Category Archives: Reflecting

Separation Anxiety and Strangers

This incident happened a few weeks ago and I’ve taken some time to process through what happened and how I feel about it and now I feel prepared to share about it. 

We are going through the process of applying to the Pre-K program at a local private school. It’s a great private school and although I still don’t think Cam will go there for the primary grades I really want her in the Pre-K program. The teacher is incredible and she has built an AMAZING Reggio-inspired program that I think Cam will love and will benefit from immensely. Part of the application process is a screening. While it seems silly for such small children to be screened, this is mostly to get a handle on the kids coming in, be sure they are ready, and ensure there aren’t any major learning issues (the school does not provide services for children with severe learning issues).

Prior to us going in for the screening I prepped Cam as best I could telling her a woman would be talking to her. I was not, and still am not, sure exactly what goes on in the screening. I assume they keep this hush-hush so that parents can’t prep their kids. I also knew that I would not be allowed in the room and told Cam that. She was so-so on me leaving, but since her visit went so well (with nary a tear shed) I thought it might be okay. 

It was not. There were a lot of things that led up to the sobbing shut down Cam had. The screener was not welcoming to either us or to Cam. There was no “hello”, no “how are you”, no greeting what so ever. The only interaction before curtly asking Camille to follow her alone into a room was “Is this Camille?” directed, not at Cam herself (who if she is entering Pre-K should be able to at least acknowledge her own name), but at me. She didn’t even glance at my husband. 

At that point Cam quickly and apprehensively climbed into my lap. As I, with little or no help from the screener, tried to coax Cam into the room more and more tears came. By the time I had dragged Cam the 15 feet to the doorway she was hysterical and begging to go home. She was scared. The screener’s response was to ask me if she was an only child and if she was in school. Yes and no. Her advice: there are parenting books on separation anxiety. And her parting wisdom: this doesn’t happen often. She also encouraged us to hire a babysitter to help her feel more comfortable being left with other people.

I’m entering rant mode here, be forewarned. My kid is three and half years old. She is just like me in that in order to quell her anxiety she needs a good sense of what is going to happen, what is expected from her, and a level of comfort in an environment before she will open up. Once she has those things, boy does she open up. You have to ask her to stop talking she opens up so much. Sometimes you have to remind her we aren’t at home and she can’t help herself to things without permission. I couldn’t provide her with any of that information prior to going to the screening. And the screener wasn’t willing to provide her with the time, energy, or information once we were there. Holy shit she was terrible. I’m amazed this woman has been working with kids for two decades. You wouldn’t know it.

I am well aware there are kids who are comfortable leaving their parents side and comfortable in new situations. However, being an only child and being home with me is not an indicator of either of those things, just like being in daycare and being one of several siblings is not an indicator of those things. Neither are they a cause of this apprehension. Over my years working with kids I have seen confident kids and shy kids come from homes with lots of siblings and homes with no siblings. I have seen kids who have spent their lives in daycare and at home and are both outgoing and shy. I would have been nervous in that situation and if that’s the case, how could I possibly expect my three and half year old, whose understanding of the world is so limited and whose experience is so brief and small, to be fine with it? With Cam this is a case of nature and nurture. That was me as a child and I was in daycare from a year old, certainly before I have any memory of being home.

As for the babysitter suggestion. I can’t even begin to express how inappropriate that was. For starters I don’t think leaving a very young child with some one you don’t know is the best option. Sure people do get babysitters. As a parent you need to get out and go away. But they have met and interviewed these people. Especially when their children are small. Fortunately for us we have family. Lots of family. Very close. They are the better, safer, and more appropriate option for our young child. Another point to consider here is the cost of hiring a babysitter. It so happens that if we had to pay to go out for an evening or a trip to Home Depot that wouldn’t go out. Our family is happy to watch Cam for free. I would also note that if we were to leave Cam with a babysitter it would be someone she had met on multiple occasions with us present. Some one we had vetted and were comfortable with, etc, etc. It would not be anything like the situation that happened in the screener’s office. In fact that kind of response (or lack thereof) would be grounds for immediate firing from a babysitting gig. And since this is to “help” Cam feel more comfortable with situations like we were in (where her parents leave her alone with someone she doesn’t know to do something she has no idea about) then we would need to hire a complete stranger and then leave her with them. So, that’s not a working model. 

