Ever since the first day of school this year, Isabelle has helped her teacher make the oatmeal from scratch. In fact, she will no longer eat instant oatmeal! (Perhaps it’s because she knows just how good the stove-top version of oatmeal tastes.)
I gathered the ingredients we’d need, got my Vine ready, set Isabelle up in her play kitchen, and let her get the oatmeal started. Here’s how it’s done:
Izzy’s Oatmeal (adapted from Ms. Jackie, her teacher)
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Organic Regular Rolled Oats
2 cups water
1/4 tsp. fine crystal salt
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden raisins
maple syrup (to serve)
Combine oats and water in a medium saucepan. Stir.
Shake in as much cinnamon as your heart desires. Stir.
Stir in the raisins now. (Yes, now! Do not add them later. Adding them now will make them nice and plump!)
Isabelle is a three year-old who is very good at being three. She does many kind things. However, like any toddler, she is constantly testing boundaries and trying to assert her independence.
Isabelle had a tough start at our parent/child this morning. Every time she’d settle into an activity, she’d want to transition to something someone else was doing. For instance, if she was playing on the slide and saw someone else on the rocking horse, she’d start yelling about wanting to play on the horse too. I tried to redirect her to do something else (e.g., “Go have a tea party in the kitchen” when the kids were in the boat and she wanted to flip it over to make a mountain.), but every time I did she protested. Eventually, I ignored her and busied myself with a sewing project. Hard to do, but it made more sense to give her no attention than negative attention.
Something happened just when I thought there wouldn’t be a moment of peace this morning. Isabelle followed her teacher to the baking table. She sat beside Ms. Jackie, who has a soothing presence and sings sweetly, and began playing with the pretzel dough. Ms. Jackie dusted the table surface with flour then gave gave Isabelle a piece of dough to roll into a pretzel. While Isabelle didn’t roll it out in the traditional fashion, she busied her hands with it. She pressed, patted, and kneaded the dough. With each touch, I could see Isabelle coming out of her three year-old whining mode and moving into a more productive, purposeful place. She was doing her work, which in this case was baking a snack for the class. It seemed that was all it took to get her back on-track.
Until 20 minutes later when one of the other kids decided to take something Isabelle was playing with. Isabelle was not pleased and she let the girl know it. That was the last straw. I said, “Was that something a good friend would do?”
“No,” she said, looking down.
“I don’t want you to treat your friends like that again. You can use a calm voice to tell them ‘no.’ If this happens again today, then we’re leaving before the puppet show.”
“I wanna see pupa sow,” she replied.
“Then you need to be a better friend.” I said.
And wouldn’t you know, that was the last not-so-good moment of the morning. She participated in circle time & snack time beautifully. I guess she really wanted to see the puppet show! As a result, we stayed ’til the end of class time.
The next time we have a three year-old moment I’m going to busy Isabelle’s hands with something. I think doing something tactile helped to redirect her in a way nothing else could.
“Isabelle, what is your job?” I asked my daughter last month.
She paused, “Play!”
She was right. Her job is to play. I’ve told her this over and over and over. After over a year of hearing that her work is her play, she had internalized the concept.
* * * * *
I accompany Isabelle to almost all of the parent/child classes she attends. I try not to take on consulting jobs or make medical appointments on the two days a week she has class. (When that’s been impossible to avoid, my mother or mother-in-law have accompanied her to school.) Last year I stayed very close to Isabelle at school since she was the second to youngest in the class. She needed my help with a variety of things and therefore I didn’t engage in the “work” (e.g., baking or crafting) many of the other adults did while they were in class with their kids.
This year it’s a different story. Isabelle is the oldest child in her class. She enjoys working at the baker’s table helping her teacher make oatmeal and pretzels from scratch. She plays with a variety of toys independently in the classroom. Her teacher has noticed she’s about to go from parallel play stage to cooperative play stage. However, since the next oldest child is two and a half months younger than her, I’ve seen glimpses of associative play instead.
But here’s how I know Isabelle is more engaged in playing this year. I’ve been crafting this year. I felted pumpkins and Indian corn for a harvest table and I even made a fall mobile, complete with beeswax-dipped leaves, today!
My husband saw the mobile this evening and asked, “Did Isabelle help you with that?”
“She helped me by not helping,” I said sarcastically. Then, after I thought about the reality of the situation and the fact that I didn’t like the words that had come out of my mouth, I changed my tune. “No, she didn’t. But that’s because she was playing while I was working.”
