Many of you probably saw my recent introduction of Tyler's Trailer. It's been so awesome to be able to haul more stuff - without loading and unloading at home - and it's been completely necessary when I've had such great attendance at Pop-Up Play days! But, to be totally honest, I was terrified of learning to drive with a trailer behind me, to hook it up, and even more challenging, to back up my trailer!
So my wonderful husband, who happens to be a pro at backing up trailers, took me to an empty parking lot to practice. It went better than expected, but I still wasn't confident with this new skill. The first few times I drove the trailer, I parked it in the street at home, or pulled it in forwards until Brian could back it into the driveway for me. Until one day... he didn't. He helped me, but mostly just by being an extra set of eyes. The next time I came home with my trailer, I backed it in all by myself! And I couldn't stop smiling! I was so proud, I even took a picture:
I found myself thinking about this later, asking myself about the last time I had this feeling of conquering a new skill! It's not something we allow ourselves very often as adults, partially because our lives just don't lend themselves to this kind of learning as much, but also because we find it scary to try new things!
I also found myself comparing this to our kids' lives and the new skills they learn. If my husband had continued to just do it for me, I would have never learned, AND I would have missed out on that amazing feeling of pride and accomplishment! Sure, I can get by in life without knowing how to back up a trailer, but I wouldn't have gained the confidence of independence. Okay, I think you can tell where I'm going with this, right? We have to let our children try. We have to let our children fail. We can support them along the way - physically or emotionally - when they need it, but eventually they have to do it themselves in order to learn. We have to let our children gain independence AND the sense of accomplishment and confidence after they work hard for a goal!
The good news? Children do this naturally when they play! It's healthy and normal for them to push their boundaries, try new things, and stretch their limits. When they are allowed to do this and accomplish new things, they gain confidence and resilience that will last throughout their life! What a gift!
No matter how much I learn about child development or play, I am still always learning from the kids. Sometimes they teach me purposefully, and sometimes I am just floored that I could have been so wrong.
First, let me set the scene. My Adventure Play Days are a day camp that is pretty much completely child-led. The children get to choose how to spend their day. This year, we were at the beautiful Walking Stick Adventures - a pond with a trail around it, lots of natural elements to explore, and even a tipi!
The children and I met at the front of the property, and I thought that perhaps the preschoolers would be a bit slower to warm up to the "do whatever you want" idea, so I had our special craft laid out and ready to go when we arrived at the main site. This special craft is meant to still be fairly open-ended, but it gives the group a new way to create or a new material to explore. This year, for both days of camp, I chose a suncatcher. It would allow them to use natural elements and had lots of opportunity for personalization. But it turns out, I was very wrong about these preschoolers needing any direction from me to get started. I described the craft, held up my example, showed them a "special trick" to cut out the center of their paper plate, and told them to go ahead and start creating.
Well, they might as well have laughed in my face and said "Molly, why are you trying to control our creative play?!"
These kids started creating things that had nothing to do with my suncatcher craft, but they were all creating with such purpose! They finished one creation after the other with the materials I had provided. Luckily, I knew I had been schooled and let them take the lead. They were so proud of their creations and moved on to other play when they were ready. As they should. Next time, I will remember who the experts are.
Last week, our family spent a day at the Iowa State Fair, complete with corn dogs, the butter cow, and giant pumpkins! I was so excited and had so many things I wanted to do! Are you a planner like me? Do you set big expectations for big days out? I am notorious for this! There's absolutely nothing wrong with planning and being excited for big events, but we do have to be a bit careful to not take over a day that's meant to be fun for our kids.
What do I mean by this? Well, what are YOU wanting to do, and what are your KIDS wanting to do? As adults, we often have ideas of what we think our kids will want to do. But, especially for younger kids, simple is usually better! What were my kids' favorite things at the fair? Grinding corn, looking over the railing in the Ag building, watching the bees, watching the colors match on the Skyride above us, and climbing a random tree. Yes, they enjoyed going down the giant slide and watching the BMX show. Yes, they were super excited to ride the Skyride! Yes, they liked sharing in some of my favorite fair traditions. Do those things! But the fair - as well as lots of other big events - is also great place to let your kids lead for awhile! Maybe your child could sit and watch the baby ducks all day. Don't rush on to the next thing! Perhaps you found a shady spot and your child is simply watching the people going by. Let them be for a moment. Enjoy those little moments of joy! Enjoy the look on your child's face! And maybe take in some of those simple things yourself! It can be a breath of fresh air on a busy day!
