As parents of active preschoolers sometimes it is difficult to think of outside of the moment. Your focus may be -- what do I feed them, what park do we go to today, will they go down for their nap, where is that shoe? Life is busy when you have little ones running around the house. I know you have heard me, and others, say “Oh, but it goes so fast”. Yes, it does go fast but some days may feel like they go on forever!! As you start 2018 take some time to think about what you would like to do with your child this year. Do you want to laugh more, be more spontaneous, more structured, more playful, more serious? Find one thing you would like to do this year to be a better parent and be purposeful in setting up a plan to achieve that goal. Who can help you achieve your goal? I could always come up with the idea for a fun activity but it was Curt who actually made it “fun”. In our home I was the planner and Curt was the one who activated my plan. It was a nice balance – still is! What is something you can do with your partner that would enhance your family’s life this year? It could be as simple as taking time to go on a family walk before/after dinner, reading a book together, gathering shells at the beach…. Be sure to set a realistic goal that everyone will enjoy and that will be easy to implement. When everyone is on board you have the support needed to be successful.
BOOKS to READ
Next try to set a goal for yourself. Find something that you enjoy (something new or something you used to do) and try to add it to your schedule. It may be something as easy as a neighborhood walk but you will need support to have the time to do something all by yourself. What can you do that will help you be a better parent – how can you give yourself some time to relax, re-charge, rejuvenate? This was always difficult for me. I had a hard time setting up time for “just me” as I always preferred “family time” – still do! The one thing I did do for myself was to go for a walk with my neighbor – still do! When we walk we have a chance to vent, laugh, share stories and get some outside time as well. Nick was happy to hear that Mary and I still take our walks. It makes him feel like the neighborhood is still the same. Mary was the one person he would go to when he was little. She was his “Mar Mar”. He would toddle down the sidewalk saying, MarMar, MarMar. The first time he called her Mary she almost cried - she knew he was growing up. She had a brain tumor removed in June 2011. This was a difficult time for all of us, but especially Nick. Being away in Wisconsin was hard on Nick and it was comforting to him to have the established traditions still in place. Who would have thought that my daily walk with Mary would become one of Nick’s anchoring memories.
As our sons grew older some of our family activities turned into family traditions. One by one, little by little, some of the things we did as they grew up became the traditions that created their childhood memories. The things we did as a family and the things that were set in place as my “Mommy Time” are part of what make up Joel and Nick’s childhood. When you set a goal it may be for just a short time – learning to knit was a wonderful goal but I discovered it was not my gift! Or it may be for a lifetime – walking with Mary has been an activity that has been going on for 35 years now. I enjoy looking back at what we have done as a family, what I have done for myself and what the members of our family have accomplished in this past year. Curt and I have set come goals for what we want to do this year – going on another family snowshoe trip is one of them! Take some time to reflect and to reach a goal this year. You never know – in the years to come it may be one of your family’s treasured memories.
Traditions are the glue that hold a community together. A community may be your family, your school, your neighborhood, city, state, country or the culture you grew up in. Communities can be small or large, near or far, present or past. As with the traditions themselves your community changes with time. Some traditions last many generations and some are there just for a season. It is the memories of traditions that hold the members of the community together.
We have traditions here at preschool. We just held one of my favorite – Pumpkin Night. It is something the alumni children look forward to and remember. It holds the memories of ‘their school’ and they are excited to come back and ride the horses, play with the trains and see what is in the sensory table. These shared memories are part of what builds the preschool community.
