IMG_1282 (Originally posted 10/10/2011.  Reposting after having just seen Dave again, three years after I wrote this.  All still true.)

This weekend I was treated to a visit from my dear friends, Dave and Lyn and their daughter, Alaigne. I first met Dave and Lyn when I was searching for a place to live during the summer of 1991. We ended up living together cooperatively and vegetarian for about three years during which there many laughs, some tears, a number of international guests, home brew, strawberry jam, hot toddies, graduations, divorces, a wedding, and a baby.

Dave and Lyn are from New Zealand and returned there after Dave completed his doctorate. I have seen them once since – when they were coming through the States for a brief lay over about nine years ago. Since that time much has changed for all of us – and it was with great anticipation that I picked them up on Friday afternoon for their weekend visit.

I have often said to others that Dave is the kindest person I have ever met. The time we had together was special – fraught with all sorts of transitions and drama – but through it had many laughs and tender moments of true friendship.

I was very excited to see them again and to have the whole weekend to spend together. I was anxious for my children to meet them and see why I thought so highly of them as people and what they meant to me.

And it was a wonderful visit. We did simple things like apple picking and applesauce making. We had lots of cups of coffee and the kids played many games of chess. I dusted off my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook and remembered how to cook without any meat for the weekend.

On Saturday, I brought them by CNS and showed them around. They did not know me as a preschool teacher and they were curious to learn about what it is that I do now. Dave found the brick in my office to be particularly humorous, “Listen More, Speak Less”. He thought that was directed especially toward me and had been given to me as a gift. I explained that it was something that we try to do every day in our relationships with the children and with each other. I spoke a little about Reggio and our philosophy. He still had a big chuckle – remembering me as the eager graduate student, always ready for a debate or a conversation around our dinner table. I guess I wasn’t such a great listener back then.

Over the years, I have often wondered what it was that made my friendship with Dave so special and so categorically different from any of my other friendships. Seeing him laugh at the brick, I realized something. I realized that what was so special about Dave was in fact his ability to listen. I immediately flashed back to the evening before, watching him bleary eyed and exhausted, listen to my son Hugh describe what was happening in every single picture from our Montana trip. And later, how he patiently explained seismology to Maggie and Harry – answering all their questions and listening to their observations about what it must be like to live in a country where earthquakes are a regular occurrence and almost an inevitability.

Dave approaches every conversation, every person, with the same patience and respect. He listens. And in listening, he nurtures his relationships. I realize that he was nurturing me all those years ago in Cambridge. That best friendship had its foundation built on that kind of patience, that kind of listening. And the comfort of silence – that sometimes it’s all right not to have anything to say at all.

This is what we strive for at CNS when we say “Listen More, Speak Less”. It is in that listening that relationship is grounded. Where it has space to be nurtured. When that connection is not all about your own personal relationship to the materials or the world, but when you are just as curious and genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, share, or worry about. It is then an authentic relationship. There is tremendous patience involved in this kind of listening – especially with children. But the benefits are tremendous.

I love that there are layers to our lives and to our life experience that continue to repeat themselves in time and space just when you might not be expecting it. I never thought that in seeing Dave again, I would have this perspective about why it is that our relationship is so special and how that relates to my work at CNS. I feel deep appreciation today – not only because Dave and Lyn came to visit – because I am newly recharged in my mission to listen deeply and patiently to each person I meet and to never hurry through a chance to touch someone’s life by hearing their words. This was Dave’s gift to me. And mine to you.


The kids are all right…

IMG_3373As we head into the deeper part of the fall which for some of us will bring first quarter report cards and for others, our very first parent teacher conference.

Here’s what I know:  the longer that I am a parent, the more I understand about how all of our worries don’t mean much at all.

We have been given this great opportunity to take care of another person in this world.  And of course, we all want to do the very best that we can in that stewardship –

And we all fall in love with our children..

But..here’s the thing.  We only have a little tiny fraction of control.  And it’s mostly about whether or not they want their eggs scrambled or fried.  Or boxers or briefs.

