Posts tagged teaching

Parenting 201 – The practicum

United States women's national team and former...

United States women’s national team and former North Carolina soccer player Lindsay Tarpley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes life just passes you the ball of opportunity, and if you’re ready, you get to experience the satisfaction of connecting with that ball and sending it flying into a wide-open net. Such was my experience at tonight’s soccer practice, although my time on the field lasted mere minutes. Just an opportune jaunt across the grass, really, but oh the timing… the thrill of a well-placed shot. Glorious.

I’m not actually talking about soccer, although it happened at my children’s soccer practice. Anyone who read last week’s rant will remember my near-apoplexy at the behaviour of two very wayward, poorly behaved youngsters who managed to spoil the game for themselves and their teammates by insisting on calling their own shots and paying absolutely no heed to any authority figure. As providence would have it, the young lady who dominated last week’s blog was now on a different team, so I no longer needed to watch her antics (although a cursory glance at the other field assured us that she was up to the same old tricks from last week). Her brother, however, is still on our older son’s team, and so we watched him as he sat alone in silent protest of the coach’s agenda. Although his coach paid him essentially no attention, he continued sulking, silently picking the grass, waiting to be cajoled to join the team.

As I walked by to bring our son his water bottle, I noticed that he was out of ear-shot for virtually everybody, as his teammates were having a team meeting at the very opposite end of the field and his mother was coaching his young sister’s team further away. I perceived the clean pass, took the ball, and ran with it. I casually sauntered over to the young man, knelt down to his level, and asked,

“So, are you having fun?”

“Kind of,” he replied.

“Not much fun when your teammates are over there and you’re over here, is it?” I suggested.

“I want to run,” was his reply.

“I’m sure your coach has some running planned, but a soccer player who only runs and can’t maneuver a ball is pretty useless.” At this point he had already gotten up and was making his way to join his team, probably a little confused by the fact that there was a strange woman calling him out on his annoying behaviour.

“I just want to run,” he repeated as he walked away. I motioned for him to get moving in the proper direction, and off he went to join his team. I didn’t see him sit again for the rest of the practice.

To be honest, I’d expected more resistance; more attitude. Evidently he isn’t so far gone that a good honest confrontation by a strange adult won’t do the trick. I’ve got my eye on that kid. Little does he know that his own personal life coach is sitting on the sidelines.

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Parenting 201

Ladies and Gentlemen, I freely admit that today’s post is a rant – pure and simple. If you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t read on. I need to decompress, and since I pay the rent here (figuratively speaking) I will vent as I see fit. If you have ever seen misbehaving children in public and your inner Super-nanny has reared her bold head, you will know what I’m talking about.

Today was Teddy & Sammy’s first soccer practice in a league that we are new to this year. I was feeling relaxed about this new season of soccer, since we now have two children playing and only one to entertain on the sidelines, and we had found a nice shady spot in which to sit and watch. I almost said to Oliver, “I think I could get used to this,” as I sank into our camping chairs, but now I’m glad I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the season without suffering a stroke due to high blood pressure.

It all started out innocently enough, as most first encounters among children do. Teddy and Sammy practice simultaneously on adjacent fields, so we were able to watch both at the same time. In Sammy’s SK/grade 1 group there were 9 children; seven boys and two girls. Eight of those children were under the guidance of a coach. The ninth (a girl) had a handy-dandy personal assistant (PA) who looked to be either a much older brother/cousin, or family friend. It soon became evident that she required this personal assistant because she could not receive instruction from the coach. True, she couldn’t receive instruction from the PA either, but perhaps he needed community service hours in order to graduate, and this was his project. One never knows.

Before someone chimes in here and says, “now don’t be so hasty… this child may be suffering from ADHD or something similar,” I will a.) attempt not to roll my eyes and b.) suggest that even parents of children with ADHD would be well advised to follow through on the consequences they promise their children for bad behaviour. In such a case, intentional parenting would be all the more critical. While I don’t doubt that there’s something in our label-happy modern-day Psychology manuals to diagnose this girl, she was obviously very smart and a great puppeteer, seeing as all the adults in her life danced like marionettes as she pulled the strings.

