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Entries in parenting (12)

Friday
Apr122013

Me and the Man with the Yellow Hat (A Confession)

As many of you know I have been actively pushing National Screen Free week, own a media free school and we are soon sponsoring the screening of the film “Consuming Kids,” which addresses the effects of media and marketing on children.  Clearly when it comes to the debate over television viewing and children, you can tell which camp I’m in...  

...but I think its important to clear the air, just a bit.  Mainly because it is entirely possible that my four year old could strike up a conversation with you about Dora, and I just don’t want you to yell out, “Ah-HA!” and scare the bejesus out of her.

I have waged an internal struggle with the television since day one as a parent...well, more accurately since the day when, exhausted from pregnancy number two, I succumbed to The Man with the Yellow Hat...gratefully...and he was good to me.  We had an on again, off again relationship for a couple of years after that.

Throughout the past few years my permissiveness about television viewing for my children has ebbed and flowed.  I would ban it for a while, and then someone would become ill and look pathetic laying there on the couch, and we would watch something...maybe a lot of somethings.  After that television might become a daily thing for a while.  Then suddenly, I would notice that my children were not playing imaginatively, they were playing...Dora.  Something about this really disturbed me.  These little beings are just full of creativity and amazing ideas and yet instead they were just recreating someone else’s stories.  So the television would be banished, until the next time.

It have always scoffed at the idea that television for very young children is educational.  I don’t buy it.  I tried to adopt the attitude that, although I don’t believe the children are learning anything from television, its not really hurting them either.   Then someone said something at the recent Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Summit that kind of hit me right between the eyes.  Joan Almon said, “All media is educational.  You just have to ask yourself, ‘What is it teaching?’”  Hmm.  As an early childhood educator I know that young children take in everything from their environment uncritically.  Of course this includes media. Duh.

I immediately thought of this poem by Walt Whitman...

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day,

or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years....

 

The early lilacs became part of this child,

And grass, and white and red morning-glories, 

and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,

And the Third-month lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, 

and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf,

And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there--and the beautiful curious liquid,

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads--all became part of him...

 

Whoa.  I asked myself, do I really want these commercialized characters to become a part of who my children are?  So there are, I think, two important questions that we as parents and caregivers should be asking oursleves:

With what are we filling our children during this critical phase when they are imbued with all they see?  

What valuable, real life experiences are they missing out on while they are watching television or playing video games?

I am not going to profess that my children will never again watch television, for I am a realist (sometimes), but I will say that the decision of what to watch and when will not be taken lightly.  We have such a short window within which to be the gate keepers for our children.  I believe we have a responsibility to teach them that the world is beautiful, good, and safe, and that there are better things to do than this...

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years....

 

 

Wednesday
Apr032013

No Purchase Necessary

I recently attended the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood summit.  Interestingly enough, Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, opened the event by talking not about marketing to kids, but instead about the effects of marketing and media on parents.  While marketers know that sex sells nearly everything, they also know fear and insecurity sell just about everything else.  They know how to get our attention - make us think for a second that our children might not be living to their full potential or heaven forbid might be falling behind or in actual danger and of course, they have our rapt attention.  The problem is, it is often, well...b.s.

Lenore said (I’m paraphrasing, forgive me) parents become convinced, before their child is even born, that when their baby comes out it will be this lump with which they have this very limited window to mold into The David. They are pressured into believing that if they don't frantically cram as much adult directed 'learning' as possible into their child during this critical time, their child will always just be a lump. Little Johnny needs to take a crawling class so he will learn how to crawl, otherwise he may just never learn.

The fear begins, perhaps while our baby is still a tiny seed of a being, and with each increasing belly centimeter our anxiety grows about whether we will give our children the right tools to be something special.  But you know what, these little people don’t need us to do as much, buy as much, prepare as much as we think they do (and, by the way, the reason we think it is because that is what is sold to us everywhere we look).  The truth is, researchers have discovered time and again that the real innovators and creative minds of our time were, as children, given less "stuff' and "entertainment" and more free play and exploration.  

We need to remember that it is the advertising industry’s job to undermine our confidence as parents in order to sell us products (that we just don’t need).  As an example, Lenore broke out a toddler “walking harness” which, it is professed, will help your baby “develop motor skills, balance and coordination.”  Really? Have human beings not been learning to do just that for hundreds of thousands of years, unaided by this groundbreaking contraption? Not to be too metaphorical here, but don’t we all know that if you don’t ever fall down, you will never learn to pick yourself up, to balance yourself...to fail (gasp!) and carry on? 

In this sea of advertising, media and marketing, we need to find our natural footing as parents.  We need to begin to follow our own instincts, and allow our children to follow theirs.  Frankly, we need to remember to simply get out of the way and let our children move, play, explore, experiment and FAIL, and then allow them the gift of learning to pick themselves up again.  

{Oh, and the best part is...no purchase necessary.}


Sunday
Feb172013

Will the Real Dr. Suess Please Stand Up?

Yesterday I went into Barnes & Noble.  Maybe it had been a while, or maybe I am looking at things through a different lens these days.  Maybe it was the Michaels/B&N combo that did me in.  You can call me a snob or a royal pain in the ass, but  I am going to say it anyway - what is this load of commercialized crap that is being passed off as “children’s literature”?  (Not to mention all of the crappy, commercialized toys you now have to walk by to even get to the children’s books).  

