Who is asking for the trophies in the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” era? #TeacherMom

In each of the city recreation classes my kids have tried out, they have always ended with a trophy or medal. Why? I never asked for one. My kids never asked for one.

And yet the plastic clutter ensues, while bewildered parents also shoulder the blame for this “everyone gets a trophy culture.”

On a highly scientific poll I conducted on Twitter last week, not a single parent marked that they had ever requested these trinkets.

I’m starting to suspect that this has more to do with Alfie Kohn’s (far more scientific) research demonstrating that blaming young adults and parents is simply tradition:

“With respect to the specific claim that “kids today” are spoiled and their parents permissive, I had fun a few years ago digging up multiple examples of how people were saying exactly the same thing about the previous generation, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that.”

~Alfie Kohn

Certain traditions, like providing a trophy for participants, may perpetuate amid people’s good intentions. But for parents (and teachers) facing criticism for coddling kids, may we find confidence as we continue striving to simply meet developmental needs. May we avoid perpetuating inaccurate generalizations. And may we continue to try to listen to each others’ voices and be responsive to one another.

featured image: Selbe

Parents, Reject the Fear-Mongering #TeacherMom

Phones are destroying our teens

…except that it turns out the negative connection between tech and teens’ mental health is fairly minor, according to research.

Children are being abducted on their way to school or from distracted parents…

…except that “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.”

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live

…except that the opposite is true. See below:

Where are his/her parents? a passer-by might wonder…

…except that unsupervised play is critical for children to develop properly.

(sidebar: isn’t it funny how despite essentially every child in human history spent their days getting dirty, it’s only now that showers are ubiquitous that we have grown uncomfortable with the idea?)

Parents are bombarded with worst-case scenarios every day. Even casual Facebook posts from a concerned friend or relative often contain terrifying videos or messages that end with “Keep your babies close.” I shared one such example with my daughter in our conversation about how strange it is that these videos go viral when they really don’t represent the actual dangers kids face today. Far more threatening to our kids are dangers of childhood diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and mental health issues that seem inextricably tied to the modern lack of childhood independence.

For those in the U.S. observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrate by saying no. Push back against those viral videos. Question the frightening headlines (see this excellent piece on zooming out for context). And above all, allow your children to experience some of the same freedoms you yourself probably had as a child. Perhaps start by asking some of these questions:

  • Does my elementary-aged child know how to navigate our neighborhood independently? Does she know where her friends and family live within a mile radius? Could she get herself home from school?
  • How might learning to ride a bicycle help further my child’s independence?
  • Has my child ever tried to earn money independently? Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard work, etc?
  • Can my child handle something risky by the same age I was permitted to as a child (starting a fire, using a pocket knife, etc)?
  • Does my child know how to go inside a store to handle purchasing something independently? How might allowing my child to help with groceries help foster their sense of competence?

What better ways to celebrate independence are there than fostering it in our children?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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

 

How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto