Trying New Things

You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing.  What!  Is it nothing to be happy?  Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long?  Never in his life will he be so busy again.  ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

Creative play is like a spring that bubbles up from deep within a child.  ~Joan Almon

I am big on art. I love looking at it, love seeing children do it, and love giving them the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of art-like utensils and sensory materials. This week I decided to introduce Ellie to a few different childhood “art and sensory” staples: markers, chalk, and play dough. I think that it is important to expose young children to new things; it gives them the opportunity to explore and create and work through the process of how things work and what can be done with them. Without showing them, they can figure out so many ways to use things. It is truly quite fascinating to watch.

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First we experimented with markers. I let her use them on her cardboard box she has been trying to fit herself into for days (she is definitely trying to figure out how she fits into her environment). She thought that was pretty cool and spent nearly twenty minutes carefully making her scribbles and swirls all over the box. When she was finished with one color she would hand it to me and seemingly thoughtfully select her next color. Markers are a lot different than crayons. They are smoother, faster to mark the coloring surface, and make such bright colors. Ellie seemed to really enjoy this new art utensil. Before dinner she pointed to the basked containing her art materials, so I got them down and she sat with her Daddy coloring while dinner finished cooking. She even put the caps back on some of her markers!

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Even though she got it all over her clothes, face, and counter (washable markers are amazing by the way) and cleaning it all up was not exactly what I wanted to be doing right before dinner I would let her use markers again and again if she wanted. They are so much fun! Even though they may seem to ordinary, such a simple part of life to me…to her they are an exciting new adventure! A new thing to explore and experiment with! Scribbling on paper and cardboard boxes may seem like nothing to some, but to children it is their work. Learning through playing is essential in the lives of children.

Next I introduced Ellie to chalk. I personally cannot stand the feel of chalk and tend to avoid it, but I thought it would be the perfect thing for Ellie to use outside, since she adores playing outdoors. So, once the rain let up and the driveway dried off we grabbed our new box of chalk and went outside. First I have to say that chalk has evolved since I was a child. It is no longer a simple cylindrical colored shape, now it is fancifully shaped like a crayon. I do like the new improvement though; it makes very nice lines. In a short time I had a lovely array of  bright patches of color all over my driveway. It didn’t take her long to figure out what to do, that’s for sure!

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Will some consider this nothing too? Probably, but to Ellie it is everything. New things, new experiences, busyness and learning, getting to know the world around you and how you can influence and interact with the things in the world…this is being a child. When she was satisfied with her creativity on the driveway she tried the chalk out on her shopping cart. Now I know that chalk doesn’t work so well on plastic shopping carts and that it usually is not a good idea to allow children to chalk up whatever they want, but I am a big believer in natural consequences, so I decided to let Ellie figure this one out on her own. She tried to use the chalk on the shopping cart, but when it was’t working well she quickly abandoned the idea and went back to working on the driveway. The beginnings of the understanding of the properties of different materials happened right there in that short interaction between Ellie, the chalk and the shopping cart. Do you see it now? A child’s play is far from being nothing…it is everything. It is how they learn. It is what they do; and never again in their lives will they engage in so much creative interaction and experimentation.

After the successful and fun introduction to markers and chalk I was dying to try out play dough. So many of my childhood memories involve play dough, and I was eager to share this experience with my Ellie. I got my chance one rainy morning this week. It couldn’t have been more fun! After her morning snack I got out all of the ingredients needed along with the measuring utensils, and since modeling language for children is incredibly important you can bet that I was telling Ellie exactly what I was doing as I did it. I thought afterward that perhaps next time I should close the kitchen window so that my neighbor doesn’t hear me talking to myself and begins to think that I’m a raving lunatic. Oh well, anything for the children!

I started telling Ellie about what a recipe is and how we should follow it. Then I explained measuring. I gave her the pot and a spoon and she immediately put the spoon in the pot and began to stir, looking disappointing when she discovered there was nothing in the pot. I had no idea that she would know what do to with a spoon and a pot! I guess she learns more from watching me than I know. Then I placed the measuring cup of flour near the pot and she surprised me again by carefully dumping the flour into the pot. Wow! I mean, I knew that children learn from behavior that is modeled to them, but I always applied it to some complicated psychological perspective of  learning modeled aggression, classical conditioning, or the like. Sometimes those bricks hit me really hard on the head and I wonder  how I failed to see the obvious enormous truth that was right behind the entire theory of learning behavior…you can learn ANY behavior. Even the small mundane ones. It’s moments like these that I wonder how I have managed to maintain the 4.0 I am so devoted to.

