I attended a training for Sunday school teachers this past weekend, and came across the most unexpected piece of advice: don’t make eye contact with the students.
Wait, what?? Did I hear that correctly? Don’t make eye contact?
Yet I knew inside, even as I wondered this, that it was exactly what the instructor meant. Because as I thought back to her slow and deliberate model lesson earlier that day, I remembered that she had indeed kept her eyes down on the materials and on her hands the entire time. It had been calming and strangely entrancing.
But it was still very counter-intuitive for me. She went on to explain, “This will be especially hard for those of you who come from a teaching background.”
“You’re used to making eye contact to keep the students engaged and to make sure they are paying attention. You need to release your students from that. Release them from that. If they are trying too hard to look at you to show you they are paying attention, then they won’t be able to see the lesson and focus as well.”
Hrh. I guess that made sense, in a sad, ironic sort of way: The effort I put into helping them stay focused could be the very thing that took away from their complete focus.
We are fortunate enough to have a dedicated art room. I basically decided we weren’t going to attempt fancy dinner parties anymore and gave away the dining table and chairs. (Everybody likes scrappy dinners better anyway, right?? I mean, at least they happen.) And just like that, we had a dedicated room just for making things.
I didn’t fill the space with a ton of stuff. Just a low shelf, a kid-sized table with chairs, and a rolling “art cart” full of art supplies. But before we got rid of the dining table, when I was still in my let’s see if this art thing is really going to stick phase, the only thing that made that space “the art room” was the art cart. It was a great start to our art studio, and if need be, it would have been enough on its own to accomplish most of the things I wanted to do with the art space.
What is an art cart? It’s just what it sounds like. It’s our 3-tiered rolling IKEA cart that I’ve stocked full of the most-used art supplies. Here are five reasons why I love it and would keep it even if we downsized:
Elephant: Tissue paper squares and a spray bottle 🙂 I drew the elephant outline with a sharpie. The rest was all her!
Originally, I wanted a maker space. A “tinker lab.” A place where my child could go and cut, glue, saw, tape, wire, and mold things from her imagination to reality. Robots, pulleys, cars, machines.
But she’s still two, so for now, I need her to get familiar with the basics first. So far, that means paper, markers, glue, tape, scissors, and paint. You’d be surprised how much a toddler can do with those few items and, paradoxically, how hard it is to think of new things to do with those few items. At least it is for me. I’m not super creative myself, but I really like copying neat stuff other people do. So I’ve been all over the Internet and Instagram researching and now have endless hours of inspiration at my fingertips. I’m sure you’ll be seeing some of that here :).
This space has been GREAT for our family for so many reasons. My toddler has developed her fine motor skills like craaazy with all that drawing, coloring, painting, taping, and cutting. She has learned to use a bunch of different tools (like scissors, brushes, tape, glue, straws, syringes, pipettes, and clothespins) and mediums (watercolors, crayons, markers, tempera paints, ribbons, washi tape). Some days, she comes home and declares that she needs art time, and she walks right over and starts cutting paper. I think it’s one way she unwinds and calms her mind after busy activities, and I love that she has that option.
Children are curious creatures. What was that? Where are we going? What are you doing? Why is he wearing that? Why?
How do you respond to all of these questions? I used to think I was doing my daughter a favor by answering her questions.
Daughter: “What was that sound?”
Me: “An airplane.”
Sometimes my answers were more involved:
Daughter: “What is that sound?”
Me: “It’s the sound that tells people that it’s okay to walk across the street. Most people can see the walking man sign that tells us it’s okay to walk, but some people can’t see it, so this sound tells them when it’s time to cross.”
I’d run with it and take it as a teaching moment to tell her more about people with disabilities and then segue into a lesson about compassion and empathy. She would eat it all up. Boy, I LOVE TEACHING! I just can’t stop myself. I enjoy being the first to unveil the mystery of why people walk outside with umbrellas on sunny days and what all the weird noises are. I love to watch her learn new things, discover how the world works, and make sense of things. But that’s just the thing: If I am always giving her the answers to her questions, maybe she won’t learn very well how to discover answers on her own and make sense of things herself.
