Feels like my world is filled with cliches right about now. How time ended up going so fast, how she grew up too quickly, how did we get here. The nest won’t be empty due to the pandemic – but life will also never quite be the same. There is nothing like a daughter and I have been blessed beyond measure with mine.
Sunflowers. That was the inspiration. Brought in to observe and to dissect and to create. A celebration of fall and September.
The children were provided with time and materials. Each creating their artwork in a likeness based on their own ideas – choosing the materials they wanted to use. This to me is what makes it magical here. To be sure of no right answer; to have no final expectation of what it should look like; to offer no judgment. Children know all about wonder and about experimentation and exploration.
If I could choose one that would most dramatically embody what I think is representative of what is essential about a child’s experience at CNS – it would be this cubist interpretation of the flower. This is what CNS is all about. Allowing that child to be inspired and to create. To not lose their own magic and feel the pressure to create a flower that looks just like a flower or like someone else’s idea of a flower. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all feel such freedom?
Will my child have friends?
Will she be ready for kindergarten?
Does she know her letters?
How about her colors?
Is she having enough playdates? (Seems like everyone is having playdates.)
And what should we do to celebrate her birthday? And, oh yes, the goody bags!
We all do it. We all worry about our children.Whether its about friends, or learning, or getting ready for something else. We want to do this parenting thing right. They are our hearts living outside our bodies and the responsibility we feel is heavy.
Here is my simple message for you: BE HERE NOW.
Don’t spend your energy on something else that is coming later. Don’t worry about later now. Later will be different if your child grows up with a parent who is present in her life now. Later will be different if your child grows up with a parent who is not present in her life now.
Put down your phone. Unless it is an emergency having to do with your other child, your partner, your brother, or an emergency. Just put it down.
What could be more important than giving your full attention to those you love? Especially at the meal table. Stop looking down to check email or twitter or instagram or your feed of whatever. It can wait. Even an email from me. You are modeling behavior to your child that they are less important. Less deserving. You are also modeling relationship and they will emulate your behavior later. They see everything that you do. Make sure that they know they are deserving of your time. Your attention. Your presence. Be with them when you are with them.
Be direct. Be a parent. Not everything is a negotiation. Not everything is a question. Somethings are for safety. You need to hold their hand in parking lots. A child running across a parking lot into the path of a car that is backing up is not asserting his independence and you are not empowering him. Hold his hand.
And lastly. I have written about this in the past. The importance of happiness. I do not think it can be overstated. Having older children now, I have a longer view of childhood and I see where it is going. And all I can tell you is this. Unless your child has a significant developmental need, they are all going to learn how to read, how to be a friend, and how to survive their schooling. They will know their letters and colors. They will fall in love. They will be hurt and they will find their passion. If they want to, they will go to college. If they want to, they will dance or play sports, or debate, or play the violin. But what they need to get there is the simplest thing in the world. It isn’t extra enrichment classes or playdates – it is your LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE. LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE. For who they are. Right now.
So, hug, touch, say it. All they need is love.
This is the time of year for Happy. Happy New Year! Wishing you a…happy…new…year. Happy.
I spend time thinking about happy. Being happy. My own happiness and that of my children. Happiness. Because without it – there really is not much else. Without a sense of peace and calm and happy, no matter what one has done or the size of a bank account, or the accomplishments of a career – it all amounts to really nothing. Happiness. That is the goal.
And yet, it is easy to forget. We can get caught up in preparations and planning – whether for social reasons or achievement. How many of us deliberately contemplate play dates or registrations or Hayden or soccer or dance or math – just to be sure we are creating and cultivating of a child that is prepared for the next level. Of friendship. Of school. Of athletics. Of success.
I know. I was there. Too.
But it leaves out an important element. Their happiness. And that is the one element that is most vital to their life and their well-being.
When children are young – they only know what you create for them. Their world is all yours to control. You control their happy. What they do; where they go; what they eat; who they see. It is all on you. The decisions you make. The priorities you set.
And so this is what I know now – as a parent of three very large teenagers and a twenty year old. Happiness is the most important goal of all. Not how early they read or how well they can solve math problems or how complex the lego model is that they just created or which Harry Potter book they just finished. It really is so simple. Prioritize happy above all else. It really does not matter if they are going to a great college if they are unhappy. And a parent can only be as happy as their most unhappy child. Take my word for it; they will all get there – just make sure you care more about their happy than you do about anything else.
Prioritizing happy does not mean giving them everything they want; it does not mean rewards; it does not mean playdates; it does not mean wish fulfillment; it does not mean ‘yes’ to everything they ask for or of you.
Prioritizing happy means: a consistent routine and home life; it means unconditional love; it means predictability; it means honesty; it means time and space within boundaries; it means naps in the middle of the day; it means slowing down and it means family dinners. It means playing or doing for fun and not because you think you ought to; it means playdates that are natural and like breathing; not something that needs to be scheduled or forced or created just so you feel like you are tending to their yet to be developed social needs.