Again, my kid is three and a half. If she was willing to walk off with a stranger with not even a glance over her shoulder at me, I would be horrified and terrified. There may be kids who are capable of that at three and a half, but it would be concerning. It would certainly raise red flags about safety and maybe attachment. This is NOT a case of separation anxiety. This isn’t me leaving her at school and she’s afraid I won’t come back, that I’m abandoning her. It’s a case of she doesn’t know who the f *ck you are and what you’re going to do to her behind that closed door and wants a reassuring presence there. From an evolutionary perspective, this is smart. She’s totally dependent on me, particularly for protection, and being worried would help keep her out of dangerous situations and help her survive. Not to mention she will let me leave her places and with other people. She will also let me walk out of line of sight in the store without worrying. An occasional, “Mama?” answered with a “Here” is all the reassurance she needs in that situation. 

My other concern is the implication that I’m supposed to make Cam do this. Force her to be alone in a room with some she doesn’t know, and now, doesn’t trust. That runs counter to everything I want to teach her about personal safety. I don’t believe in stranger danger. That idea is way too binary and doesn’t allow for the nuance there can be in apprehension and nervousness about new people and situations. I want Cam to trust her gut about how she feels, so that she can make decisions that she feels are right for her. It seems extreme, but a childhood of people telling her “you need to do this because I say so even though you aren’t comfortable” can eventually translate into her boyfriend telling her to get in the backseat when she’s a teenager not ready to have sex but doing it anyway. I have been in some hairy situations when it comes to personal safety and, while I can’t say what would have happened had I not trusted that creepy feeling I got, I am glad I went with it and removed myself from them. I want to give that same confidence to Cam and learning to trust that feeling starts now. Yes, at three and half. Not when she’s 18. So, I am not comfortable telling her to suck it up and do it even though I know she isn’t in danger. She doesn’t yet know that and it’s my job to help her feel comfortable enough to do this thing and discover for herself that it was unpleasant, but fine. 

The long and the short of it is, I am so angry with this woman. And I’m pissed that Cam has to go through this again. Considering this is the only grade I’m interested in for her at this school it hardly seems worth it. I talked to the woman in the admissions department about what happened and she is both a long time friend (seriously, going back 20 years) and a warm, caring, lovely person. I wanted her to know what had happened and why I was angry. I also wanted to see if she had suggestions for how to get past this. We’re going to try having Cam visit the admissions department and do some role playing to get her comfortable with the space where the screening will happen. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes. I actually think this might work really well as it will get Cam comfortable in the space.

On Pets, Life and Death

This week we had to have one of our birds put down. It was, obviously, a sad event in our house, however I actually believe this is one of the most important lessons offered by having pets. 

Birds are very companionable animals and we love having them around for the company and for the breath of life they bring to our house. There is always squawking and singing, fluttering and rummaging going on. They do ridiculously funny things and also a lot of irritating things. But they’re our friends and family. I think this connection we have with these creatures is really important for Cam and I think it helps her develop and empathy for other animals, for the environment and for other people. She practices kindness with them daily by gently touching them or by learning to think of how they feel when she bangs on their cage. We recently went out and bought each bird a new toy and she was so excited that when we came home, she ran up to their cages and began telling them all about the toys she picked out.

Having pets also teaches her about caring for and being responsible for another being. At this point I feel she is too young to be in charge of any of the birds, but she sees me feed and water them everyday. She helps clean out their cages and pick out new toys for them. She also helps us interact with them and keep them company because as birds they need our company as much, or more, than we need theirs.  

But then there is the hard, hard conversation about death. Cam kept asking if Mango was going to be okay, clearly not grasping the finality of his death. But seeing it and experiencing it now will help her come to understand. We used the opportunity to talk about how we made an effort to ensure Mango had a happy, healthy life while we owned him (he was a rescue that came to us three years ago). We talked about what we liked about him and what we’ll miss.