Recently, my daughter went through a neuro-psych evaluation to get a bit finer view on the way she learns.  How her brain works.  And here’s the thing…I can tell you right now that my daughter (fourth child of four) has the most adaptive life skills of any of my children.  But her brain has this really hard way of figuring out the world.  One that won’t work so well for certain tasks.

I have known this forever.  Since she was tiny.  Since she didn’t want to sit with me for “Goodnight Moon” or “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”.  Since then. Because here’s the thing.  You know.  You know right now.  Those instincts that you have.  Very much most of the time are right on.  If you don’t listen to them, then they will become louder (or others will help you with this).

But here’s the point.  None of us are all set.  Or perfect.  We are all just a jumble of feeling and brain and life.  And none of us are perfect.  Some of us are average at everything and some of us are crazy good at something.  Remember this as parents.  Take them as they are.  Love them for who they are.  Because they are beautiful.

And they are just right.

Ebola is not the only Big Bad Wolf


As I listen to the news coverage on Ebola and the various precautions being made in all parts of the country, it is scary to think of that kind of pandemic happening here.  And I am grateful that health care professionals and politicians are already anticipating, preparing, and taking necessary precautions.

But what I really wish is that they – and we – would instead look closer to home at the pandemic that is creating disease, distress, cancer and long term health issues for our children, for ourselves.

Since reading “The Omnivores Dilemma” a few years ago I have been concerned and worried about our food chain.  Now, having just seen the documentary, “Fed Up” – I am truly distressed about what is happening in every grocery store across our towns.  It has been drilled into us that we need to keep our kids moving, exercising, active.  But it isn’t enough to combat the sugar.  80% of the products on the shelves today have added sugar.  Sugar works like cocaine in our brains and creates addictions.

Please take two and a half minutes to watch this trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7A2RylUTiw

As some of you may know, I spend my weekends in gyms; either coaching basketball or watching one of my children play.  It has been especially disconcerting this fall to see so many young girls, fifth, sixth, seventh graders who are overweight, bordering on obese.  On the one hand, it is absolutely wonderful that these girls are out on the court, running and enjoying the sport.  Exercising.  But I know now that it isn’t enough for them – and then mostly I really worry about the children that aren’t in the gym at all.

In the United States, the increase in type 2 diabetes among children since 2001 is 30%.  At that rate, by 2050, it is predicted that 33% of all American children will have diabetes.  That is completely preventable – and not by playing basketball or exercising – but by demanding radical change in our food industry.  It is argued in the movie that today’s food industry is behaving like the tobacco industry of thirty years ago.  The good news is that we have created dramatic changes when it comes to cigarettes.  We need now to do the same for our food.

We can do this – but we need to wake up.  We need to demand change.  We need to be worried maybe a little less about Ebola – and a lot more about what’s happening at  Stop and Shop.

I’m ok, You’re ok.


This is the time of change.  A new school year begins and with that for some of us, new routines, new locations, family transitions, and new adventures.

For the families at CNS, the start of a new school year is often well anticipated – either because it is the beginning of some sort of formal school experience for a child, or the continuation of a child’s immersion in the land of creation, socialization, peer negotiation, and playground participation.  Change. Shift. Beginning.

For me personally this fall, what feels like a really big shift is going on.  My oldest child has left for boarding school.  He will be doing a post-graduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  He graduated from Lexington High School in June. This decision came about for many good reasons – and can be thought of as a similar step to keeping your child at CNS for one extra year of preschool before sending them on to Kindergarten.  

“The days are long, but years are short.”  I know if you are reading this and you currently have young children, you are most likely rolling your eyes right now.  I think I got sick of it too when my four children were young.  It didn’t really help me at all between diapering and lactating and washing and folding (never mind cooking, cleaning, nose-wiping, and tantrum-dealing) to somehow believe that time would actually begin to fly.  It never felt that way.

But it happened.  I blinked.  And now he’s gone.

Yesterday, as we were saying our final goodbye, my tears began to flow and I almost lost my ability to speak.  Something came out of my mouth similar, to “Take care of yourself”.  And my beautiful boy, who is so very ready for this next phase of his life, gave me a huge hug, practically picked me up, and said, “Mom, I’ll be ok, as long as you are ok.”.  Which of course only made my tears flow even more.  Here was my 18 year old son helping me deal with this transition.  I suppose life has already done what was needed to get him ready for his.  

