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Tag Archives: Independence

Unschool Update: I Walk the Line

Money MaterialsFor anyone that knows about unschooling or practices it with their children, they are probably also aware of how different it is from the traditional model of schooling. I know for me, the traditional model of school (think desks in rows or pods, teacher at the front, set curriculum, benchmarks, etc.) is both what I went through for my education and was also the setting I taught in when I was in the classroom. Unschooling is much freer, following the child’s interests, introducing skills when they are useful to the child, and trusting the child to know what they need when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been incredibly difficult to break away from that traditional style of instruction when working with Cam over the past school year. 

It’s a fine line to walk, at least in our home, between offering Object Boxesdirect skills instruction to Cam while also following her lead. This year has been the year she has been both ready and willing to start the process of learning to read. I know from experience that she’s a decoder by nature. Basically she relies on phonics to read. She breaks words up into phonemes and is very focused on letter sounds and combinations. This makes for a slow progress and also does require some hands-on and planned instruction by me. It will ultimately make her a stronger reader over the next few years as grows into more and more complex books, but in the meantime it could really feel like we had veered off into a more traditional model of schooling. That was really a sign to me to back off. Reassess. Check in with Cam and stop anything that wasn’t working for her. Did I manage unschooling perfectly this year? Absolutely not. I’m unlearning how I was taught and also trying to find the best way to use the knowledge I have to help Cam master skills and learn things that she wants. But it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

Hundreds BoardSome other things we worked on or studied this year, prompted by Cam’s expressed interest, were taking nature classes at our local nature center, learning about pregnancy and birth as she watched my belly grow and then saw the birth of her sister, and a little bit of numeracy (counting up to 100 and learning about money). 

This year also saw the addition of Cam’s sister. That basically tanked the last couple months, which was fine. A new baby and being a big sister is a learning experience in and of itself. Cam has grown incredibly over the past three months and I couldn’t be more proud of that emotional and developmental growth. It’s far more important than any academic skill she might work on or any subject she might study. 

Pregnancy MaterialsThis coming year I want to work in some social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices to our daily schedule. I know, though, that this is going to be another area where she needs the skills (we’re working on taming anxiety in her that has reared its head), but I don’t want to push too far or become the driving force behind offering them to her. I am new to these practices too, so maybe that will mitigate some of that. I can frame it as we’re learning together and instead of planning ahead we can plan together. That’s the line I’ll try to walk next year. 

Potty Training Round 700

The Saddest ToiletI thought I would put this out there for the moms who have struggled with potty training their kids. I seem to have so many mom friends whose kids just naturally potty trained, or trained super early, or simply needed a couple days at home with mom standing over them. This has not been the case for my daughter. Not. In. The. Least. 

Cam isn’t necessarily an anxious child. She’s a typical first child, cautious, but I would never describe her as anxious. Still, when it comes to trying new things, and wearing underwear and sitting on the potty, she is apprehensive. Usually I can gently push her to try something new or do it with her and have a lot of success getting her out of her comfort zone and having fun. Certainly I have tried these tactics with potty training, but to no avail. With potty training she has ultimate control over how things go and she is exercising that control to its fullest. 

She’s peed in the potty every since last summer and had only a handful of “accidents” which have been the result of being too lazy to actually use the potty while playing. She’s been dry at night since 8 months old (no joke). She knows when she needs to poop and now is wearing underwear the majority of the time, but switches to a diaper when she does poop. Cam has no underlying medical or developmental reasons for this to be happening. It appears just to be her. 

I suppose you could argue the end is in sight for us since she mostly wears underwear, but I think I’ve pushed as much as I can for the time being and it might be another year before she sits on the potty for all of it. She is also oddly uncomfortable wearing underwear to bed. I let her wear a diaper because I am not prepared for a fight and tears and drama right before bed. Still, she’s been dry overnight for years. Where does that apprehension come from?