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Anyways, it was now quite obvious to me that Ellie basically know the basics of cooking, so I let her get more involved than I had first intended. She measured with teaspoons and measuring cups, carefully dumping each new ingredient into the pan and then stirring it. The whole time her little brow was furrowed intently while her eyes twinkled with excitement and interest. I never would have imagined that my one year old would be so helpful in making play dough. She never ceases to amaze me. But, children know what they are capable of and she didn’t hesitate to show me.

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After I let her choose which color of food coloring that she wanted we transferred the pan from the counter to the stove. She watched me from the step stool as I stirred the mixture on the stove top. Shortly, the play dough thickened and we set it to cool. Once it cooled it was back to the counter and I was scrambling around trying to find play dough toys. Of course, I have none. But thankfully I have my vast preschool-teacher inventiveness and I remembered that usually children are more interested in things that aren’t necessarily meant to be toys and that expensive play dough brand toys are not needed. So I cut up some straws, found a few plastic toys and some cookie cutters and gave them to Ellie.

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It didn’t take her long to dive right in and begin experimenting with this new (and apparently interestingly scented, judging by all of the sniffing Ellie did) and exciting material. She didn’t even eat it! I was quite surprised by that. After about fifteen minutes of playing with the dough she tired of it and helped me pick it all up. Now, what can a one year old learn from fifteen minutes of poking and prodding salty smelling dough? Nothing, right? Though I cannot say for sure just what she learned, sometimes the outcome of the activity is not nearly as important as the process of engaging in the activity. This is just another example of that important truth. And while it may seem like nothing to the adult eye, it is everything in the eye of the child. Encourage adventure. Try new things.


The Battle of No




“To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and
plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no.”

Jean Anouilh, French dramatist

Last week brought about Ellie’s new most used word: “no.” She uses it in various tones…the high pitched and short “no!”, the low and drawn out “noooo” along with a serious look, the casual and flippant “ah noo”, and the tearful and saddened “noooooo”. It’s really become quite a huge battle. Ellie do you love me? No! Ellie it’s time to eat. Nooooo. Ellie teeth are not for biting. Ah noo. Ellie , it’s time to change your diaper. Noooooooo. Ellie are you all done eating? No! Nooooo. Ah noo! It’s amazing how many “no’s” she can cram into thirty seconds.

20130528_102155It seems that this might be quite a long battle. Patience is part of what I do for a living; it is basically half of what makes a good teacher, in my opinion. And I have always considered myself to have a lot of patience, but oh my word this little cutie is proving to test that patience in a big way. Maybe it’s partly to do with the fact that I am home for the summer break from school and trying not to go crazy, but in just a week’s time this short word has made me even crazier than I could imagine. I have always heard parents (I used to say they complained, but I would never say that now that I have an…understanding) say that the whole “no” struggle was not fun to deal with, and now I can appreciate their stories. This word is literally driving me nuts! Every time it escapes her mouth in whatever tone she chooses to use I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and reflect something else back to her. Reflecting is an awesome trick I learned while doing my practicum for my Early Childhood A.S. Basically when a child says something that is either pronounced improperly, or in my case not what I want to hear, you repeat what they are trying to say, or in my case what I want to hear. So every time Ellie exclaims “no!” I take a deep breath and reflect “yes”, or “do you mean, “I don’t want my diaper changed?”, or “oh, I’m not all done eating mom?” So far, she is winning. Now I have to keep reminding myself that Battles aren’t won overnight…well not all of them at least. I also keep reminding myself that this trick is not instantaneous, it is largely about exposure. Let me tell you, she is getting a lot of exposure. I’m praying that it sinks in soon and she can come up with some other word to express herself.