In our neighborhood we have activities that have created a bond with our neighbors. Some of the families have been in our neighborhood for 35+ years and we have watched our children grow into adults and now have the privilege of watching their children come back to the neighborhood for visits. This year Ansel came and Trick-or-Treated at the same neighbors’ houses that Joel went to as a child. Our neighborhood has many traditions in place. One of them, that has warm memories, had a cold start! My sons still send me notes when it starts to snow because a snow event was a big deal when they were young. Two of our favorite activities: to build snowmen using all the snow in the parking strip (because you usually needed all you could get to make a snowman Seattle) and our 'first snow' neighborhood snowball fight – no matter what time it started to snow! All the families with children would be outside as soon as the snow started to stick. If the kids were in bed we would wake them up and put their snow clothes on over their jammies. With their footie sleepers tucked inside their boots we would go outside to play in the snow because we all know with Seattle Snow there is no guarantee it will still be there in the morning. I have great memories of our snow days. Now there are no snowmen in my yard but I enjoy walking the neighborhood to see the snowmen pop up in yards and listening to the children laughing as they play in the snow.
The traditions you share with a specific group of people will glue that moment within your heart – a memory you can keep forever. As we enter the Holiday Season you are probably trying to figure out how to navigate through a large mix of family, community and cultural traditions. As warm and cozy as the thoughts of traditions are when you mix them all together it can become a sticky mess that is difficult to untangle. What traditions do you want to keep, to start for your own family, to share with others? How do you choose which ones to keep? What new ones to start? How to tell your Mom (or Mom-in-law) you are saying “no” to some of the family’s traditions? It is a time to sort through the memories and decide what traditions you would like to invest in this year. It is an investment – always of your time and sometimes of material goods. The nice thing about a tradition is that they can be made to fit your family. You can add to it, take it away, or keep it exactly the same. They are moments in time that create memories you can hold in your heart. Just remember that as with any event these memories can make one laugh, cry or cringe. Ah, the memories of holiday times with family – the foundation of Hollywood movies!
For our family we have had many changes in the last few years. We have become ‘the inlaws’ to two of the nicest daughters. Danielle and Joel have started many new family traditions. We have adjusted to their choices on how to spend the holidays. It was not easy for us but it is necessary for them to be their own family. And now they have Ansel to add to their traditions and memories. Greta and Nick will be adding to the changes in our activities as well as starting their own traditions. We are working on blending, creating, establishing, keeping and remembering new traditions and traditions from the past. As our sons have left home and are creating their own family traditions, Curt and I have created some new ones – a drive to Vashon to see the leaves, going to the Pumpkin Farm by ourselves (and this year with the Eagles Class!) and knowing we will continue to adjust to activities without Joel and Nick. Joel and Danielle have introduced Ansel to the zoo, hiking, camping, Discovery Park and soon he will join them as they continue the tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree. Greta will always be with her large, extended family during Thanksgiving and Nick has discovered that one of Greta’s family's traditions is similar to one of ours. Both families play ping pong after the Turkey Day feast. They call it RoundyTown. Nick has introduced them to our version which we call Round Robin. It is fun to see some of our family traditions live on with them.
Sometimes a tradition is started by someone other than family. That was the case for one of our most treasured holiday traditions. When our sons were little a lady in our church asked if she could bring them gifts at Epiphany. Maria was from Mexico and she did not have family here in Washington. We learned that Epiphany, Jan 6, is the actual Twelfth Day of Christmas. In many cultures all around the world it is they day that children receive gifts as they celebrate the day the Wise Men brought gifts to Baby Jesus. Joel and Nick put their shoes outside the front door on the eve of Jan 6 and the next morning their shoes were filled with small gifts. It was the start of a new tradition for our family. We began to celebrate Epiphany with a ‘fancy’ dinner chosen by the boys that included the ‘fancy’ Loony Tune cartoon glasses. It was a time for our family to celebrate Christmas – just the four of us – sharing a fancy dinner and opening a gold box that contained a family gift. When they were little it was a trip to the zoo or a new game. The year Nick started his PhD it was a family trip to Kauai. We knew that as Nick began this new adventure it would be a time of change for our family. Since then we have added Danielle and Greta to our family and our dinners may not be on Jan 6, but Epiphany will always be a shared time of fun and laughter with the emphasis on family and time spent together.
As you decide on your family traditions remember that the traditions are a memory maker – adjust them to fit your family.