After I had watched this young lady prance around the field in blatant disregard for her PA’s pleas to please join the rest of the group “or else she’ll miss out on the fun!” for 15 minutes, I leaned over to my mild-mannered husband and warned him that I may not be able to sit out the hour without intervening in this situation with some measured words for the princess in pink shin pads. I felt real pity for the young man who was assigned to her, because he obviously had no idea how to claim his rightful place as the authority figure in the situation. He would probably thank some stranger for doing him the favour of giving his young charge a realistic idea of her place in the hierarchy of society.

As I sat there planning out the best approach to stop the insanity of the situation (for she was now running off the field during dribbling practice, and sitting in the net into which her teammates were kicking soccer balls – still pretending that her ears were stuffed with cotton) a female assistant coach walked onto the field, ostensibly to help the first coach run his practice. She obviously knew the girl, and I was curious to see how she would handle the situation. It quickly became clear that she had just as little sway over the girl’s choices, and would merely call for her to “come on and join us!” without ever actually doing anything about the fact that she was now walking the perimeter of the field while the other children were quietly sitting in a team huddle. I looked over to my mild-mannered husband, who now sat deeply in his chair with his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch, he said. I was coping by squeezing his hand to release some of my inner tension. I found myself wishing for my stress ball. When Oliver’s hand could take no more, I began firmly massaging Caleb’s shoulders, who happened to be standing in front of me.

At about the same time that I heard this young lady call the coach “Mom,” I also observed that there was a similar situation brewing on our other son’s field right next door, except that this boy was sitting in the grass about 10 feet from the sidelines, waiting for someone to come and cajole him to “join in the fun!” When Sammy’s coach called to the young man in the grass to go and join his teammates, and the young lady’s PA ran over to try his luck with the boy, it was clear that these two children shared the same parentage. It should have tipped me off right away that they were born to the same set of parents because the boy was named after a State on the West Coast, and his sister was named after the Native American tribe that lived there. Cute.

Throughout the practice, Mom would either ignore her children’s misbehaviour (having obviously bought into the psycho-babble that if you ignore your children’s bad behaviour it’ll go away on its own) or she would threaten to leave early. At the respective ages of 6 and 8, this sister and brother team knew full well that the chance of Mom actually following through on her ultimatum was about as great as the chance of a meteor hurtling from space and leaving a giant crater at centre field. They live this way. These behaviours do not suddenly creep up once kids hit school. A 15-month-old baby is already checking to see whether “No” actually means “No,” and whether the promised consequences will come immediately or once Mom has finished counting to 3.

Please understand that I am no perfect parent. The pages of this blog are filled to overflowing with tales of my children’s misbehaviours and my failures as a parent. Since becoming a parent I have become much more gracious of other parents who struggle with tough-to-manage children. I have been there, am living there, and will most likely continue to live there. I understand that there are tough nuts out there, and many of them are under the age of 10. But folks, could we at least all agree to follow through on the promises we make to our children? And to do it in short order? For the sake of their future school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and parole officers, could we please place a higher priority on letting our children know that when we say “No” that really means “No?” And could we please all agree to just go ahead and let the promised consequence rain down as soon as the children step out of line again after we’ve told them not to (once)? A child doesn’t need three warnings any more than the guy caught drinking and driving does. Although I am not a police officer, I know enough about that line of work to know that no self-respecting police officer will threaten 5 times and then count to 3 before actually slapping the cuffs on a guy. It’s ludicrous in policing, and it’s just as ridiculous and ineffective in the world of parenting.

Yes there are children who are more difficult to parent than others. But as I am learning with my own kids, those are the kids who need the solid boundaries most desperately. When we discussed the soccer practice afterwards, both boys told of their respective Disruptors without any prodding from us. Both commented on how annoying they had been to the rest of the team. And when I asked them whether they thought the Disruptive Duo had had fun, they had to admit that no, they probably hadn’t. It’s not a lot of fun sulking on the sidelines, or not being involved in the practice with your team, simply because you need to wage war with the parent that hasn’t enforced clear boundaries. It was a great moment for us to explain to the kids that we are teaching them obedience because we want them to be happy, not because we want to rob them of their joie de vivre.