I really don’t know why this bothers me so much. I mean, I have worked to instill a sense of independence in her and I’m all for it. But I feel like she is taking it just a little bit too far. I know, how far can a one year old take something on purpose. I’m pretty sure she knows that it annoys me though; as my college professor would always say “they’re short, not stupid”. Yeah, she is short and definitely not stupid, she knows this word gives her some control over me. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me so much. I mean, is it really worth it to get into a power-struggle with my one year old over a two letter word? Maybe she is just like me:stubborn. I should probably let her know though that she has gone to war with the queen of power-struggles. In just over four years of teaching I haven’t lost one yet. I really hope that this is not the struggle that ruins my record. Maybe I should re-think my strategy?

I really hope that at the end of this battle of “no” Ellie is left with a greater understanding of just what “yes” and “no” mean.  In life it can be so much easier to just say no…to never try anything new, to say no to adventure, experience, love, forgiveness, or anything really. The challenge and reward usually comes by saying yes…yes to hard work, to a challenge, to trying something new, to love and the fullness of life. Saying yes is certainly not always easy; I am learning that through experiencing this whole battle of “no”. Though she is still quite small, perhaps when she finally learns to say “yes” even to the small parts of her young life Ellie will have formed the foundation for saying “yes” to life. Learning starts now, the foundation for the rest of her life starts now, and I hope and pray that I can help her build a strong “yes” foundation. For now, I will continue to fight the good fight of “yes” against Ellie and her “no’s”.

All At Once

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

― Corrie ten Boom

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Children of Húrin

It seems that so often in life it all comes at once. You think you have it all figured out and everything is going to go smoothly…and in the blink of an eye your well laid plans are lying in a thousand pieces before you. There can be so much fear in life. So much fear in uncertainty, in decisions, in each and every moment of the day. I admit that sometimes, no, most times I am swallowed up by this fear, this lack of trust in Him who knows it all, sees it all, and cares for all. It’s easy to say that we trust God; but do we really? We can say it, but how to we live it? I think that half the battle lies in acknowledging the fear, in admitting to ourselves that we doubt. And then it all comes down to how we live in the midst of our fear and doubt. I say the best thing to do is to face the fear head on, do the thing that scares you, make the uncertain choice, and all the while know the peace in your heart that He holds your life in His hand; trust your unknown future to a known God.

Since fear is such a huge and recurring theme in my life I can venture a guess that it will be something that Ellie will pick up on as she learns and grows. It is not, however, something that I want her to learn. I do not want her to learn to fear…and children learn so much by what they see. So now it’s up to me. If only for her I cannot allow fear to reign and take hold in my life. Instead of inspiring her to fear every day and life as a whole I want to inspire her to stand in the face of fear and life and hold fast to the knowledge that God holds her future in His hands. I also don’t want her to have unrealistic expectations. Fear does exist, fear is acceptable to feel, but it is not something that we should allow to control us. Instead of hiding my fear from Ellie, I aim to acknowledge it. But not just that, I aim to live my life in a way that faces fear and ultimately overcomes.

Aristotle said, “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free”. This is truth about life that I want Ellie to know. And will I continue to struggle with uncertainty, overwhelming circumstances, and fear? Of course! It’s not a one-time battle. One fear dismissed can open the door for another fear to manifest itself in a person’s life. But it is the struggle that builds character and confidence, and it is this struggle that Ellie will see; I can only pray that she will learn from me not to fear, but to overcome. And with God’s grace and peace she can; and I can too.

All In A Week’s Time

“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” ― HeraclitusFragments

It is amazing just how much a little girl can develop and learn all in a week’s time! And I never ceased to be amazed by all of the little things I see unfolding before my eyes. I have said it before, and likely will say it again: you can read all about children’s development in a textbook, but it’s nothing compared to watching it happen with your own eyes. Now I know why Piaget used his own children as the inspiration for his theory of development. In my opinion, he got it right. No wonder either, when you are simply putting words to what children do, it’s kind of hard to go wrong.

If I had to put words to what Azrielle has been doing this week it would have to be “talking”. I think that she is a little ahead of the game when it comes to this portion of development. Last week she began using at least one new word each day. At first, I didn’t even realize what was happening. But when she woke up one morning, sat up in her crib, signed ‘eat’ with her hands and then proceeded to very clearly say “eat” it kinda hit me right between the eyes and it dawned on me…oh my word! She said like two or three new words the last couple of days too! So then I started keeping track. And sure enough, every day out of her mouth would come a new word. Amazing. So amazing. Especially since smart people with big college degrees still don’t know exactly how language is acquired. I mean, there are lots of theories and guesses, but no “for sure” answers.

