Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Key to Educational Success is....

For whatever reason, I have been receiving free copies of Parents magazine in the mail. I have been perusing the November 2010 issue and it has inspired reactions to several articles that I am going to share here. This is my first one.

I always find it annoying when statistics are presented in a way that misleads people, or only conveys half of the point. Case in point, there is a statistic being thrown at us that people who floss their teeth will live longer. Now this statement by itself implies that the existence of extra plaque will cause an early death. (Not true). What they don't tell you, (or what you have to read a million paragraphs into the study) is that people who floss their teeth are generally the same people who care enough about their health to be conscious of the choices that they make and actively pursue a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, these people ARE going to live longer, because they take care of themselves, not just because they floss their teeth. Make sense?

So anyway. There is a little paragraph titled "Bring on the Books" in this issue of Parents magazine that claims, "Keeping books around the house will up your kid's odds of snagging that college diploma later on," (45). It further claims that a collection of 25 books, either children's or adults', will add a year to their high school or college career, while a collection of 500* books will add an extra 3.2 years! The "article" (can one paragraph really be considered an article?) then goes on to suggest 9 books to add to a child's library. And, that's it.

See, my issue with this isn't the results of the study, but the information that Parents magazine failed to provide regarding the study, or the participants of the study. I looked it up here, and it turns out that over a 20 year period, Mariah Evans (who the magazine doesn't even give credit to), discovered that an environment with at least 25 books in it, regardless of a parent's level of education, will produce these results in children.

I think that it's safe to assume that regardless of their own education level, these parents who are providing their children with books are obviously concerned with their child's educational success. It's probably also safe to assume that these parents are actively involved in their child's education, and are encouraging reading for pleasure. It would have been nice to see this additional information provided in the Parents article. Otherwise, I can just see some clueless parent reading it and thinking that just by having these books in the house, without doing anything with them, will provide the same results. (Hey, I'm sure that there is someone out there who is just stupid enough to think this).

It would have been nice to see Parents expand on this and provide suggestions for actively engaging children in reading and tips to help ensure success. I am sure that there are many parents out there, especially those who did not enjoy their own educational experiences as children, who might not know exactly what they can do to help their child enjoy reading or become a more active reader. Allow me to offer a few of my own suggestions:

* Make reading fun, and active. Instead of just reading a story straight through from the first page to the last, discuss what is happening in the pictures. Many illustrators of children's books include little surprises, or jokes, "Easter Eggs", if you will, in their pictures. They are meant to be explored, examined, and discussed by parents and children alike. Quiz your children on what they have just read or seen in the pictures. Give them a few moments to study the pictures, then close the book and ask them questions. What color hair ribbon is the little girl wearing? How many birds are in the sky? Where is the mouse hiding? You get the idea.

* Establish a bedtime routine that includes at least one story. And be sure to provide a suitable environment for a bedtime story. Ideally, this would be at the end of the routine when the child is already bathed, dressed, and in bed. A child is more likely to pay attention to the story if there are no other distractions around them (such as the television, or older siblings etc.). A bedtime story will also help the child to switch from "active" mode to "rest" mode.

* Visit your local library. Books cost money, and can be quite expensive. Some families are not going to be able to afford to build a personal library at home for their children. This is one of the greatest benefits of a local library, hundreds of books for kids to read, for FREE. Most libraries also provide story hours and other activities for preschool children and school-age children. They usually also have at least a couple of computers for children to listen to stories or play (educational) games. This is also a great resource for families who do not have a computer at home. It just takes a little research to find out what services your local library provides.

Those are some of the ideas that I have right now.  There are many more things that parents can do to help children enjoy reading. Just remember that it's one thing to have 25+ books in your house, but it's another to know how to use them. They are not there just to sit on a shelf and look pretty.

Anyone have more suggestions to share?

