Growing up I remember hands-on learning as something that was incredibly valuable to me. I liked to be active, on the go and busy. Now as a parent I am seeing the value in slowing down, and can truly appreciate the effort my parents went to when taking us out and about!
In the very early stages of schooling still with our preschooler, we are looking for ways to engage our child in learning while still sparking her need for play and imagination. Over the summer she participated in three days of “Critter Camp” at the local nature center; she continues to explore and learn more about nature and asks to take hikes, read nature books, and visit outdoor learning spaces. Our library hosted a speaker who is a homeschool senior and advocate for honeybee education, preservation, and hobbyist beekeeping. They had hands-on models of bees, large posters of their environment and needs, as well as how we need them for our eco-system, and they answered questions about bees. Due to this learning opportunity, potentially in the spring we will add a beehive to our little homestead.
Recently another nature center in our area sponsored a “Meet the Raptor” program and specifically had a session for younger children.
Rachel the Peregrine falcon and Gonzo the turkey vulture were the guests of honor. I think this visit was perhaps more exciting for Daddy than anyone else. Although our shy preschooler didn’t ask questions, she watched and listened intently. After we left she began to process the experience and ask more about raptors.
As we try to implement experiences and hands-on learning, I am hopeful that it leads to organic growth of interests in our children. After taking our oldest to baby and parent music classes since she was an infant, she has a love of music and desire to learn how to play, sing, and enjoy music in our daily lives. I am curious to see what other types of adventures we can take.
I would love suggestions from others on what their early learners enjoy doing that is experiential and hands-on.
I began to identify in September’s post why it is important to enter into connection with our children. This is not only helpful for the relationship, but also to facilitate a safe emotional environment for learning. I want to expand a little further on the three points that were identified as suggestions for starting out with your children from a place of connection.
Not that long ago I was working on something in the kitchen and felt very rushed. In the midst of my hurry, I dropped something all over the floor that needed to be cleaned up. I sighed very loudly and was ready to become quite frustrated. Our 4-year-old was watching and quickly came up to me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Accidents happen.” In that exact moment my own frustration was met with grace and understanding.
“And a little child shall lead them.”
Sometimes our children can be the very best examples of what we are trying to also teach them. I thought about that moment quite a bit that day, because I recognized that in the situation, had it been reversed, I might not always respond as kindly to her; and, that had I been scolded or met with criticism, it would have also changed my attitude and ability to feel loved and accepted. These daily interactions seem so small to many, but it is those tiny moments met with grace that open us up to training and guidance as we continue.
As we have been working on preschool skills at home, I am focusing a great deal of attention on simply being present, answering questions like, “Why does the moon go away?” and “How come the birds do that?” In the early phases of learning and schooling, it still feels like the most important thing I can do is be present to her questions and respond as best I can — if I don’t know the answer, telling her I will help her find out. I need a great deal of grace every day, and I’m grateful that she is able to give that to me, even on the days where I am struggling to give it to myself or in my interactions with her.
Sometimes when we sing about the wise man and the foolish man building their house on the rock, it reminds me of the Rock (Christ), but also the connection to the foundation that we as parents are trying to achieve. The goal ultimately for modeling grace is that it also continues to build the relationship and foundation for lifelong learning and love of Christ, and bringing that light into a world that desperately needs it.
In my last post I spent some time identifying more in-depth the process of modeling grace for our children, and also how they in turn will model it to us.
The second step I identified was the idea that our children need their big feelings and emotions validated, even if they are expressing themselves in an inappropriate way. Once the emotion is acknowledged, it allows room for them (and us) to start moving towards resolution, versus staying stuck in the feeling.
There are multiple sources available online that discuss the process of validation and what that looks like. I found a great article that describes the process well here: http://www.alustforlife.com/mental-health/children-and-adolescents/validation-of-childrens-feelings-promotes-positive-mental-health
Validation is an essential part of the relational process and one that is an ongoing struggle to maintain. It is so easy to expect validation from those around us, and yet not be aware and validating of what others are giving and saying to us. I think sometimes where this gets lost is when we are not providing our own validation — spending time on self-care and in the Word; fueling our bodies with healthy things; and processing our emotions through prayer, song, journaling, or conversation with supportive people we rely on.
The inner process of recognizing our own emotions allows us the space to offer it to our children as well. “Mommy is feeling frustrated with this project; let’s take a break,” is an example of one way to be aware and validating our own personal status and identifying for our children as well. When I notice my child is angry or upset, the most effective thing I can do in that moment is acknowledge it and help her label it if she is having trouble doing so: “I can see you are angry that Mommy asked you to stop what you are doing to help me with something else. Mommy gets upset when I have to stop doing something I like too.”
Validation for me is something I have to constantly be intentional and focused on so that I am not minimizing or dismissing my child or other persons’ concerns. Saying that we hear someone and their frustration does not mean it is nice, though, or an acceptable way to communicate. If your child says “I hate you,” validation would look like “I hear you are angry at Mommy.” Correcting them in the moment may or may not be effective depending on the age and temperament of the child. You can follow up with, “You can be angry with Mommy, but not say that. Saying you hate someone is unkind, and we don’t talk that way in our home.” Again, parents should use their discretion as to whether they can follow-up in the moment or after the child has calmed down.
I want to reiterate that validation does not mean condoning or agreement. It is, however, an important way to let our children know that we hear them and recognize their emotions.
In my professional work I encounter parents and children who are sad, frustrated, resentful, and feeling hopeless about a positive and fulfilling relationship with their child. “Parents are the bad guys” or “I’m not supposed to be my child’s friend” are often phrases I hear. When it comes to managing children’s behaviors, the focus is often on the compliance of the child, regardless of the emotional or relational cost.
It seems that parenting comes down to a battle of the wills: “You will do what I say.”
When I dig in my heels and refuse to collaborate with my child on desired expectations, we both lose. The child feels marginalized, unheard, and angry. The parents feel ineffective, frustrated, and like they are failing as a parent. Dr. Dan Siegel talks extensively about the research associated with the brain and development in his book, The Whole Brain Child. We as parents are the mirrors from which our children learn how to act appropriately. If their mistakes are met with criticism, anger, and blame, they will react with anger, mistrust, and defensiveness. The approach he recommends is the idea that children need us to help make meaning for them out of their daily activities.
When I think about how I approach the process of educating my child at home, I recognize that children cannot learn or retain information if they are living in chaotic environments, worried about their next meal, or dealing with other detrimental environmental factors. When I apply this to the home setting, it would seem that my child cannot engage in growing and learning if they do not feel accepted or cared for, or if they are worried about parental reactions/punishment. This doesn’t mean indulgence or lack of discipline, however; nor does it mean the parent isn’t in charge. It simply places the relationship in a position of cooperation vs. dominance. As a parent I am on a continual quest for balance between connection and correction. If my child feels connected and I am in tune with their needs, then they will naturally want to please me more than if I am acting or reacting with anger and punishments.
Here are three things I’ve found helpful in addressing my child’s behavior:
- Modeling grace: If I make a mistake I say so, I own it and say “uh oh,” and clean up the mess or apologize.
- Meeting anger with understanding: If my child is upset and emotional, I acknowledge that whatever they are feeling is valid and hard for them (even if its seems silly that they can’t find the right shoes).
- Redirect with whimsy instead of demands: Singing instead of talking, making a game out of the expectation, and assuming they will follow through by helping them start the task — all are positive encouragements.