Today was the first day of school, and as expected, I found myself walking home from school with a flurry of thoughts and feelings in my mind. Was my son going to be okay in a combination class? Was he going to make friends? Was my daughter going to be okay with the new teacher? Would the teacher be nice?
I found my brain going back and forth between the temptation to be anxious, and the desire to believe the comforting thoughts I offered it: Combination classes were usually full of pleasant children, right? He made friends last year, so he would probably be able to find new ones this year, right? And, my daughter had at least one good friend in class. That counted for a whole lot… right?
I do that a lot. I try to look for the silver linings, the bright side, the cup half full. It often helps tie me over in my moments of anxiety until either things pan out just fine, or I have to accept that things are less than ideal and then I deal with it head on. Even then, I try to find perspective, telling myself, “At least…” or “On the bright side…”
But this morning, as I tried to fend off the temptation to worry, I remembered something I had read not too long ago. It was a phrase that was so bewildering and foreign to me at the time that I read and reread it and then proceeded to talk about it with every person I could in the days that followed:
Perfect, that’s perfect–it’s just what he needed to happen at least once in his childhood.
I had read plenty of literature about grit and resilience, and meant to let my kids build grit and resilience in measured, thoughtful, and controlled doses. I know, I know… very Type A, but hey, this is me. Some hardship was good, but not toooo much, if I could help it. No one likes to see their kids suffer, and if there are things you can do to alleviate the disappointment or pain, you’d want to do it, right?
But sometimes life throws a curveball, and even our best laid plans get crumpled and tossed aside. Like how I invested so much energy and time last year into building the relationship my son had with his new best friend… only to learn in June that the friend was moving away. At the time, I only viewed this event with disappointment. Well, that stinks. But after reading about the idea of giving your kids “good suffering,” I was able to look back on it and be grateful he could experience it.
These ideas are from the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she says:
Not only must you let your kids experience these things, you must appreciate their importance. Anderson and Johnson argue that parenting well means “learning to see events you might otherwise try to avoid or dread in your child’s life as growth-producing events” that build wisdom and perspective. When they occur, we parents should say silently to ourselves, “Perfect, that’s perfect–it’s just what he needed to happen at least once in his childhood.”
I had borrowed this book from the library, and really enjoyed reading it and chewing on ideas like teaching my kids more life skills, giving them more unsupervised space, and rethinking my approach to colleges and college admissions. But it was chapter 18 that produced immediate change in my approach to parenting. Events that once elicited dismay and dread became events I could tally up as “growth-producing events.” Problems I once tried to foresee and prevent became opportunities to build their resilience and grit muscles for future hardships that they would someday need to be able to weather without me by their side.
If you’re like me and sometimes want to curate your child’s experiences–both the good and the bad–then this might be a really helpful frame to put things in perspective. Sometimes there isn’t a silver lining. Sometimes there is no bright side. Sometimes the cup is empty, and sometimes it just sucks. And in those times, you can take comfort in seeing it as just perfect. It’s something that your child can experience and something that can strengthen them for some bigger, harder thing in the future that you want them to be able to get through.
So if they don’t get invited to that party, experience the death of a pet, get sent to the principal’s office, or miss an event that they had been looking forward to, consider it preparation for adulthood. Oftentimes my mind is so determined to find the good in situations, but it can also be really freeing to acknowledge that sometimes, things are just hard and crappy… and that’s okay. Maybe even perfect.
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I am happy that I can recall the exact moment I suspected she was expecting. We were driving in the car on the way to an amusement park when she remarked how she felt oddly queasy that week. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and there was a pregnant pause as I waited to see if she would finish that train of thought. “Soo…” I finally ventured, “Queasy, eh?”
And here we are, eight months later, and she’s a mommy!
I’m so glad I can remember that moment together with her: the anticipation, the excitement, the wonder of it all, sitting next to her in the car. Part of me is also sad that we weren’t able to see her grow over the last few months, talking strollers and baby carriers and morning sickness after church service on Sundays. When it was time to plan her baby shower, I wanted to do everything I could to make it as special as we could, despite the distanced nature of everything.