*I would really like to know who has a personal library of 500 books that participated in this study!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Excuse Me While I Rant

Last weekend we attended a little pumpkin carving party for the kids. There were probably about 8 kids there, ranging from 3 months to 14 years of age. The kids had a lot of fun, but I found it.... interesting (to put it nicely), that a couple of parents were allowing their 2, 3, and 5 year old children to drink soda the whole time that they were there.

Now, I'm not about to criticize these parents for allowing their young children to drink soda, that's their choice. I personally don't agree with it, but I'm not going to chastise other parents for it. But what I was amazed at was that these were the same parents who were complaining a few weeks before about how "wild" the kids act (they were three little girls), and how difficult it is to get them to bed at night. One little girl as been known to stay up past 11, finally crashing from exhaustion on her bedroom floor. Well now I understand what is causing these difficulties! If you are allowing your child to drink soda (and eat Halloween candy) at 7:30 at night, then yes, you are going to have a hard time putting them to bed. Duh!

We happen to not allow any of the boys to drink soda or eat candy, unless on special occasions, like Halloween, but then it is limited. And this is mainly because of the effect that I have noticed it has on them, Owen specifically. I have noticed that whenever Owen has cookies, or cake, or candy, he, obviously, behaves completely different. He gets hyper and has a hard time following directions or focusing on what I am trying to say to him. He just wants to act like a crazy boy. Therefore, for my sanity, I have made the decision not to offer these things regularly in my house. If he goes to a friend's house and has something there, then that's fine. I'm not going to go ballistic over it, but I can definitely tell when he HAS had something sweet to eat somewhere else.

The same applies to watching television. I am not one of those parents who is completely against television and is adamant that my child will not watch any TV until he is at least 2. (I have been known in the past to use "Little Bear" as a babysitter for Owen while I was making dinner. He was definitely under 2 years of age, but it kept him entertained and out of my hair long enough to get dinner ready). I do feel that there are some quality children's shows out there with great educational lessons. (Owen has learned his shapes, some Spanish, directions, and the difference between plastic, glass, metal etc. from watching TV). I have also allowed him to watch a movie during rest time on the days that I know he will not take an actual nap. However, I do try to limit how much television Owen watches during the day, but this is primarily because of how it effects his behavior.

I have noticed that on the (usually rainy) days when Owen has been watching tv for at least an hour, he is less cooperative, less likely to follow directions, and more whiny than on the days when he hasn't watched any. So again, for my sanity, while I can still control what he does, I try to limit what he watches.

Now, I don't know if this has the same effect on all kids or if it's just Owen, but when I hear these parents complaining about how their kids behave or how hard it is for them to go to bed at night, and then learn that they watch TV all day, drink soda, and basically eat whatever they want, I really have to wonder if these parents have even considered that this might be at the root of their problems. Last year we attended a Christmas party and there were two brothers there who were a few years older than Owen, and kept bullying him. They chased him around, cornered him against a wall, and started hitting him. Naturally, he fell to the ground to try to get away from them, but then they proceeded to kick him! (Don't worry, I didn't just stand by and watch this all happen. But all of this happened in the time that it took me to get from one end of the room to the other to stop it from continuing).

After this incident occurred (which the boys did not even get punished for, other than a "strong word", nor were they made to apologize to Owen), I overheard their mother telling someone that one of the boys was being tested for ADHD soon. Really? Could his problem actually be the lack of discipline and all of the sugar that he consumes on a regular basis rather than ADHD? (We are familiar with this family because Daddio works with the husband, so I'm not just basing this on the incident at the party). It drives me nuts when parents automatically assume that their child must have ADHD if they are in any way unruly or difficult to control. Take a look at your parenting skills, folks, and then tell me why you think your child is unruly! If there's no discipline, then there's not going to be any control!

Anyway, that was my rant for today. Carry on.

*After re-reading this post, I realize that I basically AM criticizing these parents. What my actual point is that if you are going to allow your child to drink soda or eat sugary candy, especially at night, then be prepared to deal with the consequences, or at least be aware of the effect it will have on your child, and stop complaining about it. With children this young, the parents are the ones who SHOULD still have the say in what the drink or eat, so if you're giving your child something that will in fact cause them to act unruly, then that's your own fault, not your child's. 