Traditions change, as do the people who make up our communities, but the memories will be with us forever.
Some of our favorite family traditions:
~Walks in the snow
~Bike rides to see the cherry blossoms at UW
~Bonfires and s’mores
~Camping at Mt Rainier
~Fall hikes at Discovery Park to crunch leaves
~Visit to a Pumpkin Patch
~Nighttime bedtime stories
~Playing games after dinner
~Putting together jigsaw puzzles – especially on Jan1
~Watching seasonal movies and eating homemade caramel corn
~Making homemade Valentine cards
~Waiting for the Leprechaun to visit and make mischief at the house
~Coloring eggs and hiding them
~Leaving May Day baskets at the neighbor’s door
~First Day of School picture on the front porch
~Pumpkin carving party
~Leaf walks, flashlight walks
~Cutting down our Christmas tree
I love fall. I like watching the leaves as they change colors. I love going for walks in the woods. One of our family’s favorite places to go for a fall walk is Discovery Park. When we are there we feel miles away from the city. As we walk in the woods, looking up at those towering maple trees that drop huge leaves, we forget we are in the city.
When our sons were younger we would take a family Leaf Walk -- crunching the leaves along the trail, kicking leaves and admiring the biggest ones. The boys spent a lot of time examining the size, color and texture of those leaves. It was, and is, a great way to start the fall season.
As you walk the trail through toward the bluff, you pop out from under the canopy of trees into a large open field. When our boys were young they would run through the tall grass. We would sit under the giant maple trees that sit near the top of the field and watch them as they ran up and down the hill. The colors of the changing trees, against the backdrop of the white houses, always made me feel like I was back in my grandparents' small town in Ohio. After they finished running the hill we would head off to the “beach”... the sand pile that overlooks the water at the end of the pathway. Sometimes we would bury treasures to be found by someone else later in the day and look for our own treasures (usually a snack in a ziplock baggie that we hid while they were digging in the sand). As the sun began to set we knew it was time to head back home. We would hike up the hill to climb on the small rock wall and have a leaf fight before heading back into the woods. On our walk through the woods we would look at the tall trees, listen for the birds, examine slugs, pick up rocks and talk about what we saw, or not talk at all, and enjoy the natural beauty of the day. No matter how much time we spent at Discovery Park – one hour or the whole afternoon – it felt like we had been a grand adventure.
As the boys got older our family park walks were harder to do. As Joel and Nick grew into young adults Curt and I continued the outings without them. We would take a picture and text them asking, "Guess where we are?". At first it was hard to go on our walk without them but I realized they would always be with us in the memories we have from those walks when they were young. It has continued to be a place we go for family fun.
became part of our family traditions.
It is a part of who we are as a family and what we value.
We all have
a respect for natural places, enjoy being
out of doors and love going for walks in the woods.
What you do with your children
will be with them for all of their life.
Memories of family walks in the fall will come back
to them when they see a maple leaf, hear a bird in
the tree or see the sun filtering through the leaves on a large tree
When we returned from our trip we spent time with Ansel and were amazed at how much he had changed in just 16 days. His history is short but it is an ever changing story of his life. Every day he adds another chapter to the story of Ansel. Each day he adds to our lives new memories that we will remember long after he has added teeth to his smile and words to the sounds he is making. We compare notes on the lives of Joel and Danielle to determine if Ansel has the same developmental pattern as his parents or if this is a new track he is heading down. As we hear him laugh, see his desire to stand up and watch how intrigued he is with sounds we can use our knowledge of family history to see if it is Danielle or Joel he is taking after - or some relative we do not know.
History is many years in the making as well as just moments ago — world history, country history, state history, city history, family history and your history — every moment we add a piece to our history. What are the ways you can add special memories to the day that will become the history that makes up your child life story? His-story and Her-story.