I’ve wondered over the years if we hadn’t switched to disposable training pants would she have had better luck training? Maybe, but very hard to say. For awhile I had her in cotton training pants, but it simply resulted in floods when she needed to pee and lots of scrubbing when there was poo. She wasn’t ready and it was too much work and water on my part. Diapers didn’t fit her properly at a certain age (or so I thought) so we switched to training pants and by the time she was ready to switch back to cotton pants there were a lot of tears. Buckets full. It was too stressful for everyone involved. It did help having a friend to watch pee on the potty (and weirdly she uses the grown-up potty when we have friends over). So did some of our favorite potty training books. But nothing got her actually ready except herself. She had and is having to come to it in her own time. 

One thing I have noticed about other “potty trained” kids is that that term is loosely applied in almost all situations. Most parents report accidents for years. Many are not actually potty trained to poop on the potty, just pee. Many are not dry through the night. So before you get worked up over everyone else’s kids being potty trained, look more closely at what they mean by that. Doing it on your child’s timeline (instead of one enforced by a preschool program or parental desire) seems to lead to full potty training in the same amount of time with many, many fewer accidents and tears and power struggles. 

There are definitely days and times I think she may go to college in diapers despite the funny saying that no one ever did. She’s past 5 years old now. But I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My point in writing this is to share that there are parents and children out there for whom the traditional methods just aren’t working and I want you to know it’s hard and frustrating and expensive (shit, five years of diapers) and you aren’t alone. 

Summer of Mess: Quiet Boxes Week 7

I went simple again this week (read: lazy).

Quiet Boxes Week 7

This week we have…

Box 1: Pattern Blocks. Sometimes Cam goes for these, sometimes not. She is actually more fond of tangrams, but I like the variety. I wish she would do designs with them and I go back and forth on wanting to give her a book or pictures with pattern block designs. I can’t decide if that would be too suggestive or just right. 

Box 2: Owl crafts. I don’t usually do crafts with Cam like this, but we got them at our school’s 50th anniversary celebration. Cam loves owls so I thought they might draw her in. 

Box 3: Pencil sharpening. I sharpened her colored pencils last week and she was enthralled. Who knew that would be interesting to her? I thought I’d let her have a try with it. 

New Baby Busy Bags

We’re going to take a break from the Summer of Mess today. Last week got busy and we didn’t get around to our messy play on Thursday. 

One of my best friends has a two-year-old daughter and is expecting her second baby in about a month. While one of the best things you can give new parents are frozen meals, I also decided to give them something that would help their toddler. It’s got to be hard to no longer have the undivided attention of your parents as well as deal with the stress of a newborn in the house. To both keep her entertained and give her something shiny and new I decided to put together a huge basket of busy bags and quiet boxes for her. And since I’ve been sharing our quiet boxes here I thought I would type up a list of the boxes and bags I created for a 27 month old. Some are more challenging than others, but I figured they would serve well over the coming months. 

  1. Large lacing beads
  2. Popsicle stick puzzles: I printed off three pictures and glued them to large popsicle sticks, then cut them apart.
  3. Farm play set: glass jewels, blocks, farm animals
  4. Collage bag: stickers, paper, colored pencils
  5. Jungle play set: play-doh, jewels, animal figures, colored matchsticks
  6. Color matching: I created a paper with columns. Each column had a colored square at the top. Then I laminated strips of colors that can be set in each column. I used animal pictures, but you could use strips of paint chips.
  7. Fabric squares: This is kind of like a puzzle. See a tutorial here. I made a much simpler version with fabric scraps I had on hand.
  8. Shape matching puzzle: I outlined some foam shapes on a card for matching. Included a Cookie Monster shape book.
  9. Nuts and bolts: nuts and bolts to put together and a copy of Anne Rockwell’s The Toolbox
  10. I Spy jar: I filled a jar with rice and a bunch of objects. By turning the jar she can find the different things hidden inside. There is also an I Spy easy reader.
  11. Toy cars
  12. Chalkboard and chalk
  13. Sticker farm scene
  14. Pattern blocks: This was a set I found at the thrift shop. It had both foam pattern blocks and cards with pictures to make. 
  15. Cups and index cards: For making card houses.
  16. Links and bracelets
  17. Doll with bedtime set: I bought a tiny fairy doll and made her a mattress, pillow and blanket. I also put Joanne Cole’s I’m a Big Sister book in there. 
  18. Left or Right?: This is a book that studies left and right with just photographs a la Tana Hoban. I also printed off a beautiful left and right side butterfly matching game which you can find here
  19. Tweezing: foam cubes, plastic cups, tweezers
  20. Bear dress up: This is one of those wooden sets where you match up the head, top and bottoms.
  21. Marble runs: wooden blocks, large bouncy balls, tp tubes cut in half to make channels
  22. Frog world: based on our water play from the other day
  23. Lacing cards: I printed off these, laminated them and then punched large holes for a shoelace to thread through. 

