(Advent)ures of Christmas

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” 
– Benjamin Franklin

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Some say that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Others, the most stressful. To me, it is what you make it. Having an almost-two-year-old this year has certainly helped to make this season wonderful. While moments of stress certainly do occur when I’m trying to wrap presents and Ellie insists on adding her own bazillion pieces of tape, overall having a young child brings a certain joy to the season. You see the world through their eyes and are caught up inn the wonder, adventure, and excitement of it all. 

However, it is also a season of choice. The age old religious debate: to Santa Clause or not? I grew up “believing” in the Jolly Old Fellow. As a child, my extended family were all “believers” and so it was really inescapable. But Ellie is blessed with an extended family of those who believe in Him who began this yearly tradition with His lowly birth. And so, we decided not to encourage the whole Santa Clause story. In my opinion, this is easier! Not having to try to convince and keep convincing my child that this man in the North Pole is real is way less stressful than focusing on the Truth of this season. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means condemning any Christian who chooses to embrace Santa Clause with their children. My husband and I have simply chosen a different perspective. 

And it really has been quite an adventure.

During Thanksgiving I figured that if we were going to to this, we were going to do it right. It’s basically the only way my mind works. There is a right way and a wrong way and major anxious meltdown if things don’t go the “right” way. But anyways, that is a different story for a different time. So, luckily my mom had given use a great little curriculum of sorts to celebrate Advent. So we decided to go ahead and use it with Ellie. This Advent curriculum contained a story book and 12 ornaments for the tree. Each of the 12 lessons focuses on a name of God; which I always find to be so encouraging. I thought it might be a little bit over Ellie’s head, but hey, why not go a head and give it a try? Unfortunately, this awesome Adorenaments curriculum is no longer available through Family Life; we were so lucky to have my mom pass it on! 

So try we did. And she fell in love. The first ornament was the Baby Jesus…day after day she would run over to that Christmas tree and stand there and say “Hi Baby Jesus.” When she went to bed at night it was back to the tree for “Bye Baby Jesus, love you!” So we continued reading each devotional about the meaning of the names of God and how they relate to Christmas and Ellie would excitedly hang each ornament on the tree. Of course, who knows how much she is really taking in and understanding. But hearing your not-even-two-year-old talk about baby Jesus brings so much hope to your heart regarding their future relationship with Him. Besides, as an early childhood educator I believe firmly in the importance of early experience in shaping a child’s life. It is never too young to begin teaching, and you never know just what children are “catching” …until they spill all that they’ve been absorbing in a breathtaking display of their new-found knowledge. 

Through the eyes of a child…you feel that wonder and excitement to learn about the One who created you, that thirst; even at almost-two. Ellie practically begs to “read Christmas story, dad?!” every day. It’s beautiful. Instead of learning a story about someone who doesn’t exist and will let her down…she is learning about someone who is the Truth, who will never let her down, and holds her life in His hands. These are her first experiences grasping just who He is. And it’s beautiful to watch.

Not only does it melt your heart to see your nearly-two year old embracing Jesus and God and the Christmas story, but it has challenged my husband and I. It has always been important to us that Ellie grow up seeing what it means to be a Christian. But with both of us working full time, me in school, the demands of being homeowners…honestly we haven’t been the best example. Sure she sees us working through problems in positive ways, yeah we bring her to church, yes mom goes to women’s group, we live our examples at work and the list goes on. It is easy to justify the fact that we really don’t take much time to sit down and read God’s word. But the fact remains. This is an area in our relationship with Him that needs a bit of help. 

And this adventure with advent was apparently just what we needed. I wondered aloud the other day what we were going to do when Christmas was over and we had not Jesus story to read; perhaps we should look into getting another devotional to do with Ellie. And when Klayton told me that he had been thinking just that it was quite obvious that this was what God had been planning. So trusty Amazon yielded some great results; I found a book of five-minute devotionals and a one year book of devotions. Although if you think about it too much it seems a little sad that our toddler gave us the kick we needed to get into the habit of diving into God’s word, I suppose it could be worse. 

I hope that continuing to explore who God is with Ellie helps us to gain a new perspective of Him. Afterall, being a child is a theme throughout the New Testament: “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). While these verses probably have some deep spiritual meaning, for me they are confirmation that we all could stand to be a little more like Ellie. So embrace that desire, embrace that excitement and wonder, and bounce up and down with excitement as you open your Bible in your adventures of knowing Him more. And Ellie, I pray that you never lose your excitement for “Baby Jesus”, and that your heart continues to be open to knowing and loving Him…through all of your life. 