Yeah, I know... You don't want to talk about ticks... I don't either... but we must. Like it or not, if we're going to go out and explore with our children, we have to address the fact that there are things that can cause concern. And the best way to alleviate concern or fear is to be prepared, and to talk about it. So, we have to talk about ticks. I'll be honest, ticks are probably one of my biggest mama worries when it comes to kids and the outdoors, and last year we had terrible ticks in our yard! Getting good information helped me prevent bites and bring my worry down. I saw my first tick of the year a couple weeks ago, and it reminded me of this great woe of warm weather - it's officially tick season!
So what do you need to know about ticks? Here are the basics:
Want to learn more, straight from the source? Here are some resources:
The bottom line is that yes, we need to be cautious about ticks. Preventing bites is the best way to prevent disease. As parents, it is our job to protect our children! However, we can't let our fear keep our children indoors. The benefits of being outdoors with our children are HUGE, and especially if we take the steps above, the risk of disease is low. Be prepared, and get outside! I would love to know in the comments: Did this information help alleviate some fear for you? What other outdoor fears do you have?
Last year, about this time, my family decided to try for something pretty bold (especially considering I was entering the 3rd trimester of my pregnancy and would have a newborn soon)! We pledged to try to spend 1000 hours outside in the coming year! And it's not just us - the 1000 Hours Outside organization is encouraging lots of people to try to do the same!
Why 1000 hours? Well, it turns out that the average child today spends about 1200 hours on screens each year! Woah! That number blew my mind! So the idea came from replacing screen-time with outdoor time, but it isn't specifically about decreasing our time with technology, it's about getting outside. However that looks for you.
What are the rules? Whatever you want! For our family, we counted any time that at least one of our children was outside, whether playing, eating, walking, reading, or just sitting. We included tent time, but not campers or cabins. You set your own rules (or your own goals)!
So how did it go? Well.... according to my calculations, we didn't quite make it, but I'm not ashamed of that. We fell about 50 hours short, but we also didn't track super carefully, so it may have been even closer. Bottom line: we got some great hours outside this year!
Honestly, to me, the exact hours aren't what it's about anyway. It was eye-opening to track exactly how much (or how little) time we were spending outside! The first couple of months were a bit depressing... "We've only been out a half hour all week!?" Pregnant with two little boys, one of whom was a bit too small to be comfortable in the snow, getting out last January was hard. We had our occasional specific outdoor playtime with Dad to help, but having the tracker encouraged me to get out for a half-hour here or there - times when I wouldn't have otherwise.
When the nice weather rolled around, we found ourselves having a fair number of 6, 7, or 8-hour days! How awesome to know that almost all of our awake time was spend outside?! This was how I was meant to live! Coloring in 8 dots at the end of the day felt great! Throw in camping, and the hours added up fast!
So what can I pass along to all of you after my year of tracking? Here are some things I learned over the last year:
So do I recommend the 1000 Hours Outside challenge? YES - or some sort of goal that works for your family! Some families go for a certain number of days outside each month, or just 500 hours instead of 1000. As with everything in life, do what works for you and your family. While I won't be tracking again anytime soon, it was an amazing experience and has made me much more aware of the time we get out (and the time we don't)! It has helped me embrace more types of weather, and it has helped me see little spots of time where I can fit in a bit more outside play. Are you up for the challenge? Let me know if your family is adding an outdoor resolution this year! I would love to hear about your experience!
This morning was our first Nature Explorers session, and it was definitely magical! But it wasn't the tree... well, maybe a little. The most magical thing to me was the PLAY! It was the children and their amazing brains and creativity!