You can find lots of ideas for how to throw a virtual shower online, like sending out electronic invitations (evite is great!), setting up a Google Meet or Zoom meeting, and ideas for games to play online together. Today, I want to share with you some specific ideas and special touches we tried to think of to make her baby shower extra special! These can be adjusted to work for any celebratory event, such as a bridal shower or birthday party, as well!
Group Gift: Start Baby’s Library
I love this idea that I came across at another friend’s baby shower: bring a book (can be secondhand) and write a note in it for the baby! What a special way to start the baby’s library, or grow a young child’s library! It’s a treasure they can enjoy for years to come. I saw this really cute poem on Zazzle that I wish I had used:
Just one last request
that won’t be too hard,
please send baby a book
instead of a card.
Whether a book that is old
or one that is new,
please sign the inside cover
with a note from you.
Since it was a virtual shower, we invited each guest to send a book to us ahead of time. Some wrote their notes in and mailed the books to us, others ordered off Amazon and had it shipped to us (we wrote the notes in for them), and some local friends simply dropped it off at our homes. We put all of the books on display using this cute book rack and gave it to her the day of her baby shower. She loved it! It was a sweet way to put a personal touch on things when we couldn’t all be together in person.
Updates From the Guest of Honor
Whether at an in-person event or a virtual one, there is always that time early on in the party where guests get to (have to?) mingle. Usually we do it in small groups over snacks or drinks, but in a virtual gathering, let’s be honest: it’s kind of weird. If making small talk in a small group was a little awkward before, imagine being the host to a virtual party where dozens of attendees stare at you, muted, waiting for you to get things rolling while you wait for everyone else to arrive.
I was kind of dreading it when I got a GREAT idea! People weren’t here to see me, after all. They wanted to see and celebrate HER! It occurred to me that most friends of the mom-to-be had not seen her in person for months, and would enjoy getting updates on how things were coming along– baby bump photos, fun little moments throughout the pregnancy, and other ways that she was preparing. Since my friend isn’t super active on social media, I invited her to send a few photos showing some highlights from the last few months, or any photos of her nursery if she wanted to share.
I put the photos together into a simple slideshow using Google Slides and I used “Screen Share” to allow all the attendees to see my screen as I presented the slideshow. We started off the baby shower with her sharing about each photo. It was cute, heartwarming, funny, and a great way to get things started while putting all of the social attention on the person we all came to see!
Games to Play
There are so many options online for games to play online. A simple search on Etsy for “baby shower games” will yield dozens of options in adorable themes. This Nursery Song Emoji Pictionary game was especially fun! One idea I got from another friend was to use Zoom’s “Breakout Room” feature to make small groups that could work together. We would explain the game, then send everyone into a breakout room for 5-10 minutes to work on the game answers together. We all came back and shared answers before breaking out again. It definitely made the party feel more intimate and personal instead of only a large group gathering.
Read Aloud for Baby
A read aloud is just what it sounds like: someone reads a book out loud. If you do a quick search on YouTube, you can find a read aloud on almost any popular children’s picture book! I thought it would be cute if we put something together so the baby could still hear our voices, especially since many of us wouldn’t be able to meet the little one in person for quite a while. A read aloud seemed like just the ticket.
Since the baby shower had the safari animal theme, I thought of one of my kids’ favorite books: Giraffes Can’t Dance. The storyline was great, and the text was also conveniently divided into rhyming stanzas. For a group gift, we asked each guest (attending or not) to take a quick 10 second video or audio clip of themselves reading a stanza. They sent me their clips and I compiled them into one long audio file (I used Windows Movie Maker), and then played the audio while taking a video of the book.
We were able to play the read aloud during the baby shower, and now the parents have the file so they can play it for their baby any time they want!
It’s not easy planning something that is engaging, interactive, personal, and fun during this time, but at least we have virtual options! I’m sure some of you have had to plan a shower or virtual party during the last few months, and I’d love to hear other ideas you have for making the party more fun, smooth, or special! If you have a party coming up, I hope some of these ideas are helpful and that your special person feels the love and warmth from everyone!
