Over the past few weeks I've been taking myself out of being "me" and being tied down the the "drudgery" that I've felt in our daily activities. I've tried to look at it in another perspective and in the last two days it hit me, or rather I reminded myself why I'm doing what I'm doing. Yes, there was a reason I didn't think I was going to send my kids to the Toddler class. I was home, so I was going to do these things myself. I was going to show them how to eat at a table, sit down when eating, clean up, put their shoes on, help them become toilet-trained, help them get dressed, help them learn how a home functions, and how to function in society. Aha! Eureka.
So, why do I stay at home and not roam all over town to a new park each day. Well, we try to get out, to go to a museum, to go on a hike, to play at the beach, or visit the library, and lots of trips to various grocery stores. However, there is a very crucial stage in which children need to be at home or a home-like environment which provides the necessary activities to become independent. They need to be comfortable and know where things are. If their environments are to be changing daily there is no structure and therefore no routine. Children like to have order and they actually crave it. They like to know where their things are and where things belong. They like to know what is expected of them, to have a routine, to have some discipline (see freedom and discipline ), and to become confident in that environment. Many changes and constant change sometimes leave children lacking confidence in their environment and therefore their abilities. It is the age before 2-2 1/2 that we must provide structure so that as they grow older they can become accustomed to changes since they become confident in who they are and what they are capable of.
I'm not saying that we must be locked up in our homes and stay here all the time. Not at all. Children should become part of our daily lives and activities. They should go to the grocery store and see the things we buy for our meals, they should become part of that process and allowed to help. They should go to the library and pick out their books and hand the library card and put the return books in the bin. All these things I hope to discuss in another post I've been working on. We need to help children become part of a daily routine which is meaningful to them.
However, instead of constantly taking children to the playground, park, children's museums, jump houses, aka child-oriented activities solely, we deny them of the opportunity to learn and grow. All of a sudden as they age, we expect them to know how to put their clothes on and to be toilet-trained but never giving them the opportunities along the way to develop these skills slowly. Toilet training should not happen in a week or so, it is a gradual process and one that requires clean up, knowing how to change out of wet clothes, put them into something, and to find new clothes to change into. All these things must also be ready and in a place where they have access to. Now, as I write this, we have been having lots of misses and also lots of successes. I'm still in the process of setting up the little one's environment.
The stable home environment (or daycare/preschool) allows children to be active and productive if it is set up in such a way. They can explore and discover many new things, and they can exercise their skills consistently. Knowing that they must sit down to eat a meal, clean up, wipe up, sweep, carry dishes to the sink, or dishwasher; these are all things you can do in a stable environment and not in a park. Often when we are out, foods are finger foods, hands are not washed, utensils are not used, and dishes are plastic bowls or sippy cups. This will happen, this happens when you have a picnic, and that's great, it's healthy to get out and to do something different, but for this to be a daily routine is not helping children develop proper habits. Prior to the age of 2, food plays a central role in their lives. It provides for many sensory experiences. I loved Michael Pollen's statement when he said that what distinguishes humans from animals is that we eat food, and not feed. There is a social aspect to food beyond the need to fill our stomachs. Children go home for lunch, or mostly eat at home. Eating in public spaces is not a very common thing in most cultures either. The idea of fast food, and eating on the go is predominant an American thing, but now we've just adapted it to eating "healthy" food on the go; juice boxes, milk boxes, goldfish, carrot sticks, string cheese, etc,
Cleaning up and taking care of an environment, knowing to put away and to put things where they belong, knowing to care for yourself, your appearance, your hygiene; these are all things that are best done at home. A 5 year old who is put on a changing table in a public restroom is not something you will see in the rest of the world. We have been staying home mostly these days as the little one (20 months) has been wanting to use the toilet. Mostly we have misses, but on a day like today, there's been a lot of positive results as well. It's never consistent, and as difficult as it is for me, I have to do it. The
By no means is this madness for all, but there is a reason why we do what we do. Again, I will address sustainable living in another post. However, as a society, all we are teaching our children is to become individuals on the go. When we do that, we are also teaching them to use more resources than necessary. Even a young child uses more resources than they should. When everything in our lives become disposable we prevent children from seeing the value in things.
It is hard, it is beyond hard to sit patiently while they take 5-7 minutes to put on their shoes, but by no means does this mean I sit an watch or "police" them in how to do it. We do it together. I have little to no time for myself because each activity provides for an opportunity to learn. Not always, as is the case now, she is happily playing with her doll and feeding it and swaddling it. She has kept herself entertained opening and closing some boxes and bottles, cleaned it up and put it away, to then move on to another activity of putting her doll to sleep.
The entire day cannot be spent taking forever for children to do things on their own time. Of course not, we'd never get anywhere. But, when we do have the time, it's best to show them how to do things even if it's one or two things a day. Even if you're a working parent who has to be out the door early, we can still take our time for one thing and help them to learn that one thing for a week or two and then change it. They don't have to learn it perfectly, after all what does that mean? perfect only means for them to be able to do it on their own, it means giving them the opportunity to repeat, repeat, repeat. If we constantly dress them, eventually they will learn to believe that they do not know how to do it and so will just stand and wait for you to do it.
Steps and Stages: Help children in small steps. As young as 15-18 months, let children do 1 or two things and then gradually help them build up. Show them how to do something and then allow them to do it as they can, but be mindful in how many steps it takes. The fewer the better.
When my older daughter was about 2 she insisted on picking out all her clothes. OH MY! I'm so glad we took lots of photos, but how adorable to see her in a skirt, pants, unmatching shirt and something else random. When she started school the teachers asked us if she dressed herself as it was quite obvious. Now almost 2 years later, she picks out her clothes at night and sets them out to dress in the morning. It's not always smooth and there are arguments, and whines not wanting to get ready quickly, etc etc.
As I said, I will write a separate post soon about what we do at home and how our home is set up. I hope this explains a little bit about why we don't spend our days out all the time.
When my first child was born, one of the first things my mom said was how her mother said, 'Children love to be at home'. I thought she was crazy. Over the years I see how my children love to stay home and play, they love to play with all the tupperware, my shoes, put random stuff in a push cart and go in circles, take all the plates and cups and have a "tea party" in the middle of the floor. When we come back from a trip, no matter what time even late at night, they perk up and go running around looking at all their things.
So, in my experience, and for my kids, they love being at home at certain times, and then there are times we like to go out. This is our family, of course yours is different, so we look forward to hearing what you do and how you spend your days. I love to get ideas from other moms and especially from other blogs. It's an ever evolving philosophy and way of living.
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