* * * * *
I was buckling Isabelle into her car seat about 1 – 2 weeks ago. I asked her, “What’s Mommy’s job?” since I was curious what her response would be. She motioned her hands like she was driving.
“Mommy is a driver?” I asked her?
“Yes!” she declared.
“Well, I suppose chauffeur is one of my many job titles.” Of course, it’s not the one I would’ve given myself, but she’s two! For all I know she probably thinks I’m watching “Sesame Street” on my computer when I’m in here writing!
I remember the first day of parent/child class last September. Isabelle didn’t play with the toys. Instead she opened drawers and got a hold of things she wasn’t supposed to touch. She put her hands in a bowl of water and spilled it all over the floor. She didn’t participate in circle time, refused to eat the snack, and ran away from story time. Truth be told, I was a sweaty mess by the end of the morning since I was busy chasing after her and trying to keep her safe!
Today, I walked out of the building as refreshed as I was when I arrived with Isabelle in tow this morning. Isabelle knew where her classroom was and walked there immediately. She took off her own shoes before playing. She got reacquainted with her classroom’s toys while I caught up with her teacher and met some of the new moms. She engaged in pretend play with trucks, the classroom kitchen, and the baby cradle.
But more than those things, she helped her teacher prepare the morning snack alongside her best buddy, Jack. The two of them were the youngest kids in the class last year. Now they’re practically the oldest. Together, they helped clean up the bakers’ table and even did the dishes together once the class finished snacking. That never happened last year. What a difference a year makes!
Besides being a year older, I think the predictable rhythm of the parent/child class helps. Isabelle knew what to expect. She knew her job was to play. She knew she could help at the bakers’ table. She knew the dishes needed to be cleaned before story time could begin. I was so impressed with the way she just flowed through the classroom (and right out the door to recess).
First days of school become less and less predictable as kids get older. Teachers change. Classrooms change. Sometimes buildings change. But for now, just a few of the faces have changed in her classroom. For the most part, everything has stayed the same, which works for us.
In the car, as we drove home from school, I asked Isabelle, “Did you have fun at school today?”
“Yes!” she replied with delight.
It is my hope her enthusiasm and love for school continues as she continues on her educational journey!
If someone were to ask me what one of my Isabelle’s strengths is, I would say sharing. She’s one of those rare two year-olds who knows how to take turns and share.
That wasn’t always the case. A year ago she was quite possessive of her stuff. After a few months in a Waldorf parent/child class, she learned that not everything is hers. This happened as a result of turn-taking being modeled for her and her peers. As adults, our job was to encourage the children to redirect kids to something else that was appealing, rather than sharing the desired object, since the concept of sharing a toy is difficult for children. As a result of the redirection and turn-taking, which was also encouraged, Isabelle magically learned how to share things with other children. As a result, at two years old she shares better than most five year-olds.
And therein lies the problem. Most of the children she interacts with on a daily basis in the summertime do not attend her school. As a result, Isabelle is constantly put in situations with kids who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Because her speech is limited, I often notice she doesn’t know what to do. For instance, she can’t use her words to ask another kid to take turns with her on a slide. (I have to step in and facilitate that.) In addition, she’s not aggressive. I’ve only seen her grab something back from another kid a handful of times. Instead of taking back what was rightfully hers, she often just watches the kid who took what she was playing with. This worries me since I don’t want her to become a push-over. Conversely, I don’t want her to be an aggressor, so I’m not that upset that she doesn’t fight back.
Earlier this afternoon we took Isabelle to the pool. She enjoyed floating around the big pool in our arms, in her floaties, and holding on to noodles. But then she wanted to go into the kiddie pool. We brought two pails with us, which she likes to fill with water and dump over herself. She started out playing with the pails until she noticed a couple of the other kids in the kiddie pool had a ball. She wanted to play with it. She made her wishes known by saying “ball” a few times. Eventually one of them handed her the ball. She took turns passing the ball back and forth with him until his sister wanted the ball. She just grabbed it out of Isabelle’s hand. Isabelle looked perplexed and I said, “The ball is not yours. Your have to take turns and share it.” That appeased her.
A few minutes passed and she must’ve decided she wanted the ball so she walked across the kiddie pool to get it. She picked it up. Things were fine until the little girl came to grab it away from her. “Can you give her a turn with the ball? It is her’s,” I said to Isabelle.