There’s a pandemic, so we have to stay home. There are fires in California and the air is depressingly smoky outside, so we can’t even play in the yard. There are two children in the house who I had promised a beach trip to last week, and I continue to learn the painful lesson that I really have no control over what’s happening next week, tomorrow, or even today. Like, will we have power, and will I actually get to cook dinner tonight? Who knows.
Another place I had been planning to bring them was to the local mini golf course. I had brought them before, but they didn’t seem to appreciate the fun of it that time: the hills, slopes, open-and-shutting-door, excitement of getting a low score. Hm, I thought to myself, maybe we’ll do a practice round at home first. Then they can see how the whole thing works and maybe appreciate the real thing more when we finally get to it!
So a couple days ago, in the midst of a depressed indoor slump, we decided to make our own mini golf course in the house! We already had a pile of recyclables (old cardboard boxes and sheets, cardboard tubes, etc.). I gave them six red disposable cups and we went around the house setting up obstacles together. The first hole started at the top of the stairs. I tapped my ball down and… got a hole in one! The kids didn’t understand the game well enough at that point to appreciate my accomplishment, but at least Ben cheered for me 🙂
The second hole had a ramp:
The third hole had a tunnel and two tissue boxes to knock down:
The kids were really into the ramps:
We kept score, which was good number-writing practice for the younger one and good adding practice for the older one:
We had a great time working our way around the house, hollering at exciting moments and high-fiving like it was a championship event. We taught the kids little things like waiting for the ball to stop before hitting it again and tapping the ball instead of pushing it around. It was really fun! We were so loud with our cheers that I worried the neighbors would be concerned, but I guess no one was outside to hear our ruckus. The kids were beaming and Ben and I had our share of laughs and it was seriously one of the best nights we’ve all had together in a long time!
At first I thought I’d have to play easy so one of the kids could win, but by hole four, I started to realize that they didn’t need me to go on easy mode. It was too late–the kids were in the lead, and in the end, the youngest one won! It was so cute. When I declared his totally legitimate victory, he had such a strong emotion he ran around the house in a circle in excitement! It was so cute!
This can be a fun activity for all ages. Older kids will really enjoy the opportunity to get creative with the obstacles and probably require less help tearing tape and setting things up. They have also probably had more experience at an actual real life mini golf course so they’ll have more ideas for each hole. If you find yourself stuck at home and unable to go outdoors safely, maybe this is the activity for you and your family tonight, too!
Here are some basic guidelines for setting it up:
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Now that we’ve decided to homeschool our kids for the year, I have started scrambling to get supplies to keep our space organized, functional, and to promote enjoyable learning. I already feel like I’m one step behind, as things are more expensive than usual or only bulk quantities are available. The new chapter of pandemic shopping has arrived.
I have a bunch of friends who are also working to prepare their space for kids learning at home, and I thought it could be helpful to throw together a quick list of recommended supplies to have on hand at home. Here’s a collection of supplies I think can help keep your space organized, kids focused, and everyone a little more sane this year as we bunker down and get learning!
I’m assuming most kids will be starting off with distance learning (vs. homeschooling, where the parent is the main teacher), so this list is adjusted for that. If you’re on a tighter budget or short on space, I’ve suggested alternatives that can still help make things more functional without breaking the bank. Of course when it really comes down to it, the main must-have is probably the technology required to connect to the teacher and do the assignments, and I hope your school districts can provide that for you if needed! Here are more items that can help things run more smoothly at home.
Keeping the space organized
Rolling Utility Cart: This cart is key to clearing up valuable surface area on our shared desk and keeping our space feeling (more) zen. I also got a bunch of 4″ plant pots from IKEA and filled them with supplies. The top level holds our most frequently-accessed supplies: sharpened pencils, sharpies, paint brushes, colored pencils, crayons, markers. The lower levels hold other tools and supplies that we want handy: scissors, rulers, glue sticks, glue, stamp markers, etc.
A good alternative to a rolling cart is a desk caddy, like this one that is currently still available for $1.99 at Target! By the way, if you haven’t stocked up yet, Target is currently having their annual back to school sale, where you can get basic supplies like 2-prong folders, markers and glue for just $0.50!