The dollar store is a treasure trove if you think outside the box. Stroll through their aisles and look for loose pieces, fun games, etc. For about $50 I was able to pull the vast majority of these together and buy bags and containers for them all. The two exceptions are the lacing beads and the dress-up bear. Those are Melissa & Doug and I bought them online. 

Summer of Mess: Quiet Boxes Week 1

Part of this summer is working on Cam extending the time she is able to play by herself. We will both still be home come this fall, but I would like for her to be less dependent on me to play with her. That isn’t to say I will never play with her again. I just don’t want to feel like she constantly wants and needs me to be her playmate. I am also working on figuring out how to incorporate her into a lot of the chores I do. Sometimes it’s easier and more successful than others, but I think that gives her that connection she’s looking for when she asks me to play with her.

The other thing that seems to be happening is that Cam is phasing out her afternoon nap. She frequently still needs it, but there are some days when she just can’t fall asleep even though she’s tired. For those days I need something quiet that she can do, often without me. 

In order to help her find things to do when she goes off to play or during rest time, I have put together these quiet boxes (or busy bags, or I-can-do-it-myself boxes, or whatever you want to call them). 

This week we have:

Quiet Boxes Week 1

Box 1: Sewing burlap on an embroidery hoop. The holes in the burlap make it easy for her to poke the needle through and we can also pull the string out once she’s sewn it all in. 

Box 2: Paint with water book. I remember these from when I was a kid and I loved them. Cam is into painting, but I don’t want her getting the paints out if I’m not around to help set up. This allows her to paint without me. And it’s Hello Kitty. Thank you, dollar store. The bin has the book (which has tear-out pages) a paint brush, and a small bowl for her to fill with water.

Box 3: Small world play. I put some Play-doh, colored matchsticks, and rubber dinosaurs in this basket. I’ll see what she does with it. 

Box 4: Foam blocks and wet rag. I came across this idea on Pinterest. If you wet the rag and get the blocks wet with it, the water tension holds the blocks together tightly. This is great for building with what are usually flimsy blocks. 

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. 

Handwork: Easy-On Apron

One of the presents I made for Cam for Christmas is an art smock/apron that she can easily put on herself. I was inspired by some aprons we saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in their toddler splash area. The genius of them was that they had straps that came around and Velcroed down. It was a simple matter of helping Cam slip it on over her head and she got the rest. I was also inspired by a child’s apron I saw on Etsy that used a towel for the fabric. 

This is a pretty simple project that requires some sewing on the machine. It took me about an hour to make, but I was creating the steps as I went along. If you’re a fairly proficient seamstress I would say you could have it done in half an hour. 