Isabelle dutifully handed the ball back to the girl. “Thank you, honey,” I said. Isabelle clapped for herself. The other girl turned her back on Isabelle.
This little scene continued several more times. All the while the little girl’s father was sitting alongside the kiddie pool saying nothing. He was involved in a conversation with another adult and didn’t involve himself in the toy sharing situation.
I walked away from the pool to eat lunch leaving Isabelle there with my husband who was supervising her play. I kept my eyes on the pool while I had lunch and noticed a power struggle over other toys. The other kids had plastic action figures that Isabelle wanted. She picked them up, since they were laying untouched on the pool’s edge. Within a matter of seconds, the other girl came over to take the object out of my daughter’s hand. I watched my husband intervene a few times, but most of the time he tried to stay back and let Isabelle negotiate the situation. From afar I was glad he didn’t meddle too much since it allowed me to watch my child be resilient in the face of having something she was playing with get taken away from her. She didn’t yell at the little girl. She didn’t shout “no.” Isabelle looked at the other girl kind of funny each time she demanded something back. And then Isabelle went back and played with something else, unfazed by the other child’s antics.
Another child entered the kiddie pool while I was eating lunch. She had plastic fish and didn’t mind sharing them with Isabelle except for her clown fish figurine, which was hers. She didn’t want anyone touching it. However, her sharing behaviors were much better since I noticed her playing alongside of Isabelle for about a minute.
By the time I returned to the kiddie pool, I noticed Isabelle was playing happily with another kid’s toys. Where were her pails? I looked up. The little girl who was frustrated by Isabelle trying to play with her toys had absconded them and was using them. Hmph!
I looked at the clock and then the sky. It was creeping quickly towards nap time and the sky was gray. “I think we should go soon,” I said to my husband. He agreed and began to prepare Isabelle to leave by singing the good-bye song (to the pool) with her. Once Isabelle was plucked out of the pool, I said, “Why don’t you dry her off and I’ll get her pails back.”
He agreed and whisked Isabelle over to our table. I walked to the other side of the kiddie pool, bent down and said to the little girl who was still playing with Isabelle’s pails, “We’re leaving now so I need my daughter’s pails back.” She looked up at me and didn’t move. I bent down further and she let go of them. I dumped the water out of them, stacked one inside the other and decided to say something to her (in an effort to be positive). “Thank you for sharing some of your toys today.”
Her father, who was beside her, chuckled. “Thank YOU for sharing with us today.” I looked at him, smiled, and walked away. His emphasis on the YOU was probably directed at Isabelle. I took his comment to mean that he knew Isabelle truly shared with his daughter while his daughter wasn’t a great sharer. So why didn’t he encourage his daughter to share and take turns while our kids were in the pool together? Hmph!
I realize most toddlers don’t share and take turns well. Sharing and turn-taking are skills that have to be explicitly taught and modeled. More often than not, I find myself mediating these toddler situations by using phrases like, “First _____ will take a turn, then you will take a turn” and “Why don’t you play with this?” I often wonder if I’m getting in the way of her working these situations out on her own. That being said, I know my daughter needs me to be her voice since she doesn’t have the words to negotiate some of these situations on her own (and I don’t want her to get steamrolled by other kids). There’s a fine line I have to walk between being a helicopter parent and advocating for my child. I wonder if I’m walking on the line properly.
I was reminded of Maribeth Boelts’s picture book I used to read to my students, When It’s the Last Day of School as I drove Isabelle to school today. Even though we have a class field trip to a farm next week, today was the last day we’d be in the school building for this school year. As I recalled Boelts’ book, I made a mental note to capture as much as I could in my mind today. I wanted to take note of how much has changed since Isabelle (and I) started Parent/Child Class in September.
THEN AND NOW
In September two and a half hour class felt long. I would trail Isabelle around the classroom as she toddled around “exploring.”
In May each two and a half hour class feels short. I can sit and talk with other parents and watch Isabelle from a distance.
In September Isabelle opened all of the teacher’s cabinets looking for treasures. One time she even unloaded all of the felt from one of them!
In May Isabelle knows her way around the classroom. She’ll occasionally open a cabinet, but I think it’s just to see if I’m paying attention.
In September Isabelle wouldn’t eat the snacks the teacher served. I had to bring my own bag of snacks for her.
In May Isabelle enjoys the pretzels and some of the muffins the teacher makes. She tries everything that’s presented to her.
In September Isabelle was so busy “exploring” that she didn’t even realize there was a snack being prepared by the other kids and parents.