Now I'm done.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Tiny Tidbits IV

After explaining to Owen that Ben loves Mommy a little TOO much:

Me: Do you love your mommy?
Owen: Yes, I love you Mom.
Me: Do you love Daddy?
Owen: No.
Me: You don't love Daddy? Why not? You should love Daddy.
Owen: Because I no have the heart for him.
Me: You don't? Who is your heart for?
Owen: You!

     *                        *                           *                            *

Owen has crawled into bed with me in the morning after he woke up.

Owen: Where's Daddy?
Me: He's at work.
Owen: He needs to come home and make me pancakes.
Me: He does? Why?
Owen: Because me awake!
Me: Oh.
Owen: Suppose YOU make me something special?
Me: Make you something special? What do you want?
Owen: Green waffles!

     *                     *                              *                             *

Sitting in the kitchen eating our breakfast together, observing the cloudy sky. (Different day than above).

Owen: It's dark outside.
Me: Yes, it is.
Owen: Where is the sun?
Me: It's hiding behind the clouds.
Owen: Why is the sun behind the clouds?
Me: I don't know.
Owen: I know why.
Me: You do? Why?
Owen: Because him going poopies!

     *                     *                              *                            *

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear Erin (and other new moms)

I have been reading this blog for months now and have been agonizing for the poor mother who writes it. She is a new mom and has found that it is not as easy as anyone would hope it to be. My heart goes out to her with every new post that she writes as she struggles to find her balance as a mom. After reading this particular post of hers today, I have decided to dedicate this one to her. Hang in there, Erin!

     *                    *                    *                     *                       *                        *                         *

     Occasionally, you are going to come across a mother who claims that her baby was the best thing that has ever happened to her and that her life has never been better. She is going to try to convince you that regardless of how little sleep she actually gets a night, it's totally worth it to look into the eyes of her precious newborn. She may also confide in you that since having this bundle of joy come into their lives, her relationship with her hubby/partner/significant other/baby daddy has never been better; that the baby has in fact brought them so much closer. DON'T LISTEN TO HER! Don't fall for it! She is lying! In fact, I suspect that what mothers like this are really doing is trying to convince themselves that this is how their life is, when it is in fact the complete opposite.

     Here's the truth, straight from my mouth to yours, being a parent is HARD! It is one of the most difficult things that you are ever going to deal with. You can read all of the books published on how to be a parent, but not a single one is going to prepare you for the real thing. All babies are different. They do not come with an instruction manual. And books are not targeted toward your specific child. Unfortunately, you will have to figure out the ins and outs of your baby on your own. And there is nothing more depressing, more lonely, or more frustrating than being a first time mother. Trust me, I've been there.

     When I had my first son, it was the biggest change in my life that I had ever encountered. I was dealing with hormones and emotions that I had never felt before, and I had to do this with 4 hours of sleep a night at best. Owen was not one of those babies that we all hear about who is sleeping for 4 hour stretches at a time at night within the first month. In fact, up until he was at least 6 months old, he was still waking up every two hours. And since I was breastfeeding, this meant that Daddio got to sleep at night while I was up all the time with Owen (although he would have used any excuse NOT to get up with either baby at night). And since Daddio worked all day, I was home with Owen all day by myself. And to anyone who suggests that you "sleep while the baby is sleeping", remind them that being a stay-at-home-mom, most of us are still expected to take care of the household duties as well, including laundry, cleaning, dinner, showering, etc. Try doing any of those things if you are sleeping.