And so as a parent, I continue to be humbled by my children – the independent, confident, and practically grown-up people that they have become, all while I was looking away or caught up in the moments of doing (because while the diapering and the lactating soon fade away, the driving and the cooking and the laundry never stop).

As some of you enter this week of new beginnings, realize how ready your children are for a new adventure of their own.  As Hugh hugged me and reminded me of our connection – and about how important it is for him to know that I’m going to all right – it reminded me of how so much of our children’s experience and reactions to new situations are drawn from the cues they receive from their parents.  He was reminding me that he can be ok and brave and able – as long as he knows that I am also confident and sure of his new path.  

And so yesterday, I wiped up my tears, did my best to smile (you know that sort of crooked smile you try to form on your face when your eyes are still trying to cry.), and hugged him back. 

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-David Wagoner, Lost



I never belonged to a sorority.  Until now.

When I landed at CNS in 2000 I found a sorority of women that I call family.  I know they will be there for me whenever I need them – in the small moments of a regular morning as well as the big milestones of my life.

We have a connection perhaps born of our shared love of the smallest people among us – or perhaps because the sense of community and cooperation lives in our hearts and manifests itself through our work at CNS.  Or maybe we’ve just been lucky, inheriting this feeling of comraderie from those who came before us –handing it down to the newer additions to the group.

Whatever the reasons, it is a special bond – and continues.  I know I can share anything with these women – about my life, my children, my work – and they will listen and absorb, nod and smile, offer me some advice, a story, or best of all, a hug.

Tomorrow we gather together to celebrate Barbara Cowen.  Our matriarch.  Our Queen Bee.  Our sister.

A woman with an ever present twinkle in her eye.  And a spring in her step.

I remember when I first met Barbara and it felt like coming home.  Transplanted here from a small town – I was searching for new roots and connection.  Barbara was the kind of person that made me feel special.  She made me feel seen.  Her warmth and humility and kindness emanated from her smile.  For me, she made this new big town feel small and familiar.  She would touch my shoulder in church, smile and pass along that feeling of good morning, so nice to see you.

Barbara was fun.  She was a dancer, swimmer, bridge player, traveler.  She was a mother, grandmother, teacher, friend.  She showed up.  She listened.  And she loved.  And she was the most beautiful teacher of young children – and their parents.  Mrs. Cowen. With Barbara, perhaps because her teaching spanned almost four decades – wisdom, hope, and patience, just radiated from her.

I am grateful for tomorrow.  To come together and celebrate the life of Barbara Hayes Cowen.  Shoulder to shoulder, my sorority of sisters will sit together, pass the tissues, and share a laugh.  Then we will gather at CNS – the place where we all belong – and tell some more stories, pass along a few hugs – and begin the process of goodbye.

But Barbara will always live in the walls at CNS.  She will always live in our hearts.

She once told me when I began teaching in the Front Room that she loved teaching the three year olds the best.  She said, “What you see, is what you get.” (meaning that they are without guile, without agenda).  And she was right.  She was also describing herself.  She was just as pure.  Just as true.  Just as beautiful.

I last saw Barbara a month ago at CNS – for an alumni gathering.  As we parted and said good night, she whispered in my ear, “Miss seeing you at church”.  Well, I’ll see you there tomorrow Barbara.

With love in my heart for you, dear soul.

Giving thanks.

Thanksgiving.  Beautiful holiday.  And for me, like many of you, as we get older, it becomes my favorite – one that only requires the gathering of loved ones, friends, and the sharing of a meal – and most importantly, reflection on all the gifts in our lives.