No, our children are not perfect; nor is our parenting. But by God’s grace our boys are respectful and obedient to those in authority, and there’s something to be said for that.

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Spring already?

Since it’s the last day of January I feel it’s appropriate to begin a countdown to gardening season. There are only 108 days left until I can put in my vegetable garden! On second thought, this is quite depressing, given that winter has only been upon us for 41 days. On the bright side, gardening season really starts before May anyway. My tulips and crocuses will be in full bloom much sooner, not to mention the dandelions. I can hardly wait.

Any gardener can relate to my feelings of anticipation. Even non-gardeners can appreciate the glory of spring with its fragrant blossoms, brilliant colours and the promise that snowsuit season will soon be behind us for another year.

Parenting is a lot like that. Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in one record-breaking stretch of winter where there is no fruit – nay, not even a bud – in our children. We spend countless summers preparing the soil of their little hearts, praying for rain, adding fertilizer, pruning, and loving on that little sapling in hopes that one day it will bear fruit. I am here to tell you, folks, that there are signs of spring in our family’s garden. Yesterday I discovered a shiny little fruit on one of our little saplings.

In Teddy’s class there is a troubled child whom we shall call Nick (not his real name). Nick joined the class in the middle of the year. It soon became clear that Nick had some problems making friends. His way of getting attention was to hit, spit at, pester, push, or in some other way irritate his classmates. His idea of “play” was limited to anything involving weapons. In no time at all he was well-known at the office and by the parents of Teddy’s classmates.

My gut instinct was to advise Teddy to stay away from the child and make sure he tells the teacher about Nick’s inappropriate behaviour. This is also the side of me that just wants to call the police about rowdy neighbours instead of talking directly to them. It solves nothing. Still, when another child spits at your child, you want justice.

Instead of seeking justice we decided to pray for change. We made the choice to think and speak of Nick as a troubled child, not a trouble-maker. Of course Nick knew that what he was doing was wrong and that it would win him no friends, but something was obviously compelling him to act that way. From the little we found out from Teddy (not the most trustworthy bearer of accurate information, mind you) Nick came from a broken home. Although this does not always result in children exhibiting bad behaviour, Nick’s behaviour could certainly be explained by trouble at home. Although we don’t know any details, I invited Teddy to project himself into Nick’s possible situation: most likely he wasn’t seeing one parent most of the time. It’s possible that he did not feel secure in their love for him, which caused him to come to school already bent out of shape. Maybe his need for love was not being met at home, and his “love tank” was perpetually empty.

His problems were only exacerbated by the fact that he had joined his class in the middle of the year and was trying to find his place where everyone already had theirs. His attempts to impress the others with his knowledge of guns did not impress his teacher. He perpetually placed second in two-man running races at recess, which is to say that he came in last place all the time. This is a big deal in a subculture where being the fastest boy means everything.

Time went on and the Anti-Nick movement grew. Based on their children’s bad experiences with the boy, parents began going to the vice-principal with the issue. He did what he could to reason with him and explain how to be a friend if he wants to have any. His behaviour seemed to settle down somewhat, but there were days when his “happiness balloon” lost air all day and was totally deflated by3:00pm (according to Teddy). We maintained that Nick needed a good friend if there was to be any hope of his behaviour changing.

One day I asked Teddy if he would consider a play-date with Nick. “Of course!” said our son, who would consider a play-date withIran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if it meant that he could host someone and possibly share a meal with them. When he mentioned it to Nick at school, he was immediately open to the idea. Although we haven’t managed to arrange the details yet, the thought alone seems to have changed something between the boys.

Yesterday Teddy came home and announced that Nick had told him that he was his only friend. At recess Teddy had been playing soccer with his buddies when he noticed that one of the girls in his class was irate with Nick. Apparently, a switch flipped and the mental movie of his Mommy talking to him at breakfast about Nick started playing. He walked over there and explained to the girl that Nick was not a bad kid, but that he wanted to make friends and just didn’t know how. He told her that he would feel a whole lot better and be a whole lot nicer if someone would just be his friend. At which point he turned to Nick and said, “Right Nick?”