One of the fun moments we enjoyed this summer was camping with Ansel. As he looks back on the history of his life I am sure that camping and being outdoors will be a major component that is included in his historical markers. We camped with our sons. Mt Rainier was a favorite. Every September we headed to Cougar Rock Campground. We would leave on a Thursday night hoping to find a camping site…ah the fun and anxiety of camping pre-online reservations! After we set up our tent the boys would head out to climb “CougarRock”. A large rock in the campground area. This rock got smaller and smaller each year. We have ‘historical’ data to document that the rock shrunk each year! The guys were amazed at how small this giant rock was when they returned for a picture the year they were in college. Mt Rainier holds many memories for our family. It was the first of 4 mountains that Nick summited. It is the place that Nick asked Greta to marry him. It is also the place that Danielle will remember, not so fondly, that our radiator exploded and we had to be towed off the mountain when she was pregnant with Ansel. Danielle’s family also spent their summer’s camping. With three girls in tow they went weekend camping near Bellingham and on major camping trips throughout the United States. Danielle and Joel went on a camping honeymoon to visit the National Parks. Both family’s have a history of camping. It will be fun to continue a camping tradition that is 35 years in the making.
Activities to do with Children
This year we will watch these little people change and grow. They will learn so much while being outdoors. They will watch a spider in a web, see the wind blow the branches of the trees, hear a bird sing, touch the rain as it falls from the sky, feel the warmth of the sun on their face and smell the sea air as it wafts through the play area. We will be a part of the laughter, the questions, the pouts, the tears, the joy and surprises as they explore their world. We will part of the his-story and her-story of the children that make up the world of Crown Hill Explorers.
What a privilege to be part of your child's history. I am honored to be included in their life story.
Looking forward to a wonderful year together,
Immersion in the natural world is a central aspect of healthy child’s play. Play, that involves our hands, is richly connected with our brains, and a primary way we interact with our world. As kids play with blocks, fashion mud pies, and throw balls, they are constantly fertilizing neural growth and integrating complex areas that the natural world offers.
~from an article by Stuart Brown, MD Founder of the National Institute for Play
The benefits are amazing and the effects are lasting. There is evidence that a connection to nature enhances social skills, mental cognition and emotional health. Your child will learn empathy for living things, develop self-regulation and have a reduction in stress (sadly childhood depression and stress are on the rise) when being in nature. It is important for your child to spend non-structured time in nature. The time you spend outside will have a long lasting impact on your whole family.
It is important to help the kids engage in nature and then step back and let them use their imaginations. It is great to see where they go! You are the first step in connecting your child to nature. If they do not know nature they cannot love nature. You cannot love something you do not know.
There are many benefits of being outside.
North Carolina State University – Natural Learning Initiative: Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature
Being in nature is a gift you can give your child that will stay with them for their whole life!
April is a time for dreams for a gardener….what is new in the garden today? what shall I plant? when can I go outside and dig in the dirt?! My boys loved to be outside digging in the dirt. As soon as the weather warmed up enough to plant we went outside to “put in our garden”. Of course, it was nothing like Great Grandpa’s garden at the farm in Ohio but it was ours. We always had corn (which was never knee high by the Fourth of July and we seldom got to eat it because the raccoons got there first!), carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, blueberries, pumpkins (that never got very big), strawberries, raspberries, cherries and, when they got older, peppers and cilantro for salsa.
Ours was an “eating garden” not the “canning gardens” they ran through when visiting the relatives in Ohio. It was there for them to experience the joy of growing something, to see where some of our food comes from and to be able to taste the goodness of their harvest (if we could keep the raccoons and birds from experiencing it first!) We would take pictures of their two corn stalks and send them to Great Grandpa – I am not sure who was prouder of their corn. When they got to high school they both took horticulture. The teacher came up to me one day and asked if Joel and Nick had gardened when they were younger. I said they had and she replied, “I knew it. They have such a respect for living things.” It is so important to let little ones nurture things from nature. They develop an empathy and a respect for living things when they garden as well as a knowledge of where food comes from, experiencing the science of growing seeds, patience while waiting for their plants to produce something to eat or look at, and pride in what they have accomplished. This love for nature will stay with them. Joel and Danielle have been working on the garden at their home Wedgwood. Nick does not have garden space but he likes to read books on gardening and loves planning a menu to eat all the things that Joel is growing!