Individual whiteboard: This is super handy to give kids a chance to practice writing words or math problems in a fun way (what kid doesn’t love writing on a whiteboard?) and keeps you from stressing out about them wasting paper. If you’re feeling fancy, there are magnetic boards with lined sides for younger kids. If you’re feeling super fancy, these Boogie Boards have been a hit with my kids (Christmas might be a good time to throw something novel into the mix)!
Clear pocket sleeves: These are related to whiteboards, but more versatile! You can stick a sheet of white paper inside and have a functional whiteboard. For a more budget-friendly option, just use a glossy sheet protector. I use these in addition to whiteboards because you can put in worksheets you plan to use over and over (100’s chart, multiplication problems, math templates, etc.) and save on paper and printing.
Book Bins: Give each child their own place to store their folders, writing, handouts, etc. A book bin is a super handy way to keep things together without having them flopping all about in a frustrating dumpy heap. Since I’ll be sharing the homeschool space with the kids this year, I also got this pretty one for myself to keep my frequently used teaching books and papers close by and organized. It also conveniently fits in our cube storage shelf (which I LOVE).
Paper organizer: This is definitely a “nice to have” item, and we survived just fine without it before we got one. But it makes paper organization soo nice! It’s important for kids to have easy access to basic, frequently used supplies like paper, sharpened pencils, erasers, etc. so this definitely helps with the flow throughout the school day. If this one is too big or you don’t anticipate using construction paper too often, a smaller tray organizer is great for the two basics: lined paper and white computer paper.
Pencil sharpener: We have a jar of sharpened pencils always at the ready. I got an electric pencil sharpener a while back and it’s still going strong, but can’t find it on Amazon anymore so I linked one that looks pretty similar. I like that it has a small footprint and that it comes with a replacement blade! For a less expensive alternative, I also specifically like these manual pencil sharpeners, which are currently $0.50 at Target!
Materials that directly support learning
If you plan to spend more time working on academic content alongside your child, here are some supplies you might like:
Base 10 Blocks (K-5): Remember these from elementary school? They are such a useful hands-on way for kids to understand place value and how numbers are built. I like how this set includes a thousands block. If you’re on a budget, this set will also do the job.
Gear Clock (K-5): When I taught fourth grade, I was always a little appalled to see how many students still struggled to understand how to read an analog clock. I mean, it is hard, and I’ve known grownups who still struggled to read clocks. So I’ve taken it upon myself to start teaching my kids how to read the clock, because two lessons in a math workbook over the course of the year are not enough to help them really get how it all comes together. This gear clock is a great tool since it directly shows the relationship between the minute hand progressing and the smaller but important movements of the hour hand.
Blank Hardcover Book (K-5): One of my favorite items to buy for my students each year were these blank hardcover books. They would pick their favorite published narrative story and we’d walk through the steps of getting the story from their lined paper and into this blank book. It took some planning, but the end result was always such a hit! Students were so proud of their final, hardcover products, and it was so much more exciting than stapling sheets of paper together. I think kids feel a lot more excited to write when they feel like they have an audience, and publishing their work in a book like this really makes them feel like “real” authors who are writing for others.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (PreK+): I’ve blogged about this book before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again at this time. If you’re the parent of a kindergarten or first grade student, the main thing they *really* need to know by June is how to read. It is so foundational to everything else they will encounter at school that if I could only recommend one thing to a homeschooling parent concerned about kindergarten, it would be this book. More info in the blog post!
Other supplies I’ve gotten to support learning
So the following items are items I got for our family. I wouldn’t necessarily offer them as a blanket recommendation, since they are specific to the ways I want to teach and may not be relevant for your child’s stage of learning. But, feel free to peruse and check it out! I always like to see other people’s supply lists (the FOMO is strong haha) so now you can spy mine. I put an asterisk by the ones I am an especially big fan of.
*Toy Register (PreK-5): Kids can stare at pictures of money all day long, but give them some play money and let them practice buying things and it will be so much more meaningful. I also set up a poster the other night to help my kids see the relationship between the various coins and the dollar bill and I am weirdly excited to walk them through it and help them make “cents” of money. 😀
*Tangrams (K-5): These are great to improve spatial visualization, familiarity with shapes, comparing skills, and understanding of fractions. I used to do these in my mom’s classroom all the time, and it probably built up persistence and grit, too, since some of those puzzles were really hard for me to solve as a little kid.