I can imagine Nick’s surprise at this point, but he agreed with Teddy that yes, this was the correct analysis of the reason for his angst and aggression (though I don’t think he used those terms). After this, the two boys went and found a place where melting snow was dripping from the roof, and had a great time sticking their heads underneath. It didn’t seem to matter to Nick that their game had nothing to do with guns. “You know Mom,” said Teddy as he concluded his story, “I think Nick is actually a really good friend.”

I think I could say the same about you, Buddy.

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Parent-Teacher Interviews

The teachers at our sons’ school are breathing a collective sigh of relief this week. Report cards came home last week, and parents were invited to the annual parent/teacher interview. Actually, the parent/teacher interview of yesteryear is now a parent/teacher/child conference, so last Thursday Teddy and I found ourselves sitting face-to-face with his smiling teacher.

I had no real reason to be nervous, as we’ve never had any indications from her that he is having trouble in the classroom. He seems to be mastering the second grade as well as he did the first. “Teddy’s doing very well,” she assured me. “He’s right where he should be for grade 2.” She showed me some samples of his work and, as I have come to expect, had many positive things to say about our son.

In due course she addressed some of the problems that were creeping up, primarily surrounding the issue of concentration. No surprise there. If you send this kid into his room to put on his PJ’s in the evening he will inevitably become distracted by a picture book lying on the nightstand and that’s where you’ll find him ten minutes later: sitting on the bed with his pants around his ankles, looking at a book. Evidently he is aware of the problem too though, because on his “Student Self-Reflection” (which each student had completed in preparation for the interview) he circled the “I-could-be-doing-this-better” option when asked about staying on task and doing his work.

The teacher showed us samples of his written work and commented that he was a good speller. (YES!) Apparently he’s also a prolific writer, having recently written the longest story in the class about his favourite topic: a visit to Camp Crossroads.

For about 5 years earlier in our marriage Oliver and I would go up to Camp every winter to cook for our church’s youth group at their retreat. Being the oldest, Teddy accompanied us most often, and has very fond memories of these times. His favourite memory is probably working in the industrial kitchen, stacking the myriad empty plastic milk pitchers. His Camp memories are so vivid and so sweet, that this year he has asked that the family go to Camp Crossroads for the weekend of his birthday. This suits us just fine, because it saves us from having to plan a children’s birthday party.

Teddy has been writing about his Camp memories in his free-write book at school, and his teacher informed us that after six pages of writing she had finally asked him to conclude the story and begin a new one. Day after day he would tirelessly write about Camp Crossroads, she said.

This morning I looked at Teddy’s comments on the back of the aforementioned Self-Reflection. Question 1 asked: “What is your favourite part about school?” His answer: gym (of course). Question 2: What is difficult for you? His answer: to concentrate (very insightful) Question 3: What else do you want your teacher to know? Answer: I want her to know what I did at camp kros roads.

Well kid, judging by what we’ve just learned at your parent/teacher interview, I’d say you’ve been successful. Congratulations!

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And Then There Were Two…

Look closer... it's right there!

Wrapped in bathing towels, Teddy, Caleb and I came home two days ago from the neighbour’s pool to witness what nobody ever wants to come home to: the toad’s terrarium stood open, empty of everything but the plantation soil and the rock puddle. The only clue to the tiny amphibians’ whereabouts was the guilty look on Sammy’s face, who had – until that point – been busy playing in the sandbox (Sammy was at home with Dad). Upon closer inspection we realized that two of the three toads were squished between Sam’s little fingers – his sandbox toys, evidently.

Guilt-stricken and fearing the wrath of his older brother, Sam ran back to the terrarium where he deposited the poor toads upside down in their little puddle. The sight of them just lying there belly-up not moving will probably always be etched on our collective psyches. Were they dead? Alive, but severely shaken by their ordeal?

Teddy quickly righted them back onto their legs, at which point it became clear that the breath of life was indeed still in them. It also became clear, however, that one of their brethren had been released into the wild blue yonder. A search was immediately initiated, but the chances of finding a frog small enough to bathe in a thimble in a dense patch of clover are about as slim as finding a parking space at the mall on Boxing Day.