In May Isabelle takes turns stirring the muffin batter, oiling the baking sheets, and sprinkling cinnamon on top of the cinnamon roll dough.
In September Isabelle would flit from one activity to another. Her play lacked purpose.
In May Isabelle can entertain herself with activities. She engages in pretend play with the baby dolls and by having tea parties with other kids.
In September I had to constantly supervise Isabelle. I had no time to do the craft projects.
In May I can keep my eye on Isabelle without hovering. I’ve been able to make felted slippers.
In September Isabelle wasn’t quite steady on her feet.
In May Isabelle is climbing on things she isn’t supposed to have her feet on. She takes risks and tries obstacle courses and the curvy board on a regular basis.
In September Isabelle could barely make it through circle time. She was not engaged in any of the songs.
In May Isabelle enjoys participating in circle time. While she may occasionally stray, she participates and tries to make the hand gestures in the songs.
In September Isabelle was unable to make it through story time. In fact, she seemed completely uninterested in the puppet play.
In May Isabelle can sit through story time. She delights in watching her teacher’s puppets and figures come to life.
Oh what a change in my little girl in just a few months’ time. Thanks to the predictable rhythm and routines her teacher established, Isabelle was able to adapt to her classroom. She was so young when school started in September… not even two. Now she’s steadier on her feet, willing to engage with other kids, and a child who loves school. What more could an educator ask for!??!
Screen Free Week is an annual celebration from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), which encourages “turning off screens and turning on life.” CCFC’s Screen Free Week begins on Monday April 29th and lasts through Sunday, May 5th. It’s a response to public health concerns about the amount of time children spend with consuming screen media (e.g., computers, smart phones, television, and video games). Isabelle’s screen usage is already well below the average American preschooler’s, which some studies studies estimate between 4.1 to 4.6 hours per day*. (Including multi-tasking, children 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours per day with screens*!) I credit Waldorf philosophy with the fact she spends no more than an hour (Two hours two days a week when I let her watch “Sesame Street,” plus an occasional half hour watching “CBS This Morning” with me a couple of mornings a week when I’m just craving information.) in front of a screen each day. And that time is in front of an iPad doing expressive and receptive language activities alongside me. Therefore, instead of those couple of hours of “Sesame Street” during Screen Free Week, I’m vowing to spend a bit more time outside. I’ll also be sure I wake up a full hour earlier than Isabelle during all of Screen Free Week so I have ample time to watch the news before she wakes up. As usual, Isabelle and I will read a lot together.
Random House Children’s Books is issuing an UNPLUG & READ Challenge during Screen Free Week. It was inspired by Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged , which is about a robot who discovers real life experiences trump virtual ones. I’m delighted this blog will be one of the stops on Random House’s UNPLUG & READ Blog Tour on Thursday, April 25th, which is when I’ll review Doug Unplugged.
While it’s not feasible for me to eradicate all screen usage that week because of consulting and blog-related commitments, I will be lessen my media consumption that week so I can get outside to draw (which I haven’t done since we moved to PA almost four years ago!), spend more time reading books and in favor of my writer’s notebook as opposed to writing on my computer.
Looking to decrease your child’s media consumption during Screen Free Week? Click here for the UNPLUG & READ Parent Guide.
*=Random House Children’s Books provided me with the above-mentioned statistics.
There is a routine every time we follow every time my daughter and I attend parent/child class. It goes like this:
outdoor play time
Free play begins at 9:00 a.m. Snack time is usually around 10:45 a.m. Therefore, story time happens around 11:15 a.m. It’s a long morning for a two year-old by the time story time arrives. Therefore, my daughter is tired.
For the past two days we’ve been at school she has laid down on her lily pad (aka: Boppy pillow) during the story. Her pals (also two years-old) haven’t loved that. Last Wednesday one little girl repeatedly implored her to share her lily pad. She said, “Isabelle, share,” multiple times. Isabelle wasn’t into it. She continued to lay on her belly, eyes on the story.
Today, one of the little boys was displeased she had chosen to lay on the ground during the story time (which is an oral story and puppet show rolled into one). He commanded her to “sit up and sit on my lap.”
His mom and I stifled giggles. “Did you hear him?” she mouthed to me.
“Yes!” I mouthed back.