     Between the lack of sleep and the lack of help that I was receiving from Daddio, I was a mess. There were times when Owen would be crying for what seemed like hours, and I would have no idea what was wrong with him. Was he hungry? Was he tired? Was he in pain? Did he have gas? I had no idea. And there is nothing more frustrating than hearing your own child screaming and not being able to do anything about it to help. There were moments when I was so tired and frustrated that I just HAD to leave him in his crib crying while I walked away from the situation just to regain my own sanity. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's best for both parties involved. A baby can sense when the person holding them is stressed, tired, tense, and upset, and it will only make them cry more. They are very receptive little creatures. And forget calling in any reinforcements; we were living in Texas at the time, a gazillion miles away from our family who lived in New York. I was on my own, and I was so depressed, and tired, and frustrated and I was crying all the time. (This also happened with my second child, so I think the hormones can be partially to blame here). But it does get better. And it does get easier.

     My advice to you, and other first time mothers who are experiencing the same things, is to stop feeling guilty, and stop feeling as though you are the worst mother ever. You aren't. You are a normal mother experiencing normal things that come along with a newborn baby. Don't feel guilty if you let your baby cry for a little while. No matter what anyone says, there is NOTHING wrong with doing this. A few minutes of crying never hurt anyone, in my opinion. In fact, it will eventually teach them a valuable lesson, that crying will not get them anywhere; that Mommy is not going to come running every time a tear is shed. And that's okay.

     Let your baby cry herself to sleep. The best decision that I ever made with Owen was to train him to put himself to sleep. At first, I felt guilty every time I put him in his crib and he started crying, so I would instantly pick him up and try rocking him to sleep. But then I realized, that if I kept this up, I would be doing this for the next two years! (Lesson I learned from my second son, Ben). So I decided to force him to put himself to sleep. I placed him in his crib and let him cry. After 5-10 minutes, I would go into his room and try soothing him by patting his chest, but not pick him up, then walk out of the room and let him cry again. With this first attempt, I had to go through this process repeatedly, for at least two hours. I let him cry for a few minutes, then went in to soothe him, let him cry, soothed him and on and on. I'm not going to lie, it was difficult to hear him cry. In fact, there were times when I had to walk outside the house so I couldn't hear him and wasn't tempted to go in his room and pick him up and hold him, but guess what? Eventually, he fell asleep.

     I stuck with this, not giving in once, and after two days, he was putting himself to sleep without a single tear. And it was the best thing I could have done, for both of us. The stress of bedtime was gone, and eventually I was able to discover a pattern with him that helped me to develop a sleep schedule for him (Throughout the day, I would put him back to bed after being awake for three hours). He was still waking up repeatedly at night, but at least I knew what to expect during the day and could start planning my own actions around his naps. It was great.

     Of course, this is all based on my own experience with my own child, and like I said before, each baby is different. But eventually, after many sleepless nights, and tear fests, and screaming matches, you will figure it out. And then, it will get easier. And as the months pass, you will actually forget how difficult the first few months were (much like how we mysteriously forget how difficult and painful labor was), and after a year or so, you will start finding yourself thinking about wanting a second child because you miss the baby that you once had. (You will, trust me). And then in no time, you will be blogging about moments like this and this. And you will look back on your posts from the first few months and realize that it was all worth it (no lie, it is!) and you wouldn't change a moment.

Well, maybe a few.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dinner Date

Two weeks ago Owen kept bugging me that he wanted his "girlfriend" Lilly to come over for dinner. So this past Tuesday morning I made him call her to invite her over. Her mom answered the phone:

Miss T.: Hello?
Owen: Hi.
Miss T.: Who is this?
Owen: Me. (Duh.)

After a complicated conversation between two 3 year-olds, it was decided that the date would be Thursday night. Lilly's daddy would be working and her mom had a rummage sale to prepare for at church, so it would just be Lilly. I let Owen pick the meal, (pizza), and he made sure that Lilly's seat at the table was all set up with a placemat.

They both had a good time. There was dinner:

And there was dancing:

Great fun was had by all, but I warned Owen that next time he may not want to have his little brother on a date with him as he is apt to steal the spotlight away from him. Girls are suckers for babies. :-)
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