Easy-On ApronWhat You’ll Need

  • an old towel
  • one of your child’s t-shirts (this is to help you gauge the size)
  • bias tape (1 package, but the length will depend on the size of your neck hole)
  • Velcro strips, preferably stick down with strong adhesive
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • thread

What To Do

  1. Fold the towel in half and lay out. Place the t-shirt on it to help gauge width and length. I used one of the finished sides (with a hem) and the bottom to reduce the amount of sewing I would have to do. Be sure to make it long enough that it will cover your child’s front. I was generous with length knowing that Cam would grow over the next year. Cut out two pieces, a front and a back. You can cut them together. 
  2. Cut a half round out for the neck. 
  3. Stitch the shoulder together. If your apron is long enough/child is big enough, you may be able to use the fold of the towel to create the shoulders. If that’s the case, you can skip this step.
  4. Pin the bias tape around the neck hole and stitch down. 
  5. Zig-zag stitch the side that isn’t hemmed. Alternatively you could fold over the fabric and do a real hem. You could also put bias tape down it or even around the entire outside edge. I just didn’t have enough to do that and the neck hole. I don’t have a picture of this specifically, but you can see it in the picture above.
  6. From the towel scraps cut two strips about 8-10 inches long. Zig-zag stitch all the way around them to help hem them. You could also use a different fabric here and sew tubes that you turn out if you want to get fancy. 
  7. Place your straps about 2/3rds of the way down on the inside of the back of the apron. Stitch down.
  8. Bring the straps around to the front and stick down the Velcro. I had a large patch of Velcro that I cut pieces from, but if you use the strip Velcro you can use both sides. Stick one side to the strap and one to the front of the apron. The terry cloth fabric of the towel actually loosely sticks to the stiff Velcro. 

Coming Back to Montessori

I’ve noticed a couple behaviors with Cam that have become habits that I want her to break out of. She is acting less independently lately and she isn’t focusing on activities for long. Part of this I think comes from wanting to connect with me (which is why we do the breathing in and breathing out) and part comes from the age.

I know she is capable of being both independent and focused. If I can’t join her and we’ve had some good connection time, she will often wander off and become engrossed with a game or activity. I tend to be a bit scattered, and sometimes won’t sit down with her immediately or continuously, so she is probably mimicking me in that regard. However, I also think she wants the connection with me so she tries to find that by joining me or nagging until I turn my focus on her.

I also wonder if she’s going through a little crisis in confidence that seems to come with the age. She is suddenly incredibly verbal and physically capable and maybe we have become inconsistent in responding to her and helping her because she is also acting needy.¬†Whatever the reasons, I know she can do it and I know she has formed some bad habits that we now need to break.

So I want to foster a bit more concentration and independence and what better way than to put out some Montessori activities and fall back on some of the Montessori principles. I know some may quibble with a cherry-picked approach (to any educational method), but I think it’s a good idea to tailor learning to the child and their specific needs. Cam, in the past, has not really responded to the Montessori activities, but I think by aging them down, making them simple and easily achievable, and connecting with her over the presentations I can help foster her confidence and then begin to slip in the independence and focus training.

I was especially inspired by this post and this post on the blog Montessori Nature. She does such a beautiful and simple job of setting up Montessori inspired activities for her toddler. They really scratch that aesthetics itch for me, but also really support the learning embodied in the Montessori method.

What does this mean for following our Reggio principles and Waldorf ideas? Nothing really. We still rely heavily on them. We do a lot of art and there are still tons and tons of open ended areas and toys. In fact that majority of Cam’s time is spent in imaginative play, which I see as something she is showing an interest in. I ensure that she has plenty of time and space to engage in it everyday. The best part of this is that it requires very little set up and provocation from me for her to jump in. The new Montessori trays I’ve put out make up one little slice of our morning where I can really focus on her and work with her, less so she is learning anything in particular (although she is obviously learning) but to give her the attention and confidence she seems to need fostered.

The Autonomous Child

Pedagogy BannerI should warn you I’m about to get up on my soap box.

I recently read an article on positive discipline/parenting that someone in one of my Facebook groups posted. It was a great little article about validating feelings and compromising with children and it’s a practice I use with my daughter. I totally understand it’s not for everyone for a variety of reasons, but we like the method.

Let me give a little background. In the article (which you can read here if you’d like), the parent said her daughter wanted to ride her scooter in the house. The parents didn’t allow her to for fear of damaging their new flooring and for fear of injury to their daughter. When their daughter disagreed they validated her feelings and came up with a compromise/solution that allowed her to sit on the scooter and move very slowly and deliberately through the house once she had cleaned up anything that might be in the way.