Happy New Year. To you. And while you are thinking so much about your child’s happiness. Please, most of all – remember this: your happiness is just as important. Without your happiness and peace, nothing else can really happen. Your children know you better than you think and most of all, they feel you. All the time. They know your happy and they know your sad. And it all flows from there. So tend to yourself. Whatever that means for you. I speak from experience. If you neglect to take care of yourself, it will catch up with you.
“What I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.
It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
“Oh!” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
One of the great opportunities that CNS has always afforded us as adults is a place where we can make some magic. This happens at the most simple level when we take a day off from work, or find child care for a younger sibling to make a special day our of parent helping. Magic. The gift of time.
Likewise, as a teacher at CNS, I was afforded so many opportunities to make connections and create moments of exploration and wonder. As Director, these opportunities become the fewer and far between – but still the plum of my work – whether a gnome house, a music garden, green door project, or the bell – all wonderful worthwhile diversions from the daily work of administrative responsibilities; truly the icing on my cake!
Here is the story of the Poetry Boxes:
Late last summer, as I encountered and experienced Block Island for the first time, in the care of Lila and Nora Bailey, I discovered Poetry Boxes. At the time, there was a major installation of such boxes all around the Island and Nora and Lila took me to discover their favorites. I was enchanted. A self-struggling poet myself, I have always been drawn to lyric, and rhyme – and the images and mingling of word and emotion and meaning. To discover these boxes that were so creatively constructed packaging someone else’s favorite verse, was pure joy and inspiration.
Following that trip, the idea of the CNS Poetry Box Project was born. Last week, Mark Bailey and I installed five boxes among the grounds of CNS. Thank you to the Lynch-Bridgeo Family, the Miller Family, the Coakley Family, the Bailey-Black Family, the Cohen-Silverstein Family, and soon to be added, the Strizak-Schertzer Family – for coming along with me on this new adventure and creating a beautiful poetry box for our CNS collection.
If you have time this week – please spend some extra time on the playground discovering the boxes. A more formal “walk about” will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 10A prior to the CNS Fall Family Hike. And experience, Magic.
Today the teaching staff at Community Nursery School joined together for a day long retreat. The intention of our time together was to being again – a new year stretching out ahead of us. Part deep think, part reflection, mixed in with practical dusting off of intentional practice and some much needed purging of the old unused – we gathered and reconnected and got started.
Up first was an introduction to the work of Carol Dweck. Her most recent book: Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success, should be required reading for all parents. As teachers, we used her work to not only reflect on how we praise and interact with children – but also how we ourselves perceive our very own abilities and gifts.
After watching Dweck speak on mindsets, and “not yet…” we then took a mindset inventory on ourselves to help each one of us reflect on our own bias.
This discussion led to the next part reflection – on girls and bravery. This is vital information for all of us who work with children or who are parents. Please take the time to watch this Ted Talk – https://www.ted.com/talks/reshma_saujani_teach_girls_bravery_not_perfection?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread
The rest of our day was spent directly on program enhancement and improvement. Topics like “environmental print” and “making learning visible” rounded out most of the morning, before we got inspired by the work of Marie Kondo, Spark Joy . We used this as a platform to reconsider the objects and materials that we have carried with us for the past six years at new CNS. What do we use? What inspires us? What brings joy?
Closing out our session, Heather created opportunities of movement and meditation that allowed each of us to connect with each other nonverbally. It was the perfect end to a most wonderful beginning.
In the shadow of yesterday’s tragedy, perhaps one of the best places to be is in a preschool, among the children. They don’t know hate. They don’t know mean. They don’t know cruelty. They are sheltered as best we can from the reality of our messed up world. The mindful presence of the here and now grounds all of us in beauty, wonder, and innocence. Grateful am I to have such a job as this.
In the next few days, we follow the calendar and part ways. Some for a very long time; some for just a moment. Forever we will share the time we spent together; the smiles and the tears; the hellos and the goodbyes. The separations and the reunions.
I held some of these children just days after they were born. They will not remember me. But they will remember the kindness; the warmth of this school. They will always know that they started in a place where mommy and daddy got to play, too. And I will never forget them. Or you.
As a Director of a preschool, each year I am asked by parents about the gun play of children. In my experience, it is almost always boys who engage in gun play – and it often has very little to do with whether or not the child has toy guns at home, or has seen guns on television or has played video games with guns. In fact, some parents can become completely mystified and slightly derailed that despite their best efforts to shield their child from guns, that it is all that their son wants to play when given free time and space.
A few years ago, I had an epiphany – one that I haven’t shared widely as it is not based on any research or science that I am aware of – in fact, it is based completely on my own observations of raising three boys and a girl of my own. And it has simply to do with the functionality of the penis.