My Grandfather would be so proud of his little gardener. I am glad we had, and are still having, fun digging in the dirt together. Children love to see the plants and see where food comes from before it gets to the grocery store. Take them to a blueberry or strawberry farm and let them pick some fruit. Then let them help prepare the food for a family meal. You know where food comes from but to them this is a new and exciting adventure. Take some time to get dirty with your child – or just visit the pea patch and see what other people are doing in the dirt.
Some of the children have already had the opportunity to plant seeds in the garden at preschool. We will all be planting soon. We will encourage the science of gardening while we set up experiments outside and have fun digging in the dirt at preschool. Be sure to check out the garden area when you are at school --The raspberry plants are leafing out, the hummingbird is visiting on a daily basis and the slugs are enjoying our primroses. There is a lot going on in the preschool garden. And more to come! Our Wildlife Habitat Garden has attracted the birds this winter and soon the butterflies will return. The garden is a place that allows the children to experience nature and encourages habitats for the animals in the area. When we encourage children to be a part of nature they develop a caring attitude toward nature that develops their ability to nurture – plants, animals and people.
Children learn through play.
We see play as just “fun” but for children play is hard work. It is a child's full time job to play. For children play comes naturally. It is so important to give children opportunities to play -- unstructured, open ended, child centered play. We may see it as meaningless but it is an important developmental activity for a child. Children learn through play.
By giving children an opportunity to play we give them an opportunity to learn. Through play they develop:
How does play come so easily to little children?
They have less outward restraints -- they have less focus on what society "thinks" as well as being less self-conscious about what they are doing. As we “grow up” it gets harder for us to play as freely as we did as children. We have to work at it.
What can we do to enhance their learning while they play?
We can give them opportunities to develop their imaginations by allowing them to engage in open ended play. Children used to have toys that were not connected to a product, movie or book. They would use a stick as a doll or train. They developed their own scenarios without adults orchestrating the play. When they had a train it was just a train not a train with a name and a specific role in the play. It is hard not to allow your child to have a Thomas or a Dora but you can help them develop the play without mirroring the story or TV show.
Kids today are attracted to the same things as when our boys were young but the difference then was that a train was just that -- a train, dinosaurs were dinosaurs, tools were hammers without a specific builder using them. Our first experience with attaching a particular movie/story to the generic dinosaur was Land Before Time and the dinosaur characters in the movie. We had to drive to a Mercer Island Pizza Hut to get Sharp Tooth. I never thought I would have allowed an advertisers scheme to manipulate me to buy pizza in order to get a toy. It was through my children's big, pleading eyes. We drove across town to buy a pizza in order to get the last dinosaur in the collection. Advertisers have found a big target population to sell items to – children.
It is important to give your child a chance to use their creativity when they play not just copy what they see or hear. One way to help your child develop their imagination is to give them opportunities to think and play "outside the box" that society puts their toy in. A prime example of how children enjoy the open ended "toy" is watching a child play with the box and wrapping paper the toy came in instead of with the toys that came in the box. If you allow children to have items that they can use to create their own play scene -- things that do not already have a story line attached to them—you allow them to engage their mind in their play.
Giving them opportunities for open-ended activities will encourage your child to develop their imagination and enhance their cognitive skills. Our sons played for hours with wooden blocks, animals and cars. Often they built towers, towns, boats, roadways -- the start of each project was new and changed as they developed the idea for that day. It was the same set of blocks yet used to create different outcomes, scenarios, stories. Toys are the same, yet different, now -- Legos used to be an assortment of colored building blocks but now they have a theme or specific story line attached that pre-determines the outcome of the play, many books have a show or movie that sets the visual imagery, dolls/trucks/trains have a pre-determined personality or story line. The play is less imaginative and less creative if the child is just re-creating what they have already seen or knows about the characters or materials they are playing with. It is important to help the child create his/her own story line or scenario rather than just mimic one that has already been determined by a toy manufacturer.