 

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Baby Talk

“The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!”
-Maria Montessori

❝Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.❞
‒Oliver Wendell Holmes

I teach preschool. There are many reasons why I have fallen in love with this age group; one of those is the simple fact that they can talk! Now, every once in a while you will get a really young 2.9 er who is a bit difficult to understand, or a child who experiences language delays or speech impairments, but for the most part  you can understand them and they can understand you. I have spent time in infant and toddler rooms, in the church nursery, with nieces and nephews or friends kids. I have seen hitting and kicking and screaming and tantruming , spitting and shoving and throwing and just about any not-so-positive behavior that you could think of. However, it was not all these negative things that scared me most about having my own child. It was language. Toddlers are so, so, so hard to understand! I imagined I would never be able to understand my child since I had such a difficult time understanding the variety of toddlers that I had come into contact with over the years. They babble and point, don’t articulate or pronounce. Baby talk was scary.

I am here to say that my fear has been erased. Lo and behold, I can understand my kid! It’s really a pretty big phenomenon. I’m not sure many other people can understand her, but I can! If I stop and think about it, it is really quite a miraculous thing. Obviously, children learn language from somewhere; usually their parents or caregivers. Through interaction with the important people in their life, children learn to talk. Language is really an amazing thing in an of itself. The process by which children learn it still is not fully understood. And yet, they learn. In my opinion it is the interaction between the child and the caregiver that provides the basis for mutual understanding. Hence, because I talk to her I can understand all the things that Ellie says. I know the context in which her language occurs, so it is easier for me to decipher her ‘baby talk’. Whenever I put Ellie in her carseat I say something like “pop” or “click” every time I snap one of her clips into the belt. Well, when my husband was putting her in her carseat to go to church on Sunday right on cue with the buckling Ellie says “pppppop”. My husband looked at me like “what is she saying?” He doesn’t engage in this little interaction as often as I do, so he didn’t really know the full extent of the context behind it. So I explained it to him… Yes, I think it’s true, interaction leads to understanding. That and the fact that children pick up whatever you say.

This is quite amazing and fulfilling. I was trying to write down all the words that Ellie says in her baby book (which I am NOT so good at keeping up with). Well, she says so many words that I couldn’t fit them all on one page. That girl really talks a lot. But then again, I do too. I am constantly talking, so it should not surprise me that she does too. It is so important to talk to children; if they don’t hear language they won’t learn it. I mean, Ellie already can identify and say “stars” (she says it more like ‘tars) in the right context. She blurts out “tars” in the middle of church when she seems them on the overhead, she finds a star shaped puzzle piece and proudly identifies it, she begs mumma and daddy to draw “tars” when she is coloring, she proclaims that there are stars on my pajama pants, and point up to the sky and softly says “tars”. And where did she learn all this? From her parents. It might seem like you are a crazy person, but if you identify and talk about whatever you see and come in contact with children will learn. They will learn language and concepts, and when they see how excited you are that they know what “‘tars” are they will have the confidence to keep learning and adding to their vocabulary. The lesson here: keep talking; even if it makes you feel like a crazy person.

Conversely, the fact that children pick up language from you is not always amazing and fulfilling. It is kind of a double edged sword by which you learn more about yourself than you  might want to.  Apparently I have a nasty little habit of quickly expressing my frustration with things. This became evident to me when Ellie began “ughhhhhh”ing when she was trying to pull a sock off of her foot. I stopped to think about where she might have picked this up from, I mean, it couldn’t have been me right? I only teach her good things….haha, I wish! Nope, upon deeper reflection it occurred to me that she learned it from….well, me of course. Yep, I am the culprit of her quickly expressing her frustration by sighing. Just the other day when I couldn’t get the plastic wrap unstuck it was me saying “ughhhhh” just like Ellie. Or should I say, she was saying it just like me? Yes, children learn language and expression from those they spend the most time with. Sometimes they help you to take a closer look at yourself and examine your behaviors more closely than you would prefer. Now, instead of “uggghhh” ing I try to express my frustration in a more positive way; “oh no, the plastic wrap is stuck again, what can we do to get it unstuck.” And there I am talking like a crazy person again. But at least Ellie isn’t learning to express frustration negatively anymore. The little adventures of life. The little lessons.

I am just glad that my fears were not realized and that I can understand my own child. I still can’t understand other people’s children; but, no offense,  that is not what is important to me. Thank God for the amazing phenomenon that allows parents to understand what their children are saying. Baby talk really isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Even though it may sound and look like babbling and pointing to an outside observer, it sounds like beautiful and intelligent words to me. So call me crazy, but I am going to keep on talking wherever I g;, cuz my little girl is learning, and that is all that matters.

Planting

2013 069

“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.