Back to Nature

May 25, 2011

Getting back to nature is what’s great for children and adults.  There is a great book that I highly recommend parents read entitled Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. I am sure that many of you have read it, and he makes a very strong argument that children suffer because of their lack of connection with nature.

Mr. Louv writes with great passion about how nature is necessary for a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As a result of his book, we have defined a behavioral problem known as “nature-deficient disorder,” which results from children spending less time outdoors. This disorder has yet to be recognized in medical manuals. However, I don’t think any of us would disagree that children thrive when they are connected to nature and that all the technological inventions are steering children away from nature. We have become increasingly aware that children need to be outside daily.

As is true with just about everything in life, teaching our children great habits begins with modeling those great habits. Mr. Louv has now written a book about the benefits of nature for adults. At the beginning of the book he asks a question: “What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in electronics?” WOW! Can you imagine what our CHILDREN’S lives would be like if their lives were as immersed in nature as they are in electronics?

I urge you to read both books if you have not done so.

I urge you to put down the electronics and go outside.

Stop and smell the roses! Feel the grass, smell the scents of nature, taste the amazing produce fresh from the earth, and reconnect with nature. You have to take the time and let the worries slip away. Simply determine to “be present” and enjoy the beauty of the moment. Your soul, your body, your mind, and your CHILD will thank you.

Do it today…do it every day. It will take focus and a very purposeful plan for most of us who live at a fast pace and in a concrete world—but it will be worth every single effort.


Can We ‘Henry Ford’ This?

May 18, 2011

Have you ever had a great thought or a wonderful idea, and it seemed to get too complicated when you tried to execute it? Have you ever had dreams for your children that kept slipping through your fingers?  Perhaps you have encountered a parenting issue that was so frustrating that you wanted to just give up. It is normal to doubt your own ability to accomplish your goals or to inspire your children to reach their goals. It is also normal to think that there is just NO WAY to overcome.  When you begin to feel a loss of hope, I have a simple little question that I often use when I am challenged that I would like to share. I ask myself, “How can I ‘Henry Ford’ what lies before me?”

Henry Ford had so many great quotes, and one of my favorites is this: “Whether you think you can or you cannot, you are right.” WOW! I first have to believe in myself. I first have to teach my child to believe that she can do whatever she chooses to do. Another great quote is: “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” So that means I have to get started. “Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anyone can complain.” I have to keep working to find a solution, or I am just one in the crowd. “There is no man living that isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” I can do better, and my child can do better. I will not give up.

Several years ago, Children’s Choice began focusing on the value of gardening with the children at our centers. There has been so much research on how deprived children are of nature (join me next week for Back to Nature…It’s what’s great for adults and children!). Many centers had obstacles to overcome, but one center had to “Henry Ford” this initiative, and the results are amazing.

Operating in Washington D.C. bears the question: “How do we garden when we have nothing but concrete around us?” The preschool program is housed on the second floor of a multi-story building, and it certainly seemed that gardening wasn’t an option. The team of educators believed that they could make this happen and that their program was capable of doing more than it was doing. This great team applied the “Henry Ford” philosophy to the idea of gardening. Today, you will find a strawberry patch surrounded by beautiful sunflowers two blocks away that is planted and nurtured by 3-, 4-, and 5-year- old students.

So next time you hit a tough spot or your children are challenging you or you hear those horrible words “I can’t” flowing from your child’s whining tongue…just think: “Let’s ‘Henry Ford’ that and grow some strawberries anyway. We can do this!”

Congratulations to Director Sharleen Smith and the entire team of educators at DOT Children’s Choice for their commitment to excellence. They run an incredible NAEYC accredited program in the heart of Washington, D.C. They have had to “Henry Ford” some circumstances; but they do it with passion, heart, and excellence every single day. We salute you all!

Intentional Daily Character Building

May 11, 2011

At the end of each day, it is so easy to fall into bed exhausted from the constant demands of life. The pace that we all keep seems to be frantic regardless of our field of work, the age of our children, or the number of children we have at home. It just seems that everyone in our world is extremely busy. Occasionally, it is good to slow down, reflect, and take inventory to ensure that we are focused on the important tasks that really matter.

Great families and great children are not accidental. As parents, we must be purposeful in the activities and environment that we choose for our children. We know that we have to purposeful in choosing their diet and purposeful in protecting them physically. But, are we as purposeful as we could be in building their character when they are very young?

Sometimes in our busyness, we miss the wonderful teachable moments that naturally occur throughout the day. We must stop and think about what we do each week to demonstrate and teach our young children the value of the universally acceptable pillars of character—respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, trustworthiness, and fairness—that they will need to succeed in life. When our busyness causes us to miss opportunities to teach our children about the value of these great character traits, we must become intentional about adding experiences into our routine that will allow us to focus on this very important aspect of our children’s development.

This means that we might have to plan activities on the weekend that we cannot participate in during the week to teach a very young child the importance of being responsible. Perhaps the family could take part in community events that teach citizenship or caring. What you do is not as important as being purposeful in planning activities that build character in your young children. Teach them well…begin while they are very young…and always remember that they will watch YOU most of all.

Self-Control is Taught

May 4, 2011

Have you ever watched children playing and noticed that a situation was escalating? The responsible adults, who are observing, often struggle because we do not know how long we should wait before getting involved. How long do we let them try to work it out? What about allowing them to build problem-solving skills?

Then it happens…and we find ourselves pulling the children apart and forcing them to take time to cool down before they can even think about going to the “peace table” or the “talk-it-out corner” or whatever method has been established to restore peace. How did it get out of hand so fast?

If you have a child who is showing signs of a quick temper or being easily frustrated, I suggest that there are great methods of teaching him to notice when things are escalating inside his own body. I also suggest that this must begin early. Eventually, he will have the self-control to know when to walk away on his own, but he will need your help to identify these triggers. Observe the early warning signs. When you see the first signs of frustration, help your child understand what that feels like and suggest that he take a deep breath, take a short rest, walk away if it is appropriate, stretch, or make some brief adjustment that relieves the pressure. In the beginning, you will make this adjustment for him. You can say, “Hosea, would you like to take a brief stretch”? You might even walk over and take both his hands in yours and take three deep breaths with him. Again, you will need to teach him how BEFORE it reaches that critical stage. This will let him know that YOU see the early signs that he is getting frustrated. Later, discuss what you saw and teach him to notice it, too.

It is our role to teach our children to become self-regulating, and we want to do it in the most positive manner. Teaching them that we can only be responsible for our own actions begins early. Redirection is such a positive way to keep children focused on positive behavior…reward what you want to see repeated. The first time you see them practicing self-control, offer specific praise.

Often children act out because they are stressed and just need to be soothed. Great soothing activities are sensory experiences: water play, sand play, playing with silly putty, playing in a sandbox, blowing bubbles, finger painting, etc… So often we resort to discipline when redirection is all that is needed.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” If that is true, we must begin early to teach our children how to self-regulate, so that they can become successful in every area of their lives.