A natural arena for open-ended play is the backyard.
Give them time to be outside playing in the yard -- they can dig in the dirt, play with water, use animals as they make their own zoo or farm, plant a garden, watch the clouds, read a book. Being outside is something that is important for developing empathy for living things. They learn to respect living things -- both animals and plant life. Children need time outdoors -- unstructured time to play in natural surroundings. They experience the world through all of their senses. It gives them opportunities for leaning balance, eye hand coordination, cause and effect, visual discrimination, depth perception, enhances their hearing, creates associations with sound/sight to the knowledge they have acquired while reading books -- and you just thought they were playing outside! As they get older they can organize group play. The older kids set up the scenario and the younger kids get to play the parts. It is through this kind of multi-age play that they can develop social skills, problem solving techniques, leadership skills and self- confidence. Allowing the children to govern the play gives the child opportunities for developing abilities to manage their bodies and emotions, express their opinions and feelings, and create an environment of cooperation. They learn how to play together with rules and how to deal with their feelings when the outcomes of the group play are not what they want them to be.
When you are inside the house you can set up open ended activities that allow children to use household items for activities that encourage academic learning through play -- measuring and pouring develops spatial awareness (science, math, verbal skills), sorting items like buttons, nuts and bolts, food items (sensory awareness, verbal skills, visual discrimination), using socks for puppets, scraps of cloth for art projects (visual discrimination, 5 senses, creative problem solving).
There is a place and time for both open ended activities and playing with beloved characters. We had Snow White and the Seven "DORFS" memorized – I could not miss a word or page - ever! While on a trip to Ballard I had to stop at a toy store and ask permission to put the "dorfs" that were on display in the window in the correct order (Doc to Dopey). Winnie the Pooh and Mickey were part of the Disneyland play, Beatrix Potter was played out with their stuffed animals but they also made magic brews in the backyard, set up wild safaris in the garden and just laid in the grass and looked at the sky.
Give your child a balance of activities so they can develop creative thinking skills, cooperative play, and problem solving skills. Through play your child is developing many new skills that will be the building blocks for a lifetime of learning.
February is the month of love. The month we celebrate Valentine’s Day and show others how much they mean to us. But, as I sit here trying to decide what to write for Valentine’s Day, I cannot help but remember the years when my sons were little. I am looking at the pictures of “my boys” that sit on our computer desk. The pictures range in age from toddler to college age. There are smiling little preschoolers, brothers giving each other a hug, college students laughing wildly.... memories captured on film of days gone by. Each picture captures a moment of time that seems both a long time ago and just like yesterday at the same time. How often I would hear “it seems like just yesterday....” and “in the blink of an eye” when older parents would be talking about the childhood years.
As we continue to grow and change I reflected on our family: How have we, as a family, grown up together? What have we done to nurture the best in each other? Now that they are adults starting their own families I remembered a time, sitting around our dining room table, when we had a conversation about academics and how they enjoyed learning new things. I asked Joel, Nick and Luke (their close friend) what they thought our two families had done that allowed them to develop that desire to explore and engage in all sorts of learning activities. They had some interesting insights. They were positive that reading was vital for developing a love of learning. All three agreed that reading to them as children, and then to themselves, had been a pivotal point in their early learning. We all agreed that having a support network of loving adults that modeled a love of learning was important as well as having opportunities to build experiences such as visiting places like zoos, science centers, aquariums, the symphony, plays, the opera, libraries and traveling had enhanced their knowledge and these experiences added to the desire to learn more, read more, do more. Then they said two things I had never really associated with their success in school and their desire to continue to learn outside of the classroom.