If I simply answer all the questions, I rob her of the opportunity to think for herself, to hypothesize, and to develop confidence in her own ability to discover answers. Maybe all my teaching and answer-giving is actually doing her a disservice!
“No, No! DON’T. TAKE. MY. BOOK!!!!” she cried, running over and yanking the book out of his hands.
He had recently learned to crawl, and his new life goal was to put every object into his mouth.
You’d think it was her favorite treasured book, but really it was just one of many books that she enjoyed reading. That’s just how it is though, isn’t it? When someone else wants it, its specialness suddenly spikes and we feel extra possessive for it. I’m still like this, even as I try to train my daughter to respond otherwise.
How would you respond in this situation? Make her give it back? Encourage her to share with him? Ignore it? Tell her to take turns with him? Let her keep it and distract him with something else to play with?
Here’s what I do: I remind her to be more gentle, and then I have her practice being more gentle right then and there.
“Sweetie, you need to be more gentle with your little brother. Let’s try that again. This time, gently ask him if you can use the book, and if he’s okay with it, take it away- gently. Let’s see it.”
There is a long line of blue tape that runs across our living room. It looks like a very, very long “I.” It’s only been there for a few days, and I’m already forgetting that it’s a weird look in a house. Blue tape? Across the floor? What’s so weird about that? Doesn’t everybody have a pretend balance beam running across their rug and wooden floor?
Well, as long as it makes sense to my toddler, it’s all good. It’s there because when I started taking her to gymnastics class a few weeks ago, I realized she had some room to improve when it came to things like… walking straight haha. So I set down a blue line and did exercises with her every day, and the following week, she showed tremendous improvement in class! Bonus, it got her as good and tired as a good romp around a playground would have done… without stepping foot outside of the house! This is always a win when you’re holing yourself up at home for the afternoon so the baby can get a good nap in!
Here are some of the exercises we’ve been practicing. If you’ve got a toddler in the house, try ’em out! You can use an existing straight line that goes across the kitchen or put some blue tape down to make it feel official. It’s amazing how many activities you can build around a straight line!
Magnatiles are magnetic tiles. They are one of the hottest STEM toys out there!
Last week, I sat my daughter down with her box of Magnatiles. Then I went to go clean up in the kitchen. A few minutes later, she called out, “See, Mama, see! Don’t destroy it!”
I came to see. It. Was. Spectacular.
I mean, she’s not even 2.5 yet. I’m over 30, and I’m not sure I could make something that cool. Half serious.
To be fair, I don’t think she sat down and thought, Hm, I think I’m going to create an awesome mansion castle building thing. Let me create a solid foundation using a combination of squares and right triangles. Now I will build a spire with these isosceles triangles, and mini decorative towers here with four equilateral triangles… ah. Yes. My vision is complete. Mother, come hither.
I’m pretty sure her thought process was more like, I’m going to build a crib. And when she ran out of squares to build up the sides of the crib, she made some out of right triangles. And when she ran out of those, she started sticking other triangles here and there and then she ran out of tiles and lo and behold… her creation looked cool, and her mouth said, “See, Mama, see! Don’t destroy it!”
If you asked me five months ago if I thought she’d be able to make that, the answer would be a clear, flat, no. Because five months ago, she had just opened this box and could only figure out how to play with it in 2D. I was a little disappointed, because this thing is not cheap and I had been hanging onto it for months in anticipation of the time when she’d be ready for it, and it seemed like she still wasn’t old enough to really make something of it.
But then the teacher in me kicked in, and I decided to give her the tools to do more with it. Of course these are open-ended toys and part of the beauty of it is to not make it too structured and instead allow for open-ended play. There’s a lot to be said for letting her just explore and learn things on her own, too. But I felt like if I didn’t intervene and start giving her some “building blocks” for new ways to use these, she’d lose interest and we’d miss an optimal window of learning and she’d put them aside and forget about them.