What baffled and irritated me (and eventually lead me to write this post) were a handful of the comments that were rather venomous and disagreeable. Most tended along the lines of: if you compromise with children they will never learn any rules or respect, will always feel entitled to getting their way, and will walk all over you. I know these people were just comment trolls trying to pick a fight, but I had two thoughts about them. First, if they so obviously disagree with this type of parenting, what were they doing on the blog reading it in the first place? Second, I think they were confusing the compromise of the activity with a compromise over the underlying worries that caused them to ban scooting in the house. In other words, it wasn’t the scooting that was the issue.

Both Montessori and Reggio Emilia, my preferred early childhood educational philosophies, encourage the parent/teacher/adult to see children as strong and capable. But I feel we could also stand to see children as people. People with wants and desires and feelings. Wants, desires and feelings they are entitled to and will have regardless of whether you want them to or not. Sometimes it astounds me the standards and rules we hold our children to that we wouldn’t dream of holding ourselves, our spouses, or our friends to.

Returning to the scooter incident, by validating the daughter’s feelings and finding a mutually agreeable solution the parents didn’t compromise about the real¬†underlying reason for banning scooting. The solution they came up with, with their daughter’s help, still protected the floor and her safety. I doubt she saw it as her parents being weak and caving. She probably saw that they valued her, valued her feelings, and that this wasn’t some arbitrary power struggle. She probably also felt empowered knowing her parents understood her feelings and felt she was capable of being careful. I think by encouraging your child to find a solution that honors your original concern and addresses the problem, you teach them an incredibly valuable interpersonal, relationship skill.

As a side thought, there are rules and situations that are just not negotiable. I totally understand and acknowledge that. But I think by being flexible in other areas children (and adults) feel more willing to go along with those absolutes when necessary. Especially if they know you are usually reasonable and open and that you would only have a non-negotiable rule for a good reason. Simply explaining that reason can diffuse a potential melt down over an absolute no.

So, I believe in having an autonomous child. A child that is a part of our family and whose feelings and ideas are relevant and taken into consideration. One of my jobs as a parent is teach my daughter how to have a successful relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, or any other and teaching her that there is give and take and compromise and discussion is a huge part of that lesson. Relationships and rules aren’t (shouldn’t) be about one person or the other getting their way and the other person getting their feelings hurt and ignored. Because what those comment trolls were really saying was that when it comes to someone getting their way in parent-child conflict it should always be the parent who wins. Sounds pretty childish to me.

Encouraging Independence: Toilet Learning

Toilet Set UpHoo-boy. Toilet learning has been an experience for us. Most of it is a story for another day, but one aspect we have struggled with is getting Cam to sit on the potty.

When she was very young (8 months) we began sitting her on the potty at various points during the day and she began to actually use the potty. I had three different baby potties, one in each bathroom and one in her bedroom. We were thrilled that she would use the potty and hopeful that it would stick. But it didn’t.

As soon as she could walk there was nothing we could do to persuade her to sit still on the potty for long enough to actually use it. She would walk up, sit and then immediately stand and run off. Then at some point she refused to even sit on any of the baby potties and would cry if we tried. Finally, she began to indicate that she wanted to sit on the grown-up potty by pointing at it and patting it and staying still if we lifted her up to sit on it.

But of course, adult potties are not designed for small children, so we bought a new lid that has a small seat that folds down and is appropriately sized for her. Cam has yet to really use the adult potty but she sits on it several times a day without fussing. She also requests that I read to her while she sits.

Although the situation is not ideal, we have a step that she can climb up and rest her feet on while she sits on the adult toilet. Despite the difficulty I have tried to set it up to make her as independent as possible with this task. I think even if she could get up there by herself, she would still need some supervision and help in the bathroom, so it may not be such a bad thing even if I feel like I am stepping on her independence.