Death throws life into sharp relief and I hope by beginning to understand it Cam will learn to live. She will want to do great things with her life and appreciate all the wonderful things she has. I hope it teaches her not to be afraid, either of the inevitable or of living. I hope it teaches her how to grieve and to know that despite the sadness she can be happy again. I hope it teaches her that a life with meaning has sadness in it and that this makes the good all the more sweet. This all seems a tall order for the death of one small bird, but it was the first friend she has lost and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think she will take pieces of this away from it all.  

Cool Stuff Vol. 2: Issue 4

Came across this great little post on How We Montessori about encouraging independence in self care with toddlers. I would only add that what your child is capable of and wants to do is really dependent on them, however these tips and tricks will really encourage them to take . I’ve used How We Montessori as a model for setting up several areas in our house that encourage Cam to be independent and in charge of certain things. 

I really liked this post on Happiness Is Here that talks about arbitrary punishment versus natural consequences. As the saying goes, the punishment should fit the crime. I think the lesson children learn from natural consequences are far more powerful and effective in helping children become successful adults than yelling, guilting or taking away privileges (unless they are connected to the wrong doing). I also think it takes the parent’s ego out of the equation and there are fewer possibilities for power struggles. 

Finally, this is a really different sort of post from one of my library-related blogs I follow: In Defense of Gentle Men It’s a piece that takes a look at the book The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee, which came out last year, and uses it to defend men who don’t fit the gender stereotype of “masculine man”. Give it a read really quickly and come back to my thoughts on it if you like, which are as follows:

I totally agree with this and think there is a trend to apply adult thinking to childlike situations. I also think this problem, the problem of the book seeming “creepy” to some people for the older, gentle man caring for a child, ties into a couple other societal trends that are not healthy or right. The first is over-sexualizing girls clothes. I think there is a problem with girls clothes, they are often too adult too young and restrict movement and emphasize looks over practicality, but I think we also need to realize that by seeing them as sexy we are looking at something that is inherently neutral (clothing) and applying our own adult thoughts and experiences to it. The clothes aren’t sexy, especially when on a little girl, because little girls aren’t sexy. BUT when you have been taught by society that short shorts and tighter fitting clothing is sexy it’s hard to not see girls clothes and apply that idea. The second trend is one of scare tactics. We as a society have never been safer, but we are more afraid, especially when it comes to our children. I think there is great value in teaching children to be cautious, but I don’t think that should get in the way of allowing them some freedom and allowing them to learn from situations. We don’t need to use books like The Farmer and the Clown to teach kids that all men (or people in general) if they are by themselves mean you harm (of whatever kind). There are bad people out there, but by and large they are few and far between. There are genuinely good people who would help out a child in difficult or dire situation without wishing to harm them. I would rather teach my daughter to recognize both those types of people for herself than paint everyone with a broad and scary brush. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 3

Just two links this week:

This first one is to Lee and Low Book’s February booklist. It includes tons of book titles for Black History Month, Rosa Parks’ birthday and more. All diverse title, too. 

Here’s a great post from Eltern Vom Mars, a German Montessori blog. They are working on initial sounds with their toddler and we’re starting to do that too. This post shows a sorting game that reinforces initial sounds and it quite clever. Note that the blog is in German so the sorting is not for English words, but German ones. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 2

A few good articles to share this time:

From The Mindshift blog from KQED, an article looking at how unschoolers turn out once they hit college/adult life. It’s a small study, but the results are interesting. There’s a mix of outcomes, but overwhelmingly positive. How Do Unschoolers Turn Out? Certainly worth a read if you are thinking about unschooling or are curious.

I really love how this blog post shows how to use books in the early phases of provocations and projects. They pique interest, spark ideas, and introduce topics. The children in this classroom didn’t gravitate toward the bird watching provocation (binoculars and guide book by the window) until reading a book about birds. Of course, as a librarian and bibliophile, I love this and it’s certainly a default for me to turn to books. I’m glad to get a little validation seeing others do this too. Becoming a Birder on Searching for Sparks blog. 