All I know is that it is amazing just how many words and word associations a 14 month old can make. After “eat” it was “shoes”, which she says more like “dooes”. I think the whole shoe thing is fitting; Klayton says she has way too many shoes for being such a little girl. Then came “eeyesss”, “noosse”, “earss”, “teethh”, all while pointing to each corresponding body part, and “ouch”! She likes to scream “Ouch” at me as a change her diaper…I mean really? All this in addition to her constant questioning “what’sss thisss?” “What isss it?”, and her never-ending talking on the phone “ahhhh yeah?! ahhhhh yeah?!” followed by a stream of gibberish.

Not only is she saying so many new words and labeling body parts in just seven days, but she is ever so interested in animals. “Hot” was her first word, which was partly due to the exposure of my friend the coffee mug every morning on my way out the door to work, and also because of her fascination with the oven. Her second word was “kitty, woof.” We have been working on this whole association. And she is finally getting it, Kitty’s say “mmmmmmm” and doggy’s say “woof! woof!”. Now whenever she hears a bird, or wants to look out the window at her bird feeder it’s “teet, teet, teeeet”. She points to the cow in Goodnight Moon and says, in a low voice mind you, “Mooooooh”. She point to the fire in the same book and proudly proclaims “hot”! And searches for that teeny tiny mouse and in a high squeaky voice says “keek, keek, keek” which is her current pronounciation for “squeak”.

Yesterday she began saying “no”, in the cutest little high pitched voice that it almost makes this wicked annoying word not so wicked annoying; almost, but not quite. Today she pointed to the stars in Goodnight Moon and some glow in the dark ones on her Auntie’s ceiling and said “tarssss”. Her Auntie’s then proceeded to drill “moon” into her. I guess we will be going star gazing soon.

On top of all of the words that are popping out of her mouth, her little imagination is beginning to emerge. She loves blanket forts and underneath the lowest shelf in my pantry as of this week. She will crawl into the fort and sit there banging on the wall and gibber jabbing to herself for a half hour. In the pantry hideout she gets her blanket and her baby and crawls in towing both things behind her. Then she sits there arranging her blanket and baby and talking to herself. She found a stray chocolate chip on the floor while I was making cookies, ate some of it, and then noticed one had melted on the floor in her hideout. So, she moved her baby aside, crawled over to the towel drawer, took one out, climbed back to her hideout and proceeded to wipe the melted chocolate off of the floor. Ok, so maybe it’s not so much imagination as it is imitating. But still, it’s adorable to watch, and amazing that it seems to happen over night. I so just love watching her development unfold  before my eyes. I think that Heraclitus was correct: time is a game that is played by children, and it is beautiful to watch.


Remembering Things You Already Know

Today Ellie had her 15 month check up. As usual I completed the ASQ and answered all of the doctors questions…yes she eats well (she eats more than I do!), yes she is in a rear facing car seat, yes she has regular bowel movements, and so on. And then the doctor asks if she is walking. Oh! That elusive adventure of walking! My Ellie girl is just NOT ready to depart on that adventure yet. After explaining to the doctor how everyone keeps asking whether she is walking yet or not and how the average is 16 months the docot says two things: the average is on a bell shaped curve, and I bet she is talking and using those fine motor skills. Well, yes as a matter of fact! She does three piece puzzles, colors and scribbles with crayons, talks your ear off, tracks planes in the sky, builds a tower of 8 blocks, and unzips and snaps things. The docot was surprised that she was doing all of these things, and then reminded me that a ch7ld can only build development in one area at a time. They can’t do it all at once.

I knew all that. I really did. Knowing development is what I do for a living; it’s also a central part of my college major. Bell shaped curves are a huge part of pyschology statistics and research too. And yet, when it comes to my own child I forgot it all. It’s amazing how you sometimes you have to remember things that you already know. And now I can relax and enjoy the adventure of fine motor exploration and my 15 month old talking my ear off. Becase it’s a bell shaped curve….some children walk before the everage and some walk after. She will probably walk after, and that’s ok. You can only have so many adventures at a time.