I would love to know what percentage of children’s books they had to offer that are not tied in to a television show or movie series.  Sadly, no matter how much you limit a child’s exposure to television, they are still going to go straight for Dora the darned Explorer.  I feel sad for the innovative storytellers and gifted illustrators whose quality books get hidden behind the mountains of Doras, Disney Princesses and Super heroes.  

Here’s what I think (for what its worth)...

  1. We are killing creativity by surrounding children (suffocating them?) with the same crap  everywhere they go.  Only they don’t know it.  We are the ones who are supposed to know better.
  2. We are turning our children into buying machines (hoarders?), wanting, needing, obsessing over having every single thing from band-aids to soup to underpants with that “amazing” character on them.  It is reinforced by television, by friends, by well meaning adults who want to make the child happy.  We know that anything with Bob the Builder on it will make Johnny squeal with delight, so we buy it.    The industry knows this, so they keep cranking it out.  
  3. When someone does come up with something really innovative and creative we kill it by turning it into a vehicle to sell, sell, sell more crap, crap, crap.

Where does all of this commercialized crap that we don’t need go when we are done with it?  How many resources are used to produce it?  

On that note - just think about this for a minute...  

Think about the sick, laughable irony of what has been done to Dr. Suess.  Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Suess) was way ahead of his time.  This man was able to delight children while slipping in some pretty important messages (aimed as much, or perhaps more so, at parents as they were at children). They are messages about greed, selfishness, boasting, karma, redemption and environmentalism.  In his book, The Lorax, he tried to “speak for the trees.” Are you familiar with the story?  I think most people are, but just in case, I will give you a synopsis -

The environment is completely ruined because a man chopped down all the trees and polluted the air and the water by mass producing a product in his factory that “everyone needs.”

Hmm.

I will leave you with these words by Geisel himself:

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Feb142013

Don't Forget the Tutu

Years ago, when I was a teacher at Little Friends, I can remember having a good laugh one day when we looked in a little boy’s bag for spare clothing and found nothing but a pink tutu.  The parents were good natured and had a good laugh along with us, but I know there was a certain amount of judgement there on my part.  I’m sure I was thinking something like...

“A tutu?  Really?  That's what this poor boy has for spare clothes? What goes on in that house?”  

Because, after all, what’s so hard about sending your child to school every day with everything you’re asked to bring?  How hard could this parenting or this parenting plus career thing be?

To those parents, and to all parents that I, in my ignorant bliss, judged, I sincerely apologize.   

Here’s a quick list of things I thought I’d never do...

Forget my child’s lunchbox at home.

Check.

Send my child with her lunch in a huge cooler because I ordered the pretty flowered lunchboxes too late.

Check.

Arrive at school with no spare clothing for my child (not even a pink tutu).

Check.

Carry my child into school kicking and screaming.

Check.

Carry my child out of school kicking and screaming.

Check.

Have two people arrive separately to pick up my child from school because my husband and I didn’t coordinate our plans (by the way, her school is 40 minutes away.  Ouch.)

Check.

Send the wrong lunch with the wrong child, inadvertently smuggling a peanut butter grenade into a nut free zone.

Check.

Remember the store bought Christmas gifts for my kindergartner’s teachers, but misplace the gifts that were actually made for them by my daughter.

Check.

Find aforementioned handmade gifts in February and enthusiastically present them to my daughter to give to her teachers as Valentine’s Day gifts.

Check.

Accept that I am not the perfect mom, but I am the perfect mom for my girls.

Check.


Thursday
Feb142013

Dream a Little Dream with Me

I was blessed to become a mother nearly seven years ago.  Nurturing my daughters has come naturally to me.  However, like many moms I have struggled with the important task of nurturing myself.  We make sure our children eat healthy, square meals while we get by on the discarded crusts or a candy bar nibbled in stolen moments from the high cupboard (I can’t be the only one).  We make sure our children get enough sleep, while we often feel like we could use some toothpicks to prop our own eyelids open.   We make sure our children are seen regularly for check ups, and we pause at their every cough, sniffle or wheeze but often overlook our own health.  We make sure they get lots of fresh air and exercise so their bodies will grow strong and healthy, while  we make a hefty monthly “donation” to the local health club.  We nurture their interests but leave little time to explore our own.  And you know what?  For the most part we don’t mind!  Our children are amazing little beings, and they are only little for that magical window of time.  I always rationalized my self-neglect with this thought - my children are the most important thing in the world to me.  They come first.  Then when I was at my most depleted, a very wise woman said to me,

“The mother is the well from which the whole family drinks.  Having an empty well helps no one.” 

Oh boy, was my well empty.

As powerful as this truth was to me, things did not change overnight.  It continues to be a challenge for me, finding the balance between one who nurtures and one who is nurtured.  

Part of my dream for Bloom is for it to not only be a magical, nurturing place for little ones, but also for their parents.  I want to support the whole family.  Families with young children need and deserve an incredible amount of community, love and support.  It is hard work nurturing these tiny beings, and it is the most important work we will ever do.  What deserves more support than that?  

So with that in mind, I want to hear from you, moms and dads, about what kind of support and nurturing you desire.   What do you want to do, see, hear, participate in? 

Prepared to-go dinners to take home at pick up time?  

Classes or workshops?  On what? Parenting?  Self care? Healthy living? Yoga or Meditation?

Handwork (crafts - knitting, felting...)?

Parent-child events?

Personal laundry service? (Okay, I think I’m kidding on this one but seriously, think outside the box!)

Please know that your input is valued regardless of whether or not your child attends Bloom.  I would like to open things up to the community as a whole whenever possible.  xoxox