*Geoboard (K-5): This is great for teaching shapes, symmetry, angles, fractions, and area.
Counting bears (Pre-K-1): For pre-k and primary kids. Useful to help with counting, comparing, making patterns, etc.
*Pattern Blocks (PreK-5): Great for developing familiarity with shapes, area, symmetry, and just good old fun designing.
*Fraction tiles and circles (1-5): I like to do the construction paper cutting version of these the first time around where the kids have a set of rainbow paper strips and we fold and cut them down, labeling each segment. However, for continued play I think these will be so much easier to manipulate. I made several magnetic sets of the circle ones when I was a teacher, and just ordered a rectangular set.
Hands-on Equations (3-5): My students always had fun “playing” with these sets and I have a feeling my kids will really enjoy figuring these out. It’s basically hands-on algebra, and even though it took a pandemic for me to pull the trigger on buying my own set, I’m really excited to teach it now!
Abacus (1-5): I watched a video on how to use an abacus and it looks really fun! I wanted to buy the pretty one from IKEA but they’re all sold out 🙁 My little cousin is an abacus whiz so maybe one day he can show my kids something cool.
Montessori Beads (preK-2): This is a very specific set of materials that honestly, I haven’t spent that much time figuring out how to use yet. But another teacher friend of mine loves them for her little one, so I thought I’d try them out. Will report back if they skyrocket to the top of my list this year!
I have other supplies here and there but they are very specific and these are the ones I wanted to highlight. Share this list with friends who are scrambling to buy school supplies and maybe the few of you can buy in bulk and save together! Or, take the extras (even I can’t imagine a use for six whiteboards) and make sweet back-to-school kits for your neighbors’ kids.
Regardless of how you and your family are doing school this year, I wish you the best and hope somehow we can all look back on this time and have fond, happy memories to recollect. I especially feel for the working parents who have to figure out how to juggle… everything. I honestly can’t even begin to imagine, and I am saying a general prayer for you all right now <3.
Like I mentioned earlier, I love to see what other people are getting, so do me a favor and drop a link to some of your favorite supplies or something you’re thinking of getting!
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“How was your day?”
“Did you… hang out with Nathan today?”
“What’d you have for lunch?”
Ok, this isn’t my reality yet, but I’ve been kind of dreading the likely day when it will be. While my kids are still 100% at the WE LOVE MOMMYYYYY!!! phase of childhood, bless their little hearts, I remember all too well the distanced teen I was to my own parents, and have already tried to brace Future Me for the inevitable emotional distance that older kids can bring.
But maybe there are ways to make that time a little better. Heck, there are days even now when the kids don’t have a lot to say about their days, even when I know exactly what to ask because I’m there for pretty much all of it, whether I really prefer that or not. Sometimes, I think it’s less an issue of unwillingness to talk as it is being out of practice.
Knowing how to share meaningful tidbits is like using various muscles: As a P.E. teacher, you wouldn’t only work with your kids on the the sit-and-reach all year and then expect them to excel at running the mile, sit-ups, and pull-ups during the testing. In the same way, if we keep asking kids the same question about their days, you can’t expect them to produce the really well-rounded, telling glimpses into their minds and hearts that you’re hoping for.
Can’t I just ask my kid a bunch of different questions, then?
I remember a while back my Pinterest feed was flooded with lists of alternative questions to ask kids at pick-up: What is something that made you laugh today? Who is someone that made you smile? Who did you sit next to during lunch time? What did you play during recess? Did anything make you feel scared today? Brilliant! I thought, Surely these will tease some more interesting answers out of my child. Maybe it’s just me, but I found that my daughter’s responses still bordered on half-hearted and uninterested. I just need to think of the right question, I would think, as I tried to probe and sniff around any possible topic of interest. Most of the time, I didn’t get much.