But Isabelle wasn’t into it. She didn’t comply. Instead she kept laying on the floor, head on the Boppy pillow, eyes on her teacher from her flat vantage point. (BTW: Her teacher was telling a story that included the most exquisite felted animals. I was captivated. But in Isabelle’s defense, the story was about 8 – 10 minutes long.)
Eventually, Isabelle tired of the little boy asking her to sit up. So, she did the unexpected. She stood up and tried to run away. One of the other moms got to her and brought her back before I did. She laid down and then popped up again. This time I caught up with her and said, “this is what we’re doing right now.” I led her back to the story time by the hand. But then she wanted to get up close and personal with her teachers puppet play board. She went right up to it and grabbed a large pine cone (that symbolized a tree in the forest). I promptly grabbed it from her hand, put it back on the board, lifted her up, and held her ’til the end of the story.
Snip, snap, snout. This tale is told out.
With those words, I released Isabelle from my arms so we could sing the good-bye song.
I wonder what will happen during Wednesday’s story time…
Last month I blogged about the effects of television on young readers. Since that time I’ve been turning off the television a lot more. No longer does “Sesame Street” have a place in our dinner preparation routine. Instead the television is turned off. Most mornings, I have stretched without “The Today Show” going since Isabelle is always hanging out alongside me. It’s quieter when the TV is off, but that allows me to attend to her more. In that time I’ve noticed her receptive language skills have gotten even stronger. She follows more two-step commands. Her responses to my questions are often accurate (e.g., “Do you want to go downstairs to eat breakfast?” gets a true “yes.”), which makes life easier. Could this be because she’s watching even less television than she was three weeks ago. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s too early to tell or to surmise about what’s really working.
We’re still talking about media in my daughter’s class. This week my daughter’s teacher shared a video with us that discusses more of the reasons children should be kept away from television. While it doesn’t focus on the effects of TV on reading, it is a fascinating video that will definitely make you question how much television your child(ren) should be watching daily.
I’d love to know what you think about this. Please share your thoughts about this video by leaving a comment on this post.
This month, in the Parent/Child Program my daughter and I attend twice a week, we are studying the topic of media and its role in our children’s lives. My daughter’s teacher provided us with an article by Susan R. Johnson, M.D. entitled “Strangers in Our Homes: TV and Our Children’s Minds.” This article provided me with a better understanding of how the brain works and why exposure to television is harmful to young children.
I have to admit, I do allow my daughter to watch some TV. She watches about 30 minutes of “The Today Show” alongside me as we get ready in the mornings. As cute as it is that she waves back at the crowds in NY when she watches “The Today Show,” I’m realizing that we probably don’t need to have the TV on at all. (Therefore, it’s up to me to wake up well before her so I can get ready with the TV on so that I can get my fill of news for the day.) In addition, I let her watch an episode of “Sesame Street” a few days of the week. However, reading the articles my daughter’s teacher has provided us with has made me rethink the amount of TV she watches. In fact, I’ve even turned off “Sesame Street” this week, which I usually let her watch while I cooked dinner. I’m scaling back because I am beginning to truly understand why television is harmful to children. (The AAP’s statement on media consumption before two didn’t resonate with me as much as this article did since it explained why children need that human interaction, which my daughter does get lots of, rather than the screen time.)
There was a portion of Dr. Johnson’s article that made the literacy specialist in me take note. She wrote:
Our visual system, “the ability to search out, scan, focus, and identify whatever comes in the visual field” (Buzzell 1998), is impaired by watching TV. These visual skills are also the ones that need to be developed for effective reading. Children watching TV do not dilate their pupils, show little to no movement of their eyes (i.e., stare at the screen), and lack the normal saccadic movements of the eyes (a jumping from one line of print to the next) that is critical for reading. The lack of eye movement when watching television is a problem because reading requires the eyes to continually move from left to right across the page. The weakening of eye muscles from lack of use can’t help but negatively impact the ability and effort required to read. In addition, our ability to focus and pay attention relies on this visual system. Pupil dilation, tracking and following are all part of the reticular activating system. The RAS is the gateway to the right and left hemispheres. It determines what we pay attention to and is related to the child’s ability to concentrate and focus. The RAS is not operating well when a child watches television. A poorly integrated lower brain can’t properly access the higher brain (Johnson, 1999, 5).
If I want my daughter to be a successful reader, then I have to do more than model positive reading behaviors and read her stories. I have come to realize that I must limit the amount of time she spends in front of the TV. While I don’t think I’m going to go cold turkey on TV with her, I now know that I am doing her more harm than good by having it on.