For the past few years, I have listed out my thanksgivings on this blog: all that I am grateful for that either happened, or came into my life in the past twelve months.  And so, it is with great pleasure and joy, that I take some time to reflect. (in no particular order…)

Walden.   Since I moved to Massachusetts in 1991, I have had a relationship with Walden Pond.  But it wasn’t until this past June that we truly became engaged.  I began swimming Walden Pond a couple of times of week with someone who became a dear friend and confidante over the course of the summer and early fall.  Unless you have experienced Walden – it’s hard to truly explain it.  We swam at dawn – sometimes in the dark; sometimes in the cold.  We would stop in the middle of the pond and talk briefly about life, the stars, or the crazy shit that awaited our day.  It is a blessing to have a friend to whom you can tell anything to – someone who won’t be shocked or surprised – someone who isn’t too connected to the rest of your life.  Simple friendship. And the most interesting part about the experience is that every single time we swam – it was different.  Same pond.  Same time of day…but always special in a different way.  And always beautiful. Next summer I plan on writing about it – starting a journal that captures those subtle changes, those beautiful nuances of nature and our world.  Thank you Mick.  And thank you Sarah.

Acupuncture.  Ok. Never ever in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be such a complete and total grateful mess when I start talking about Robin Sessa and acupuncture.  As my close friends and family know, last year starting around Christmas, I lost feeling in my left hand, arm, and was in complete and total chronic pain for four months. I couldn’t run – I couldn’t sit – I could barely drive. Two herniated discs in my neck. It was awful.  I had two cortisone injections, months of physical therapy…and then my physical therapist suggested I try acupuncture.  She suggested it subtly – she knew she wasn’t making any progress on my arm, my strength, my neck.. And so I got a name, made an appointment.  And it was unbelievable.  Results were almost immediate.  And I am now training for the Boston Marathon 2014.  I feel terrific. And I owe it all to Robin and her healing ways.

Travel.  This past year, I went to Italy, Seattle, Montana, France (Paris & Normandy), and of course, beloved Maine.  The trips to Italy and Normandy were particularly life changing.  And reminded me of how much of the world there is – and how much I have to learn about life, people, culture.  These trips ignited something in me that had been forgotten.  I am so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity this year to venture, to voyage, to taste, to experience.  It broadened my heart and mind and I look forward to the adventures that await.

Recovery.  So this one is a hard one to read…feel free to skip ahead.  When I was 16, the abuse began.  It was subtle at first – but grew with time and grew out of the crazy home life that was mine during my adolescence.  This year, I turn 46 – and I have a 16 year old son.  My abuser was 46 years old and someone I trusted.  I was 16.  My home life was very unstable and I was easily victimized.  It wasn’t until about last year at this time – as I approached my abusers age– that I have fully absorbed the craziness and the depth of the hurt.  For years, I have lived in shame, in secret, taking full responsibility for what happened to me.  Now, I am in therapy, working every day at reclaiming that lost child.  I share this today because I am grateful for healing and recovery.  I am grateful to be moving from being a victim to being a survivor.  It is a long road – that so many of us have to walk.

Coaching basketball.  I was so very fortunate to have found the game of basketball at a young age.  And it has been a love affair that extends from the very first moment I touched a ball to then soon after,  I attended a Police Athletic League clinic when I was eight years old.  Since then, it has been my haven, my retreat, my love.  And now – after years of playing, I get to share that love with my daughter Maggie and a group of young girls.  And I have the great good luck of coaching with someone who like me – loves the game, loves to coach, and understands how important it is to coach the girls as people, individuals, as athletes.  To raise the bar to the right height – and to challenge them to their best day.  I know now because Maggie is my youngest – that these days of coaching her are limited, fleeting- but for now, this past year, and the year ahead –  I am grateful.

My brothers.  This year brought my brothers:  Danny, Chris, and Peter, – all to my house at the same time (due to an ocean, it only happens every ten years or so); with their children and their significant others.  It was so fun – and I realized the greatest gift that my parents ever gave me were these three beautiful people. And I am lucky to call them my friends.  They call me Lizzie.  I hope to pay it forward – with my own children.  Making sure that they know how special their siblings are to them – and how they will have them when they need them throughout their lives.

Meditation. I have started a new practice. Meditating.  Sitting. Being.  Quiet.  It is very difficult for me.  But – when I get there – in the quiet of nothing, I am refreshed.  I like the idea that I don’t need running shoes to get there.  I like the idea of settling into myself and feeling the space around my thoughts – instead of thinking all the time.  I am someone who thinks all the time…rethinks and overthinks, and considers and projects (that’s  a verb, not a noun).  Someone who is very close to me has helped me to see myself.  Meditation has opened up a whole different view of being me – and I am grateful for the stretch.