Consider this – once a boy begins to use the toilet independently (which is for most US boys around age 3), they have the experience of shooting something (urine) out of their bodies (via their penis) – and they are taught to hold their penis and aim the urine into a target (the toilet). They get to do this perhaps three or four times a day. And they typically are rewarded or acknowledged positively for doing so. It also feels good. It is a viscerally pleasing experience (relieving their full bladder) that is rewarded by the grown-ups in their lives (sometimes with treats and definitely with praise).
Gun play is rich dramatic play that happens on every preschool playground in one form or another. Sticks, shovels, paper towel cardboard tubes, whatever is available is used to turn into a gun. The play often includes good and bad; super hero and villain – and it is usually complete with gun fire that sounds surprising like urinating. In my experience – almost always using a ‘p’ and ‘s’ sound.
When I consider gender differences in the area of gun play, I profoundly believe that it has more to do with a child’s anatomy specifically how they urinate – then it does with personality type, socialized gender differences, or what children are exposed to in their environment. Of course these are generalizations and only to be taken as food for thought – no more, no less. I argue that making sticks into guns is as natural to a young boy as using the bathroom – regardless of what they may have been exposed to through media, games, or other friends.
And here’s a deeper reflections, and some predictions:
On perhaps a more serious note, in the world that we live in today, it is difficult and nearly impossible to shield our children from gun violence. Whether they are overhearing a radio, a report on the television, or listening to their parents, there is just too much in these recent months to completely shelter the youngest among us from news of gun violence.
It could be that despite any silly musings shared above – that we will see a rise in gun play among children in preschool environments because of the importance of the ways children will need to process what they don’t completely understand (and for which none of us have much control over). Research (yes, real research) shows that children use dramatic play to act out real life situations and that kind of play is important to their coping and emotional development. So while our immediate instinct and tendency as parents and teachers is to stop that young child from playing guns and shooting their friend with a stick – it may be time to rethink and allow children to work through some of their real fears within reason either at school or home.
I recently read something that struck my sensibility about parenting to the core. It was an essay written about parenting teenagers – but it made so much sense regarding the parenting of preschoolers, too. (ntmoms.com/letter-teenager-cant-write/)
Parenting is at best challenging and at worst the hardest thing we have ever done. The metaphor in the article cited above is a really good one. As parents, we are holding on to the other end of the rope. Your child will pull, and twist, and swirl and pull and even try to pull it away as she swirls. It is our job to hold on. To be their anchor – even, and especially, when it takes all our strength to do so.
I know this so very well as the mother of four teenagers. Its so hard when they are little – but it’s so very scary and even sometimes harder when they get bigger. You hope that they will make the best decisions and you pray that they will stay safe – and you are so grateful when everyone is back home and tucked into their beds. But holding on to the rope is essential and exhausting – and it all started back when they were three feet tall.
Preschoolers and teenagers need to flail. They need to know where the edges are. It’s how they stay grounded and feel safe. It’s how they know they are loved. However it is hard- especially when they are young. We want them to be independent. We want to nurture their strength and sense of the world. It gets tricky to know when to say no; when to say stop.
We all want our children to be self-actualized operators in this great big world of ours. We all want them to be strong and independent – resilient – we want as parents to nurture and cultivate those attributes. Stopping their urges, not fulfilling their requests – its exhausting. But it is ESSENTIAL. Hold on to the rope. Keep them grounded. It is the only way and it is what they are asking for – the whole entire time.
I say to you – as someone who struggles with this – to remember to hold on to the rope. Hold on. Hold them in – don’t really let them go; they need to know where to find the ground. Love them all the time. And they will become that self-actualized human being that you want for them. If you let go and just let them flail out in the world – the unravelling can leave them lost.
There is a well known quote by the Dalai Lama:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
This simple statement has become the steadfast mantra in my family and extremely useful as I parent my four children. Even now – as they are turning into adults and larger than life – whenever one says or does something unkind – all I have to start with is…”Be….” And invariably one of them finishes the phrase for me – usually with a small smile edging out the corner of their mouth.
And when I think about the children at CNS – we have the same approach and goal for all of them.
The work of preschool is varied and vast – but there is so much in the social area that our classroom and outdoor spaces become petri dishes of social and emotional development. In fact, some could argue that it is the actual REASON for preschool. We all know that parents could create very rich and wonderful areas of creativity, science, literature, in their homes – but where can they find a dozen other children to fit all into that space and have to share and take turns? Preschool.
When I talk to prospective parents about our specific goals for each child at CNS – I spend most of the time talking about the social piece. We want them all to learn kindness. Practice kindness. Feel kindness.
It doesn’t mean that everyone has to be friends with everyone else. It doesn’t mean that every moment has to include everyone that wants to be included. It does mean that when another wants to join that group, they are received with kindness. It does mean that someone needs help, that they are given help. It does mean that we greet each other with a smile and always say goodbye. It does mean looking out for each other and taking care of those who need that care – however big or small.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Such a simple idea. I practice it everyday – and you know what I’ve found? It really is not hard at all. And by giving kindness, even just a little bit, it comes back bigger than you can even believe….