Now, I look at those questions, and I see that they are shots in the dark. The direct question, “Did anything make you feel scared today?” might be exactly the right question if you ask it on the day when your daughter got bullied during recess. Or, you could have asked it yesterday (and therefore skipped it today)… and instead asked about the contents of her school lunch, completely missing the opportunity to hear about something you’d really want to know about. Just because you asked the right question on the wrong day.
Teach your child to SIFT through their day
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to give your children the opportunity to sift through their brains and give interesting, nuanced, and unexpected pieces of information about the things they experienced and thought about during the day? An open-ended prompt instead of a yes/no or short-answer response? A response that paved the way for natural conversation and follow-up questions that your child would be eager to discuss more together?
So, even though it seemed a tad bit too good to be true, I was pretty excited when I came across a new idea in The Whole Brain Child, a book my friend had recommended. First of all, this book was super interesting and completely worth the read. It gave me another framework from which to understand my child, my child’s tantrums, emotional outbursts, and intellectual development.
One idea from the book that has really stuck in our family is the practice of SIFT-ing through our days. This is a time when we all pause and think back on our days and SIFT through all the Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts that took place. When we are through, we have each learned something interesting and oftentimes unexpected about each family members’ day. I love it.
So how, exactly, do you SIFT through your day?
We start by sharing a sensation we can remember from the day. I tell my kids that a sensation is a “body feeling,” or something that happens in or to your body, such as feeling the wind blowing, getting really hot and sweaty, getting a paper cut, or feeling your stomach rumble when you are hungry.
By paying attention to their physical sensations, for example, children can become much more aware of what’s going on inside their bodies. They can learn to recognize stomach butterflies as markers of anxiety, a desire to hit as anger or frustration, heavy shoulders as sadness, and so on… Simply recognizing different sensations like hunger, tiredness, excitement, and grumpiness can give children a great deal of understanding and ultimately influence over their feelings.– Siegel and Bryson, The Whole Brain Child
Asking about sensations has given me insight into annoyances like a new bug bite, risk-taking moments like climbing that big hill, and stamina-building decisions like building calluses from the monkey bars. I’ve been given access to sweet treasures like knowing my son likes to rub the smooth, satiny part of his Bear-Bear’s belly, and that my daughter really, really enjoyed the lemonade I made for her.
After sharing our sensations, we share images that we remember from our day. These can involve imaginary images (like a nightmare they had) or real ones (seeing a friend get a bloody nose at school). The authors elaborate, “When a child becomes aware of the images that are active in his mind, he can use his mindsight to take control of those images and greatly diminish the power they have over him.”
Next we SIFT for feelings we have experienced. My kids still need a good amount of coaching on this one, but being home together all the time has given me lots of fodder for “feeling” lessons. For example, my husband described to me how scared my son felt while climbing up a hill earlier that day at the park, and later we were able to recall that moment with him and help him recognize and name that feeling. We were also able to describe the triumphant feeling he had after conquering his fears! I hope someday when he is off at school, he will be able to recognize these feelings and be able to name and have more power over them. I would also love if he could remember and name his feelings so he can share about those difficult or celebratory parts of his day with us!
Finally, we share a thought that we had during the day. The authors explain, “They are what we think about, what we tell ourselves, and how we narrate the story of our own lives, using words.” For young kids, this can be something as simple as, “I thought about how to build my Lego creation,” to random, profound thoughts that cause you to exchange that raised-eyebrow look with your spouse.
In our family, we go round-robin, one letter at a time. I’ll be honest, until fairly recently, my four year old would harumph and pout when I said, “Let’s SIFT through our days!” I think the process of reflecting and really combing through his day was still very challenging for him. But remember, consistency is key! The more we kept at it, the less he grumbled, and almost every time, we ended up having interesting chats about the things that took place in his mind and heart and body that day. These days, he’s the one who remembers first and exclaims, “Let’s SIFT!!!” at the dinner table, and everyone enthusiastically joins in. I dunno how long that peppy attitude will last, but I’m loving it right now!
Back when school was still in session, I got angles into their school and social life I could never have asked my way into. It took a very specific path to very specific parts of their inner workings–their sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts–to learn about specific moments in their days I could never have known to ask about otherwise. It’s an excellent acronym, as the action of sifting through their brains is a great verb to describe it, and yet each of the letters stands for a truly interesting and unique aspect of their experience that I want to hear about.
