” As I’ve shared before, in the words of Seth Godin,

“If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less, and if it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more.”

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6 Gorgeous Picture Books Capturing Magical, Independent Childhoods #TeacherMom

One of my all-time favorite childhood books is Gyo Fujikawa’s “Oh, What A Busy Day!” What I found most magical about it as a child was observing all the ideas those kids pursued — without a single supervising adult.

As recently shared on the LetGrow site,

“Once upon a time, kids were part of the world. They were allowed to go places, do things, meet people. They were active.

For “active” now substitute “activities.” Kids participate in activities created for them, not by them. We take them, show them, teach them, protect them in a way that most of us — given the choice — would have rejected in favor of adventure.”

To me, this comes down to a major break-down of trust and community. Driven by our fears of all that might happen if we don’t do what is described above, we teach our kids that no one — not even our kids themselves — are worthy of trust.

That’s why I adore the following picture books. May they inspire you and your children to cultivate greater trust & recapture the magic of childhoods filled with healthy independence & adventure.

#1: Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa

Published in 1976, this picture book was ahead of its time with regards to diversity. It takes children through the possibilities of every facet of childhood, from make-believe, to fighting with friends, to enjoying the different seasons. I literally spent years trying to recall the author or title before I finally stumbled across our original beloved copy at my parents’ house — I immediately bought a reprint. Her own words describing how she felt about her audience sum up her beautiful work:

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

#2: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes

This lovely read came from Colby Sharp’s recommendation. I loved it so much that I bought it for my daughter’s birthday book as it reminded me of her sense of adventure & creativity. Kids are shown the many dreamy ways they can enjoy treehouse goodness — even if they are still waiting on a tree.

#3: Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale

Go for an evening walk with a young boy as he learns about his neighborhood through his own quiet observations. I love the way this captures how much kids can notice about their communities when given the chance.

#4: Bertolt  by Jacques Goldstyn

A book that will speak to the introvert’s soul. A child loves spending time with his tree, Bertolt, more than anything else in the world. His quiet observations and problem-solving will win over the hearts of all that love to get some alone-time.

#5: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney

My friend Faige Meller first introduced me to Roxaboxen, and it has been a family favorite ever since! The Goodreads reviews are packed with nostalgia, but I think it’s important to note that kids haven’t stopped being capable of creating such a retreat. We as adults need to just get out of their way more often to let them make it happen. “Roxaboxen is always waiting. Roxaboxen is always there.”

#6: Raft by Jim LaMarche

A story filled with appreciation and self-discovery. Kids will love following Nicky through the woods as he comes to love a summer of solitude at his grandmother’s house.

What about you? What are your favorite reads that promote the independent and magical childhoods we are all nostalgic for (and that we can again support)!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inquiry Into Attitudes: Independence

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Independence is such an important element of a child’s life. But it can also be filled with much confusion as there is so much beyond their control. Why not open it up as an inquiry, allowing them to define, discuss, and better understand it? This provocation is suited for just that purpose.

Resource #1: La Luna, by Pixar

Resource #2: Memo, by Gobelins

Resource #3: Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be independent?
  • How does independence change over a person’s life? Why?
  • What are the different perspectives on independence? How can this sometimes cause conflict?

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