I know I link a lot to Racheous, but I often love what she has to say. Here’s a great post about unschooling and how it means not worrying about ensuring kids learn specific facts. It’s Not All About Learning. As she puts it:

“I don’t care if my child doesn’t learn about certain arbitrary facts associated with a life cycle we’re observing or specific elements of numeracy we’re exploring through play. That specific, testable knowledge is no longer the endgame. It happens regardless – but it’s no longer the top desired outcome.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want her kids to learn information, it’s simply that any given information and the emphasis on it’s necessity to learn it is totally arbitrary. The endgame of education is to learn how to learn and enjoy it. 

Cool Stuff Vol. 2, Issue 1

Just a few things this week that I’ve been saving up:

A really interesting blog post about princess-shaming from one of the librarians I follow, Liz Burns. Princess shaming is when parents wring their hands over their daughter’s fascination with princesses and encourage them not to like girly things. Here’s a little pull quote to give you a sample of her thoughts: 

“…there is a right way and wrong way to be female and the child is picking the wrong way. And of course, the books are all wrong because they don’t have enough ‘exemplary, idiosyncratic female role models.'”

I so agreed with this and it put princess play into such a different light for me. There are a lot of links in the article to other interesting articles. 

An interesting article about saying yes to kids when they ask to try out things. The author labels this the culture of permission which I think is incredibly descriptive. This is intended for classroom teachers, but I think it’s totally applicable to homeschooling and just generally having kids at home. It’s short with a video at the top (which I have not watched) and worth a quick read. 

Finally, in neat little list of things to remember for the new year. I was especially fond of #21 as we try to reduce our amount of stuff.

Advent Reflections: 2014/4

Just a heads up, I will not be posting this week or next week. Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season.

The fourth and final week of Advent celebrates the festival of human kind. This past year we began taking food over to our local food bank. It’s housed in the church that is, quite literally, around the corner from our house. Food insecurity for adults and children is surprisingly high in our city and while I think the idea of helping people in Africa or Haiti or other developing nations is well intentioned, there are a lot of racial, cultural, and historical issues with it that come along as baggage. Instead of swooping in and helping people so far away I think it’s very important for us not to forget that there are people right here in our neighborhood who need our help. If you are interested in the perspective that we should consider helping those around us before we help those so far away and how problematic charity in Africa (and other developing nations is), see this blog post on Africa is a Country blog. There are several links and resources within the blog post that can help you explore the ideas more. 

The other thing I’m working on in the coming year, primarily with my library work, is supporting diverse books for children. If you haven’t heard about the movement #weneeddiverse books you should check out their organization and mission. I am only going to be reading and reviewing books that feature diversity of some kind on my library blog. I will be less strict about that with picture and nonfiction books I read with Cam, but I am going to try and limit books I purchase to those with diversity to show support for the movement and to encourage publishers to put out more books with diversity in them.  

Advent Reflections: 2014/3

The third week of Advent centers around the animal kingdom. I think the menagerie we keep is evidence enough that the animal kingdom is high on our list of things we love. This past year we began donating money and supplies to the local Wildlife Care Association. They are a primarily volunteer run organization that rehabilitates wildlife. If you find a sick, injured or abandoned (wild) animal you can drop them off at the WCA’s facility. For free. It’s a wonderful service.

This year I want to donate time to them. I am in the process of filling out their home rehabilitation application. If they approve us we can help them care for animals at our house until they are ready to be released. I think there is a lot of value in this. Of course there is the obvious benefit of helping an animal in need. However I think it could be an incredible learning experience for us and for Cam. She can also see up close what is involved in caring for animals and get a sense of the biology of wildlife and the cycles of life and death. With the drought in California the WCA also said they have seen an increase in animals coming to them, so I think they can use the help.

This plays into the family culture of caring and community that I want to foster. I really want Cam to learn that we need to be caretakers of our environment and that there are things we can do as individuals that make a difference. 

I encourage you to look up and see if you have a similar service or association in your area that needs help and consider giving to them. 