My hope is that my kids will not only be willing to share about their days, but that they would have the words and ability to access the big and seemingly small moments that make up their day. I don’t need to know everything, but I love getting glimpses of these moments that made their days, whether happy or unpleasant.
This post is part of a series where I’ll be sharing “bite-sized” ideas and activities for parents to try with their kids. I hope to offer easy, economical, educational, and engaging ideas you can feel good about your kids doing, while buying you some down time. This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.
Last week feels like another life: school was still in session, stores had milk, the weather hit the mid 70’s, and it almost felt like summer. We were out at a creek with a bunch of other kids (another occurrence unique to last week) and the kids were given little plastic jars with a magnifying lid viewer: Bug catchers!
The kids ran to the other side of the creek, which was teeming with these bugs (beetles?). Normally, I’d be totally squeamish about seeing so many of them flit about in the hundreds, and so would the kids. But something about holding a bug catcher empowered and excited them. They fearlessly approached the beetles and tried to catch them in the clear jars. Sometimes, they would catch two at the same time!
It was a simple and fun activity. They searched and explored their outdoor surrounding with fresh eyes, scanning for movement and detail in a way they never had before. They approached the creatures with a new confidence and excitement, and they were so proud when they successfully caught something. They felt safe holding it close in the jar and examining it closely, and were able to see details they had never been able to see before. Of course we freed all of the bugs in the end.
The whole process of searching, capturing, and observing was a really fun way for them to interact with the outdoors and the creatures living in it. I imagine this would completely change the way they see and approach bugs inside the house (hello, spiders) and give them a nice outdoor activity to do in the backyard during this unprecedented and long “shelter in place” period. I just ordered two of these bug viewer boxes for the kids:
My plan is to take them out for a walk or send them to the backyard to hunt for bugs (or snails or worms–it’s been raining over here!) and try to catch one. If I’m feeling teacher-y, then we can extend the activity and record observations in their science journals (i.e. 10 pieces of computer paper that I folded in half and stapled together), draw pictures, count the number of bugs caught and make graphs, etc.
Or, we can just let the bugs go and do it all over again and again.
It’s easy, economical (you can get the same one we did for $6.58, or get an 8-pack of smaller ones for about the same price!), engaging (hopefully!), and educational. It can be a nice break from the screens, and give them a chance to run, stoop, jump, and play outside in a new way. And maybe, just maybe, if they are busy catching bugs, then they won’t bug you for a few minutes while you get some work done!
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I quietly tiptoed down the hallway, away from my son’s room. As soon as I was in the clear, I raced, exuberant, to the dining table where Ben was sitting at his laptop, and blurted out: “HE ASKED ME THE QUESTION!”
Ben looked up, quizzically, “What question?”
“THE. QUESTION. HE ACTUALLY ASKED IT,” I breathed, “AND I ANSWERED IT… CORRECTLY!!!!!!”
He tilted his head sideways. I was elated and could hardly even get my words out straight.
“I was walking out of his room to get him some water when I heard him say, ‘Do you love me better than my sister?’ and I panicked for a moment and kept walking, to buy myself some time. When I got back to his door, he repeated the question,” I said, wide-eyed.
“So what did you say??” Ben asked.
What DO you say? It’s the question every parent dreads, and the first response that probably comes to mind is something like, “I love you both the same!” or “I love you equally!” Seems safe enough, right? It’s probably what I would have said, if I hadn’t read this gem of a book that has changed my parenting game from the day that I picked it up. Seriously, if you have more than one child, you need to get your hands on this book!
But I didn’t say that. I didn’t tell him I loved them the same. Instead, I took a breath and paused to remember all the things I love about him. The way he hopped over the cracks on the sidewalk today, the way his little legs paddled as he sped around the playground on his balance bike earlier this evening, the way he cackled so hard milk came out of his mouth.
Then I pulled him close so he could hear me breathe, and I slowly said, “You are so special to me. I love the way you run, with your hands at your side. I love the way you ride on your bike, your legs paddling on the ground so quickly. I love the way you hop, like a frog-“
“Like a wabbit?” he asked.