Thanksgiving.  Stopping and remembering back – reflecting to all that is good.  And in looking forward – the year ahead promises all sorts of new challenges. Life, recovery, therapy, marathon, a child moving on, life moving on.

Thank you for our connection, this community.  May your day tomorrow be filled with light and love.  Hug your children.  Hug each other.

And lastly – no thanksgiving would be complete without this, for this is what my heart looks like:


Swing story


Believe it or not…this is not about our swings at CNS.  This is another swing story. Coincidentally happened on the day the swings came down at CNS, but a different story and reflection altogether.

Quick background:  along with a few of our teachers at CNS, I have been invited to and participate in a new endeavor formed by some wonderful educators (most notably including Joanne Pressman, my mentor, confidante, friend, and predecessor at CNS). This group has created a series of workshops inspired by two wonderful educators, David and Frances Hawkins. For more info: http://hawkinscenters.org.

On Saturday, November 2, I attended one of these workshops at the de Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park.  The material of the workshop was inspired by the artist in residence, Orly Genger, who has created some fantastic sculptures out of former lobster trap rope.  We were meant to explore and experience the exhibit and then invited to work in a small group with a wide selection of rope, outside in the park, without any guidance or restrictions.  The idea was to have us experience, experiment, play.

The core mission of this Hawkins group is to have teachers, educators, administrators, to first person engage with materials. This brings us in better touch with our work with children. The idea is that by experiencing first hand what we are asking of the children – that we will have deeper insights, be more sensitive to their experiences, and as an end result be more in touch with our work.

And so my group – which included Amy Kvaal, Danielle, Cindy, and another person that was from another school – began to find a spot (we chose a tree) and gathered up some good choice rope.  At first we were busy ‘decorating the tree’ – weaving different colors and lengths of rope around its trunk. But then we became interested and inspired by a branch and we wondered if we could weave a section up and over the branch.  It took some doing – but once we had it over – then of course, the idea of a rope swing came right to us.

I grew up with a rope swing.  It was located at the very back back of my yard and I used that rope swing all the time.  I loved to swing.  And spent many hours back and forth – pushing off the great big tree and allowing my mind to wander.

The video attached here will tell the next part of the story.  We did have success. And for a few minutes, we had joy.  I was flying.  I took a risk that the branch would hold my weight (literally  figuring out if I did indeed fall, would have time for an ER visit before leaving for NY later that day to catch my friend running the marathon).  The branch held my weight.  And I flew.  Transformed.  It was a lovely antidote knowing that I had left CNS only an hour earlier having given the work day list including ‘take down our swings’.

And then something happened.

The director of the educational program at the deCordova – a super nice person and thoughtful, inspired educator, came over to tell us to stop.  I don’t know if she was worried about our safety, the tree, or the spectators wanting to try out our swing (there were regular museum guests at the deCordova on this day as well -along with a reception ongoing on the adjacent lawn).  My guess is that it was a struggle for her to ask us to stop – but I can tell you that as soon as she did….it was a complete and total buzz kill.  I felt like I was five years old again.

And so the workshop did what was intended – it helped me to see how it is that children so often feel when we give them a little freedom – but then need to “rope” them in when they push the boundaries just a little too far.  It happens for us as parents, teachers, all the time.  That project that turns just a little too messy and we need to redirect the energy; or the song that gets just a bit too loud with their enthusiasm and big voices.

The purpose of these Hawkins experiences is to help us gain insight into our work with the children – and it absolutely did.  Once the person curtailed our swinging, we were deflated and done.  We didn’t even want to play any more.  There was a sense of shame and sadness.  One minute, joy and flying; the next minute a sense of needing to apologize and pull down the rope.

I suppose what we were doing was dangerous- we could have fallen; the branch could have broken.  Other museum guests might have taken up the swing after we were done.  There was liability.  But before that adult sensibility – there was flying, and weightlessness, and joy.

And so I have held that in my heart all week.  Thinking about how it is that we create experiences at CNS – that we invite the children to explore, experiment, and try. And how I want us all to be self-conscious about those moments when we need to redirect or reboot their enthusiasm – maybe out of a concern for their safety; or maybe because we are worried about the example they are setting and of things getting ‘out of control’.