Teaching philosophies aside, I figure some of you might have some Magnatiles at home and be thinking, “Okay, my kid’s kind of played out with these. Now what?” So I thought I’d share the steps we took in teaching her ways to play with Magnatiles that led, five months later, to her building this all on her own!
This is a basic instructional tip that teachers and parents need to master. NEED. It’s very simple: When instructing your child, frame directions positively. That means tell them what they SHOULD do, not what they shouldn’t do (unlike my image title…). For example, it will be more effective to say, “Keep your food in your mouth!” instead of “Don’t spit out your food!”
Framing things positively helps your child focus on the words and actions they should do. Not only does it keep the image of unwanted actions out of their heads, it replaces them with positive desirable actions. One of my teaching instructors once put it like this: “Okay, I want you guys to do exactly what I tell you. Don’t think of the color blue. NOT blue. NOT BLUE. NOT BLUE. DON’T THINK ABOUT THE COLOR BLUE. ANYTHING BUT BLUE– you’re totally thinking about the color blue, right?”
We laughed. It was true. He kept SAYING blue, so even though we were trying to follow his instructions, the color blue kept cropping up in the visuals of our minds. Even when we had pink or red or yellow passing through our minds, blue kept flashing through as he kept saying it.
That’s what comes to mind when I hear myself say to my child, “Don’t spit! Don’t spit! DON’T SPIT OUT YOUR WATER.” I watch in horror as water, seemingly involuntarily, comes dribbling out her mouth, down her chin, and all over her shirt. Perhaps she’s being disobedient, or perhaps I’m just making it hard for her by using the very verb I’m trying to have her avoid. Instead, I try to remind myself to say, “SWALLOW IT! SWALLOW your water! KEEP IT IN YOUR MOUTH!” I often find that this results in her making a concentrated effort to swallow and keep it in her mouth.
Hello Readers! Hilary Smith is a writer and parent who specializes in spreading positive parenting techniques, focusing on the use of social media and new technologies by tweens and teenagers. These are hard topics that I hardly know how to talk about, but I’m glad someone is! I think you will find this information very useful if you have a child with access to technology!
Like what you read? Follow her twitter @HilaryS33, or read her column on HMHB.
Did Your Child Receive a Smartphone Recently? What You Need to Know
Guest post by Hilary Smith
Digital citizenship comes with a price many of us don’t realize until after we hand our kids a Smartphone. Lurking behind the glow of their screens and friendly social media apps hides an underbelly of cyberbullying, sexting, oversharing, and predator grooming occurring right under our noses. If your son or daughter has recently acquired a Smartphone, there are a few things you need to know to help protect your child.
A couple weeks ago, I shared about how I tried to teach kids to communicate effectively. We talked about the importance of body language, eye contact, and showing understanding. I didn’t want to leave it at that. In this post, I’ll share how I brought their conversational skills to the next level.
Once my students seemed to understand how to listen well, we moved onto the next step: learn how to have a discussion. It’s basically expanding on the “showing understanding” step from before, and then adding a fourth step: Add your own thought. This can also be thought of as a lesson on “How to Agree and Disagree Politely.”
I think this is an essential life skill that every person should work on! Myself included :P. I eventually found a way to do it that was really fun for everyone. Here’s how it went:
Me: So you know how we’ve been working on improving our communication skills?
(Suddenly they all straighten up give me penetrating eye contact :))
Me: Ah yes, I see you remember! Well, today we’re going to take it a step further. It’s good and all to learn to listen well, but you also need to learn how to share your own thoughts well. Now, this doesn’t mean just blabbing on and on and always talking. It also doesn’t mean sitting there just waiting for your chance to say what you want to say and only concentrating on your own thought. I’m going to teach you a polite and courteous way to do it. It’s two steps. First, you SHOW that you were listening, and then you ADD your own thoughts. Again, SHOW your listening, then ADD your own thoughts.