“Like a rabbit. And how you laugh so hard and make everyone else laugh.” I squeezed him tight, and as I tried to conjure up more images of this little boy I adored, I found that what I had said was enough. He hugged me tight and then said, “But today I spilled my milk.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured him, “Even I spill milk sometimes. Your little hands are still learning to hold things steady.”
. . .
I’m not always winning at parenting. If I were, I’d probably be blogging a whole lot more than I have been lately. But this was definitely a victory. It went just the way the book said it was going to go, and I said what he needed to hear to know: not that I loved him better, but that he was special to me and I loved him dearly.
He knew that he was precious to me in a way no one else could be. In Siblings Without Rivalry, the author offers the example of a young wife that asks her husband, “Who do you love more? Your mother or me?” …Wow, what a trap! But the story continues:
Had he answered, “I love you both the same,” he would have been in big trouble. But instead he said, “My mother is my mother. You’re the fascinating, sexy woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
“To be loved equally,” I continued, “is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely–for one’s own special self–is to be loved as much as we need to be loved” (70).
The book includes this really helpful illustration to drive the point home:
I see myself making mistakes left and right every day. But if there’s one thing I need each of my children to know, it is that they are deeply, truly, and uniquely loved, with an unconditional love that I will spend the rest of my life trying to demonstrate to them. Hopefully this tool will be one way you can communicate that kind of love to your children, as well!
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I love it when I have a gift idea for kids that is delightful for the recipient, is practical and not too messy/big/annoying/noisy for the parent, has any educational or STEAM value going for it, and brings me joy to give. Bonus points if it is at a reasonable price point! I was able to check all of those boxes last week when we were invited to a casual joint birthday party for two sweet preschoolers. My daughter and I put together a festive little craft kit for each of the two birthday kids, and soon after we left the party, the moms both sent happy snapshots of their kids putting their new crafting materials to use! It was a hit with the moms and kids: HOORAY!!
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I was meeting with some moms one night and couldn’t help but gush over the book I had just started, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen. These were the same authors who had penned my recent parenting favorite, Siblings Without Rivalry, so I knew they would have practical, doable, and effective parenting strategies. I had only read one chapter, but there was already so much to digest I had to put the book down to give myself a chance to process and practice it before moving on.
“Ok, so what’s ONE thing you got from it so far?” asked the mom to my right.
“Hmm… well, my biggest personal takeaway so far has been empathy. Mostly because I’m so bad at it. But even saying something as simple as, ‘You’re very upset that your brother isn’t sharing well. That’s frustrating!’ can go a long way in helping her process her emotions and move forward, without much or any further intervention from me,” I replied.
This wasn’t the first time the authors had emphasized the importance of empathy. The first book I read from them also had a lot to say about this, which I shared about last week, but clearly I needed to hear it again.
“But that was just one of the four strategies they presented in the first chapter! I was a little skeptical when reading some of the other ones at first–some sounded pretty bizarre–but as I finished looking through the examples I realized it did make sense and probably would help them feel better. I just would never ever have thought of it myself,” I continued.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Hm… like, giving kids what they want… in fantasy,” I said. I waited for the weirdness of this statement to sink in.
It was in November that I started to go crazy. Our school district gives the kids an entire week off for Thanksgiving, so I got to spend all day every day with both kids. This hadn’t happened since summertime, and back then, my two year old was still young enough to be content with parallel play, or basically playing by himself. My four year old was not yet stressed out with the complications of adjusting to a big class in a big school, and everything felt easier. But sometime in the three months between, they both grew up a little.
My son now wanted to play with everything his big sister had. My daughter was frustrated with this immature boy who didn’t know how to take turns or share properly. Thanksgiving break found me exasperated and frustrated as I endured the endless bickering between the siblings:
“Mommmmyyy!! He won’t give me my toy back!”
“Mommmmmyyy! He threw my creation!!!”
“I’M NOT PLAYING WITH YOU!!!”
“MOMMMYYYY!! He HIT ME!!!!”
It was an endless stream of fighting, bickering, and tattling.