Eventually Teddy called off the search, consoling himself that now he had “one less mouth to feed.” That, and the missing toad was the fattest one – too fat to fit into the mouth of any predator. Absolutely right on both counts, I assured him.

Still, the animal fever continues to rage at our house. They’ve taken over the house: chameleons, koalas, toads, frogs, lizards, and whatever else the boys have seen on TV. To be clear, we don’t keep all of these animals – the boys pretend to be them. Believe it or not the boys’ creature personas were not the result of any children’s programming, although certainly Zooboomafoo with Chris and Martin Kratt laid the groundwork for their current passion. Their current animal zeal is fueled by occasional family movie nights featuring BBC Earth’s Life documentary. The exceptional footage of this series (as with all of BBC Earth’s documentaries) leaves the children with scenarios that they just have to re-enact. Could previous generations of children have known what a chameleon’s long, slimy grey tongue looks like in slow-motion as it greedily snatches a preying mantis? The way that suction-cup tip envelopes the unsuspecting insect and rudely plucks it off of its perch in the blink of an eye is impressive and worthy of an attempted emulation, at least if you’re four and six years old.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Source: africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Anyone who can still argue that children are not heavily influenced by what they watch on television need only watch our children’s play immediately following what we have just allowed the BBC to put into their little heads. If it’s not a komodo dragon lying in wait for its little brother err… prey, it’s a chameleon stuffing his cheeks with cherry tomatoes and storing them for the winter (it seems they’ve created a brand new sub-species by crossing a chameleon and a squirrel).

Beyond just being entertaining to watch, our children’s role-playing has reiterated for us the importance of our role as sentinel at the media portal of our children’s minds. Whether we like it or not, we have a very strong influence over our children’s behaviour simply by determining what we allow them to watch. Let’s give them wholesome material to emulate.

  • Toads! (creationcarekids.wordpress.com)

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Teaching Conservation at the Bottom End

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I blurted out as I saw the pile of toilet paper on the bathroom floor. “Please don’t tell me you use this much every time you wipe!”

I know, I know. Not exactly a good way to start an open and honest conversation about conservation with my son. Let’s just say I was surprised since I’m pretty sure we’d had the conversation about how many squares will do for a poo. Apparently I was mistaken, in which case the teachable moment had arrived.

Perhaps some background is in order before I continue. I grew up with a father who puts the conservation efforts of most of us to shame. He still keeps the sleeping quarters a chilly 17 C in the winter, since “we’re not up there during the day. Why should we heat it?” (They live in their rec room where there is a wood-burning stove.) So when I was a child growing up, I remember mom explaining to me that 2 squares are all you needed for a pee and 4 for most poo’s.

This probably sounds ridiculous to most readers. I remember thinking that we were the only family to ration toilet paper. (I’d love to hear from others who did the same!) Now that I am grown up and buying my own toilet paper, I understand why it made sense for a family of six with four children in private school.

I realize that for most people, toilet paper does not constitute a big slice of the family budget, but consider the environmental cost of toilet paper production:

  • Each day, 27,000 trees are razed to keep up with the global demand for clean bums. This number is increasing as sanitation improves in developing countries.
  • The global average per capita use of toilet paper is 3.8 kg per year. That’s about 76 2-ply rolls per person. The American average (as if you didn’t see this one coming) is 23 kg per person per year.[1]

Translation: the average American bum (let’s include our own rear ends here) requires 460 rolls of toilet paper each year to feel clean, while Mr. Joe Global can get by with 76 rolls. Either we are just “letting it roll” like I witnessed my 6-year-old doing the other day, or we’re very busy making toilet-paper flowers for wedding cars.

As with many things in life, our attitudes are shaped while we are young. Gone are the days when we can just do (and let our kids do) whatever comes naturally and pretend that our actions have no consequences. Yes, kids will waste water when they wash their hands because it’s just so fun to play with running water. Yes, our kids will thoughtlessly unravel yards of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet. Kids are not responsible adults, and that’s OK. It’s our job though to train them up to be responsible adults, and that always starts by being that responsible adult ourselves. Once we are leading by example we can set the bar higher and expect a little bit more from our children as well.