The first was confidence -- Confidence in themselves and confidence that their family was there for them no matter what. If they needed to ask a question someone would be there to help them find the answer, if they needed help with a project someone would be there show them how they could accomplish the task (not do it for them but help them do it on their own), an awareness that they were not in this by themselves but that they had a family support network that would always be there for them – no matter what. They knew that there were adults in place, the ones that they had been developing trusting relationships with since they were toddlers, that would support them when they needed it most. These people would cheer them on, hug them when they needed one, listen to them, congratulate them on a job well done, be there to acknowledge the disappointments in life and help them find the positive out of the negatives. These people were there to encourage them and instill the confidence that they could accomplish whatever they set out to do.
Second was eating meals together. I was surprised to hear this one. We always ate together as a family. It was hardest in high school when we had to juggle meals, sports, homework and meetings but it was a priority. Luke said his father always made them have “spirited conversation” and Joel said he remembered that he felt respected when we listened to what he had to say at dinner. Nick liked the laughter at mealtimes. Both of our families had a no TV rule at meal times. Meals were more than time to physically feed our bodies they were a time to feed our minds and develop relationships. We listened to each other, laughed at our experiences and respected the thoughts expressed during the conversations. Now our mealtimes are quieter but when the boys come home we still have interesting conversations, lots of laughter and enjoy the time being together.
This February while you think of ways to express your love for those in your family take the time to look back on the positive experiences your family provided for you.
As we start the New Year some of us may have taken time to review what our families have done this past year and/or start planning the activities for the coming year.
Sometimes you need to get away and have some R&R so you have the energy to have a positive attitude about being a parent. Give yourself permission to have time – just time for you. Give yourself permission to pamper yourself. If you take the time to recharge yourself then you have the opportunity to be the best for your child. Take a walk, go on a date, read a book (that does not have pictures and soft, fluffy animals or a truck, train, builder as a main character), have a cup of tea and finish a chapter without being interrupted. Then you will have the energy to enjoy all they have to share with you … a hug, a sticky-jelly-kiss, a worm, a laugh.
In our family I treasure the laughter more than anything else. To hear children laughing brings such joy. Even though Joel and Nick are grown they will always be my “children” so their laughter will always bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. As Curt and I walked by a playground the other day we were talking about the sound of children playing and laughing. What a wonderful sound that is. It is the sound of joy and wonderment. Often it is the everyday memories that mean so much as your child grows up. The day you sat on the porch in the sun and read a book, that early morning sleepy look as they tumble out of bed, a smile just for you, the excitement of a making something all by themselves. These little snapshots of everyday life with add up and become the history of their childhood. You can hold onto these mental pictures of your little one as you watch them grow. Sooner than you think (or want) they head off into the ‘big’ world -- grade school, high school and then off to college or their new job.
Remember -- it is as important to take the pictures in your mind as it is with your camera because you can always look at the pictures in your mind.
This holiday season will be a blend of happy and sad for our family. We will be making new memories and starting new traditions as well as remembering “how we used to do it” and who we used to have with us. Just as you have started new family traditions with your children while continuing a blend of traditions from your own families we will be readjusting our traditions. Part of being a family is to continually re-assess what the family needs are. As our sons have grown up we have added some new activities while taking away ones that are no longer relevant or needed. Joel no longer puts the oatmeal out for the reindeer but Nick still enjoys the tradition of putting the cookies out for Santa. We still hang the ornaments on the tree while listening to The Muppets – even if Nick is hanging ornaments via Google video and Joel is hanging his on his own tree in his own house. The traditions that we have always done as a family may not be the ones that are carried on as they blend into their own family unit. Curt and I blended some family traditions and created our own. What is important is to create memories for your children to hold onto as they leave the house and start their own households. December in our household has lots of birthdays as well as Christmas to celebrate. We have friends who celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza and some friends choose to celebrate being together and all of us value the memories we create each time we are together. It is at this time of year we focus on traditions and memories but it is important to remember that the memories you make with your family happen every day and all year long.