Our brief circle time made sure our friends all knew each other, then we were off on our adventure. While searching for the Nature Explorers flag, we found a variety of flowers, a bench, and a picnic table, and we took the time to explore them all. Just kids going at a kids' pace.
Both children and adults soon took notice of a weeping willow nearby, followed by a shout of "I see the flag!" For today's play, I had left a small basket of ribbons near the flag, with the thought that ribbons mimic the flowing branches of the tree. Play with ribbons and branches soon led to a parade, which led to another area of the park to explore! I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.
Remember, there is no agenda here. No grown-up is telling these children what to do or how to do it. My job was simply to create the space for play and support what the children were doing. I tied ribbons when asked. I sang a song for a parade. The children created this magic! At the end of our play, my heart was full of happy, and my pockets were filled with flowers!
I think most of us recognize that music has benefits for our children. As a board certified music therapist, I have the training to bring out these benefits to help children reach their goals. I have also had the awesome experience of seeing children grow and learn over and over through music! When I plan my music sessions, the many benefits of music are on my mind, as are the developmental needs of the children I'm working with! Here are 5 ways your toddler benefits from music:
1. Learning Language
Language development is a huge goal during toddlerhood! Whether your child is just saying their first words or already speaking in 2-word phrases (or more!), there is still more to learn! Beyond just talking to our child, music introduces melodies that help children put words together into phrases and sentences. It uses rhythm, which imitates the rhythm of speech. Plus, many songs use sounds (Old McDonald), rhymes (Down by the Bay), or alliteration (Paw-Paw Patch). I have personally seen multiple children who have rarely (if ever) imitated sounds try singing the "Ah-ah-ah" part of "If All the Raindrops!" It's fun and silly! It's simple and repetitive! And the music gives a cue as to when it's supposed to happen!
2. Following Directions
Isn't this pretty much the number one thing we want our toddlers to do as moms?? Songs give great cues for movement by combining melody, rhythm, and words. By putting all of these together, our toddlers are more likely to listen to what they're supposed to do. For example, if we're asking them to clap in "If You're Happy and You Know It," the melody is giving a cue as to when to start, the rhythm is telling them how to clap (fast/slow), and the words are telling them what to do! It is great practice! If you're doing songs like this at home, start by modeling what you want them to do, then try just singing and having them listen for what to do!
Okay, moving probably doesn't seem to be an issue for your toddler, but they move so much because they are developing SO many new motor skills at this age! In many ways, music is simply an opportunity to practice a variety of these skills (for example: a song that asks them to hop, run, tip toe, and march). However, often the music is doing even more. When kids are supposed to be marching, the music will often have a heavy beat that encourages the movement we're looking for. For tip-toes, the music will change to be light and quiet. Laurie Berkner does a great job of using these types of changes when it comes to recorded kids' music!
4. More Movement
This time we're talking small details: fine motor movement! Action songs encourage a variety of movements that our children might not otherwise do regularly, but are important for other skills as they get older. Putting up individual fingers in "Where is Thumbkin" (I only do thumb, pointer, and pinky because they are more functional skills), bringing hands together over their head in "Mister Sun," pointing to eyes, ears, etc, in "Head and Shoulders," and crawling their spider in "Itsy Bitsy Spider" are just a few examples of fine motor skills being developed through music!
5. Playing Together
Kids are starting to become more aware of one another and learning beginning social skills at this age! Right now, it's hard to do things like share instruments, which I would usually promote during music classes, but there are still things we can do. Music promotes a sort of give and take, a conversation of sorts. We take turns within the song, waiting for the time to sing "MOO!" or "AH AH AH!" We practice concepts like loud and soft, and follow along with what other kids are doing. While kids are not consciously aware of it, they are learning that they can be part of a group. They see and hear that we are all doing something together, and it's great! It's important for kids to experience this, especially in times when it is happening a lot less.
SOOOOO... If you'd like to experience music like this with your toddler, come check out Music in the Park! We are staying distanced (bring a blanket to claim your own space), but still allowing our children to be a part of something! To develop language skills, follow directions, and get moving! I hope to see you there!