Just in case this still isn’t making any sense, allow me to explain it like I did to my son the other day. Imagine the world and its resources are like a bowl of Jell-o. You know how much you love Jell-o and how much your brothers love Jell-o. How would you feel if Sammy ate most of the Jell-o and only left a little bit for you and Caleb? If everyone takes their fair share of the Jell-o, then there will be enough to go around.

Let’s think twice before we stuff our collective faces with Jell-o today.


[1] Source: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6403 AccessedJuly 13, 2011

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Mucho Mulcho

mmmm.... mulch

A friend of mine recently told me a story about sitting in her fenced backyard and accidentally overhearing a conversation her new neighbour was having with someone on the other side of the fence. While working in her flowerbed this new homeowner complained loudly about “all of the bark s*#t” lying around. (I’d say that one is most likely not gardening material.) My friend commented on the irony of the fact that the previous owner had put so much effort into properly mulching her beds every year, and here was someone who obviously had no clue about the benefits of her efforts.

At the risk of insulting everyone’s intelligence therefore, here is the definition of mulch: any protective cover that is placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.[1] The one benefit this definition doesn’t take into account is that the effort of spreading 3 cubic yards of mulch over all the flower beds is a perfect opportunity to teach kids to take up a shovel and work.

Is it just me, or has “work” become a bad word in the context of children? I’m not talking about child labour, which is undeniably horrific. I’m talking about the notion that little suburbanites should be catered to and not be expected to pull their weight in the family. Most of us would agree that it’s only right for a teenager to be expected to mow the lawn, but how does that happen unless children learn to work when they are young? The norm today is for adults to run themselves ragged working, while their children do nothing but play all day.

Children are more capable of channeling their energies into meaningful work than one may think. This isn’t to say that they enjoy the prospect of work on a regular basis, but as long as they live under our roof, that’s beside the point. Kids as young as three or four can be taught to do a variety of chores around the house, from cleaning up their own piles of laundry to cleaning out the dishwasher (remove the knives and breakables, please!). Children can set and clear the table, and be expected to tidy up their own messes, particularly at the end of the day. At our house, we divide up the regular responsibilities so that both of the older children are involved, though in different capacities (given their differing levels of ability). I will admit to it being more work to teach children to do chores rather than just doing them ourselves, but oh, how sweet it is when you can just tell them to clean out the dishwasher after breakfast and go have a shower!

What we are finding is that our rather large lawn and ever-expanding flower and vegetable beds are a perfect opportunity to teach them the value of breaking a sweat doing manual labour. Yesterday was mulch-day, which is exciting for several reasons: the kids get to ride along to pick up the mulch from the local soil depot, where a big front-end loader dumps the load into the trailer. Exciting every time. Next, they may get a turn shoveling the mulch out of the trailer (how often do you get to stand in a trailer?!). After the initial excitement wears off, however, there are still 3 cubic yards of mulch waiting to be spread around the yard and that translates into a lot of hard work for several long hours. While we don’t expect our children to stick with it for the entire time, we do encourage them to put in their best effort.

We have found that special treats for the workers are a great way to keep them engaged. A cookie or freezie break here and there helps. And let’s not underestimate the value to the entire family of jointly getting behind the proverbial plow and being able to celebrate together at the end of a long day’s work. These are good memories we are building with – and for – our kids. Amazingly, our 6-year-old stuck with the task until the bitter end yesterday. In fact, while working side-by-side we had some great conversations, including one about the value of hard work. Curious to see what he would say, I asked him whether he thought that a big job like this deserved a reward or not. As though he had previously prepared himself for this question, he replied, “even if there is no reward for doing a job, we can still feel good about a job well done” (I could almost hear his grade 1 class reciting it in unison).

As it was, our neighbours invited us to use their pool afterwards, which was quite possibly the best reward of all for everyone. Anyone who has ever spread mulch on a humid day knows that there’s nothing like jumping into water once you’re done. This applies to adults and kids alike!


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulch. Accessed:July 3, 2011

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