Some traditions are based around your family, some around holidays and some just happen and become a family tradition. As we were looking through boxes of pictures for Pearl’s Memorial Service and for Joel’s wedding we were reminded of many neighborhood traditions. One of the winter traditions in our neighborhood was to wake up the kids if it started to snow after they went to bed. As you all know our snow can be here today gone tomorrow – and possibly-- here an hour and gone the next! So when it started to snow we would wake up the kids and go outside for a neighborhood snowball fight! We saw pictures of children dressed in snowsuits building snowmen, lobbing snowballs and laughing as they enjoyed the fun of fresh snow. We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with children the same age as Joel and Nick (there was even a dog friend for our dog!) As the years passed we no longer woke up the boys, who once were sleepy, footy-pajama-ed little people, to play in the snow. They preferred to sleep! But still, when it snows, Joel will be the first to call me on the phone and say: “ It’s snowing Mom!” And Nick sends me pictures from Wisconsin – although snow no longer has much of a warm fuzzy memory for him! I enjoy watching as they incorporate their childhood memories into their own traditions. It is nice to know that they enjoyed those days as much as we did.
What are some of the things you treasure and want to pass on to your children? Are they things you did as a child or things you wished you had done? One of the things I wanted to share with my children was a love of learning. I was never a reader but valued reading so I wanted to instill the love of books with the boys. We went to libraries, we would read books -all the time- and they had their own books on their own bookshelves. They were encouraged to treat books with respect and value them. Curt read to them ever evening before they went to bed. As they grew older the stories changed from picture books to chapter books then to book in a series. They loved Curious George, then Beezus and Ramona, Roald Dahl books and The Chronicles of Narnia. Books are still valued and treasured by them. This summer Joel’s fiancée, Danielle, road her bike across the state of Washington. In her final email she sent out a picture showing her with the map of her trip standing in front of the Pacific Ocean saying: I road 555 miles, summited 7 mountain passes and Joel bought 24 books! When asked what he needed in Madison Nick replied, more bookshelves. They love to read and I love that they do. It is a gift that will continue to give them great returns – memories, knowledge, enjoyment, understanding, connections with others and the world they live in. Some of the books our sons treasure are the ones given to them from their grandparents, some from us and some they have added to their collections. These books remind them of the people they love, places they have been and slices of time from their past. A book is a gift that can give the gift of knowledge, laughter, understanding and love.
Another gift we gave to our sons was the ability to entertain themselves. It is the gift of boredom that many children do not receive in our world of instant everything. We have movies on demand, games on our phones, DVD players in the car and iPads in case they need to be entertained. These are technology tools that can be used to ease an unpleasant and tedious sit in the waiting room, a long ride in the car and to keep them occupied while you make dinner. But do you ever let them be bored? Give them a box of “stuff” and let them find a way to use it? It is important to have open ended projects for children. It engages their mind in ways that will encourage them to be creative, allows their minds to develop new neurological pathways, develop problem solving techniques and allows them to experience success, and failures, that will develop their patience, tenacity and self-assurance. Children are naturally curious. If you give them items that they can choose the direction the play will go you are encouraging them to use their own creativity and imagination. Items such as Legos used to be open ended – just a box of colored plastic pieces that could be put together however a child wanted. Now they are specific to a character or movie and have a closed, one way to make it, plan. As you play with your child encourage them to make their own “play plan” not play just what they have seen on TV or in a movie. The more freedom they have in their play the more skills they are developing for later use: in school (creative writing, problem solving, imaginative play), with relationships (empathy, role playing, engaging with others) and personal growth (interacting with the world around them, developing self- confidence, feeling comfortable with who they are).
Take some time to reflect on your childhood and what memories you value. What are the things you want to share with your child? What are some of the ways you can allow your child to grow that does not involve something bought at the store? It is important to give them opportunities to grow by encouraging time spent in nature, time spent with others, time spent alone and time spent stimulating their mind. Enjoy the time you spend making memories this month.