But let’s try not to deflate their creativity or their ingenuity.  Let’s find gentler ways to redirect – that appreciates their inspiration without deflating their effort and spirit. It was a good experience for me to feel like I was five years old and in trouble once again.

A sense of wonder

IMG_4936  With the new school year well under way, and the colors brightening our landscape, I am once again reminded of the importance to stop, slow down and breathe in the beauty of our world.  Recently I was given a copy of Rachel Carson’s “The Sense of Wonder” (Thanks to Avery’s family).  It is one of her final reflections on nature – based on the time she spent with her young nephew during his visits to her home in Maine.  The essay is accompanied by beautiful photographic images.  Coincidentally, soon after reading and reflecting on this book, I was sent Alice Hoffman’s “How to Find Happiness” list that includes such wisdom as “Walk a Dog” and “Look at the Stars”.

As the days pass in my life, I regularly realize how fortunate I am to be surrounded by young children, who don’t need to be reminded of these life lessons.  They don’t need to read a book or someone’s post cancer reflections.  They are living it.  They stop on the sidewalk to see the wiggling worm; they pick up the red leaf and hold it proudly in their hand as they walk into their classroom;  they notice the acorn and the bird and the new weed flower.

The patience and awareness that children have with their environment is a constant reminder and lesson for all of us here at CNS. We adults need to continually slow down our walk, stop with all the hurrying, and realize that at the end of the day, the difference of five minutes extra in the morning to be present with one’s child while they save the worm or pick up the leaf is precious.  Time that must be appreciated – and not hurried.

My children are growing up too fast.  As a mother to four children, who now are almost all taller than I am – ranging in ages from 11 to 16, childhood has a fleeting sense of the temporary.  What was once looking like a marathon, now more closely resembles a 5K.  I have to seek out and create those moments now with my children.  Remind them to slow down, to look up at the sky and to remember.

I have been swimming in Walden Pond a couple times a week since June.  This morning was my last swim of the season.  Sunrise is too late and I can no longer see my partner while we swim with the dark of morning like a blanket over the pond.  But was so striking throughout the summer and early fall, was despite our swimming at the same time, same place, same direction, same distance, each swim was characteristically different:  the plane of the water, the sky, the wildlife, the clouds, the moon, sun, stars, air.  It was “wonder-full”.

This morning as we stopped midway before heading back to shore, the stars were so bright; constellations beckoning and that same airplane I’ve seen every swim heading for Logan. My kids think I’m crazy to get up so early to swim.  Maybe I am a little crazy.  But I hope that my example now to them that sometimes getting up early to experience wonder is something they remember when age and the hectic pace of their life tries to rob them of it.  And so I say this to you reader – seek wonder.  Take your time.  Hold your young child’s hand and see the world through their eyes.  They still have it.  And we all need it.  Wonder is a gift you give to yourself – by opening your eyes and heart to the beauty that surrounds you.  In the words of Rachel Carson:

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”


Even though I have been lucky enough to be part of this community for thirteen years now, I am still always surprised and awed by the power of collaboration and hard work.  It is amazing to me how much can done and how efficiently when we bond together with common purpose and plan. This morning a group of us met at CNS in the drizzle and moved 30 yards of playground mulch around the swings, the jiggly bus, the gnome house, and the back climber.  Check out the before, during, and after pictures.  Great day. Grateful.


The crew:  Karen’s dad, Lucy’s dad, Avery’s dad, Allie’s dad, Cal’s dad, Elliot’s dad, Ginger’s mom, Sophie’s mom, Nina’s mom, Lydia’s mom, Zack’s mom, me, Vicente’s parents, and Sriya’s mom.  Thank you to all!

Sharing something special

Most often, I use this space for my own writing and reflection.  Every once in awhile, I find something to share that I feel is important and relevant and worth putting in this space.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did –  read and reflect.  As a parent of older children now, it is so very very true.

Written by a Pre-School Teacher – It says it all!

I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only three. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our pre-schoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvellous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.
But more important, here’s what parents need to know.
That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like lego and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.

That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.