Advent Reflections: 2014/2

The second week of Advent celebrates the kingdom of plants. I think this is a good time to reflect on gardening in the new year and on the flow of the seasons. 

This year is going to be the year we remove our front lawn. And in its place are going to be several raised garden beds. We don’t get a lot of light in the backyard which makes growing things very difficult. We also had a couple rogue chickens that kept eating all my new shoots. That was incredibly disheartening. We only solved the problem by clipping the worst offender’s wings. Even though her feathers have grown back in she hasn’t resumed the habit. 

Planting a RainbowI did work on the garden this year, but between a lack of light, general gardening laziness, and Rosie the chicken not much happened. I think what I want to focus on this year is continuing to garden, but making it as simple and maintenance-free as it can be. If I have to be out there checking on things twice a day it won’t happen. If I can pop stuff in and check every couple of days I will do that, but intensive weeding is not high on my priorities right now. 

To continue with last week’s theme of suggesting a picture book to go with my resolutions I have to say I love Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow. Not only is the story about her and her mother planting together every year, but it follows the garden through the year. In the winter they select the seeds and plants they want to grow. In spring they put out the seeds and seedlings. In summer they watch everything grow and then harvest bouquets of flowers. And in fall they plant bulbs to emerge the next spring. 

Activity in the Hive: Home vs. Classroom Provocations

Between setting up provocations for Cam and constantly reorganizing our play spaces so that Cam can easily get to things she is interested in I came to a realization. I’m like a lot of moms, I read mommy blogs and scour Pinterest. I like to see what other people are doing and get inspiration and ideas for things to do in our home- organization, activities, etc. I also happen to see and follow several Reggio teachers and greatly admire many of the things they do. I wouldn’t necessarily copy any of their provocations, since Cam may not be interested in what the programs are specifically about. However, I do like to adapt them.

One thing I started noticing, primarily with the school provocations, is that they are designed to take up a whole table and stay out on that surface. That’s great, if you have a lot of tables and/or space. But, we live in a post-WWII track home. We’ve done a lot to open up the house, but the rooms are still small. We don’t mind, we love our house, but it does mean that when we organize and set up furniture we have to get creative. Moreover, we live in our house everyday and do other house related things like eat, sleep, wash clothes, and shower. These are all activities that are, by and large, not done in a classroom and they create some other limitations on setting up a classroom-like setting. So bringing the classroom provocation into the home is requiring some of that creativity and a flexibility that allows for things to be put away at the end of the day and rotate onto our two work tables when the mood strikes. 

Here are some things I’ve learned so far about designing provocations for our home. They may change and develop as Cam gets older and more capable and as her interests change, but for the time being they work well. 

Tips for provocations at home: 

  • Use the Montessori principle of everything on a tray or in a basket: This makes for easy portability off a shelf and onto a work surface
  • Make sure things fit on the tray or basket well and that your child can actually move it: No flimsy trays, no tall jars that require extra balancing, nothing hanging over the edge waiting to fall off mid-move and try to keep it light enough that they can move it without assistance (this last part may not always be possible). 
  • Less is more; make sure there is white space: There are tons of awesome provocations you can set up for your child, but if there are too many options they won’t be able to get them off the shelf or they’ll just plain be overwhelmed. Be sure to space the trays out on the shelf too for easy removal and to help draw their eye to each one individually.
  • You can also go bigger: There are a lot fewer kids in your home than in a school, so you don’t have to have nearly as many seats and stations set up. This can allow you to add a few more materials, or even more expensive materials, that there may not have been space or money for in a classroom.
  • Keep clean up in mind: In a classroom you might be able to have a stack of paper and tray for the used paper and a jar for the pens and a sign and a picture and a book, etc, etc, etc. In a classroom all those things stay out on the table, though. It’s fine to have all those elements at home, just be sure cleaning up the provocation (putting it back on the tray and back on the shelf) doesn’t turn into an ordeal. It should be relatively easy to clean up to encourage them to actually clean it up. You can get creative and have a few items such as books stay out on your work table or you could have them sit on the shelf behind the tray to be picked up when your child is interested or carried over separately. 

Provocations