“But the greatest way to witness is by walking that straight and narrow and also realizing that your going to mess up. That’s what grace is for. We’re going to fall, but we’ve got to get back up. And you’ve got to Improve. That’s what I’m all about.” – Tim Tebow


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“As very young children interact with supportive adults and explore the world around them, they are discovering
who they are, how their bodies work, and how they fit in within their environment. The also
begin to develop concepts that form the foundation for their emerging mathematical and
scientific knowledge.” from Early Head Start Math/Science Sheet

There’s no doubt, I love this age MUCH more than the infant stage of development. Being a preschool teacher I suppose it makes sense, young kids are what I know, not infants. And while they are cute and cuddly, as Klayton says, they really don’t interact much with the world around them. This is what I love. Being a preschool teacher I also have a great appreciation for early development and the foundation that is sets for the lifelong learning. Now, I am also a fanatic about my flower gardens. Klayton and I keep adding more, and adding more to what we already have. We just can’t stop. It’s kind of an addiction for us. Before preschool ended this year we planted grass with the children. I had a few that didn’t make it home with their planters, so I brought them for Ellie to play with on our deck. I know, I know, most people would say: she will dump the loam out, she will tear the grass, she will make a mess and get all dirty. Well yeah! She might. And that would be ok. But I could also take it further and begin to teach her how to care for things that grow. Besides, are children ever to young to encourage responsibility and independence? I think not.

So, on Wednesday we set out to plant some morning glory seeds. Ellie helped me to shovel loam into a small planter. Then I showed her how to make a hole in the loam for the seeds to go in. Of course, the whole time I was talking away, explaining to her exactly what we were doing. “Now, there are three things that seeds need in order to grow: dirt, which we have here, sun, which is in the sky, and water, from the rain or your watering can.” A bit of language and concept development…what can I say, it’s a habit. Next I showed her how to put the seeds into the hole that we made.

2013 071I have to admit I was a bit surprised, but she ever so carefully took each teeny tiny seed and placed it gently into the dirt. She helped me to cover the seeds with some more loam, and I explained why we did this as well. Then I gave her the little watering can we picked up from the Dollar Store that morning. She has seen me use my watering can a million and ten times so she knew just what to do!

2013 074Without me asking, she went ahead and watered her grass as well. She caught on fast! Did she get dirty? Oh yeah. Did she learn anything? Most definitely! Will I ever know exactly what she learned? Probably not, but I sure could see those little wheels turning through that twinkle in her eye and the furrow of her brow. Now, every morning when I open the screen door to the deck she climbs on out, goes right to her watering can and waters all three of her plants. Then she gently feels her grass and pats the loam covering the seeds. Toddler science…wicked fun for both Ellie and I. Now if only those seeds would go ahead and germinate (yes I explained to her all about germination already)!

I thought that this would be the end of out little (or was it big?) planting adventure. But yesterday our local greenhouse (FINALLY) got annuals and perennials in stock, and of course we had to go check it out. Ellie was in her glory! She held me or Daddy’s hands walking through the rows of perennials, stopping to bend over and smell each bloom that she passed by. She felt the different textured leaves and played in the bark mulch. Inside of the greenhouse she was beyond excited. She pointed to all the annuals and said “Mmmm” and sniffed them all. Maybe we have a little gardener on our hands, good thing too! All those weeds will need pulling soon. Next science lesson, weeds vs. plants?! I think that this summer will likely bring many more garden and plant related adventures for Ellie and I.



Adventures With Ellie

img_4375-edited.jpg I love this face. This picture captures the  joy and zeal for life that children have. To see the world through their eyes is such an adventure. I have always been inspired by adventure, although not the sort that I now know. Tales of heroism and great journeys across mythical lands was the stuff that I always dreamed of. And as much as I may wish it to be true, that simply is not LIFE. This is my life: working full-time as a preschool teacher, taking college courses online toward my psychology major, caring for my one year old sweet pea, being married to my prince charming, weeding gardens, moping floors, and probably the greatest adventure of all…grocery shopping! You never know what will happen at the zoo they call the grocery store! And is this any less of an adventure than the characters that grace Tolkien’s Middle Earth? Before I might have thought so, but now I know. The adventure is all around you. If you look, as my Ellie looks, you will see it. Life is an adventure.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien