Toddler Tuesdays: Master List of Parenting Strategies, 1-5

IMG_0171.JPGSo, one of the nerdy things I’ve chosen to do with my life is compose a list of parenting strategies that I find fall on the spectrum somewhere from ‘useful to keep in the back of your mind’ to ‘I don’t know how I’d parent without this’. (Right now, my list is mostly centered around dealing with toddlers and preschool-aged kids, but since I’m about to have a baby, I’ll be compiling a list of those strategies over the next year.) In the hopes that this list might be of some use to someone else, I thought I’d go through and share the items on the list, a few at a time, with my thoughts and experiences tagged on. Here are the first five:

  1. Use unconditional love and praise. “I love watching you do x.” “I love you because you’re mine.” “I love you no matter what.” “It’s nice to be here with you.” A little kid’s life is full of feedback, both positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, where it’s easy for them to link their behaviour to how much their parents love them. I try to regularly use no-strings-attached language like this to express that my happiness in them isn’t hinged on their being ‘good’, but on their being my kid and being themselves. It’s especially nice getting this parroted back to you as a little blonde boy slips his hand into yours and remarks confidingly, “I like being with you, Mummy.”
  2. “Leaving well is part of coming next time.” For regular outings, remind them that if they aren’t able to leave a place well, you will pass up the next opportunity to go there. This is a great, great tool to have in your toolkit. It only takes a couple of reinforcements for your kids to learn that you mean business (for Scout Kid, it was missing out on a special bike ride with his daddy), it’s catchy and easy to remember, and it drastically cuts back on the amount of whining that comes at the end of a fun outing. I use it for screen time as well, as that’s another situation when the end of the time often results in a lot of whining.
  3. Involve them. A kid who feels they’re part of what you’re doing will have no desire to act out. For example, I can literally not recall one instance of the boys making mischief or being defiant while we were baking together. Although I can recall plenty of instances where ingredients were eagerly dumped in at random…
  4. When their behaviour makes life easier for you, pause and thank them, and tell them in specific terms how that behaviour benefitted you: “Thank-you for being so helpful in the grocery store. When you walked nicely beside the cart, it made it much easier for me to focus on getting the things on my list.” “Thank-you for cleaning that up without being asked. Now I finished my work more quickly so we can spend time together.” I don’t like using praise as a motivator all that much (see #1 above; I want them to know that my love for them isn’t hinged on how good they are) but I think expressing it as appreciation instead of praise changes the narrative such that they can see that they’re bringing me happiness without feeling the pressure of bringing me happiness or risking losing my approval and delight in them. I’ve seen their behaviour in a few areas really blossom because of this technique, particularly the areas of ‘not being little terrors at the grocery store’ and in the area of playing together peacefully.
  5. Introduce non-verbal communication, with which you can both encourage and check your child silently. You can use the I-love-you sign across a room if your child seems troubled, or in a situation where you can’t use words without sounding angry. A stern stare or raised eyebrows can be used instead of repeating an instruction. A thumbs-up can be a moment of encouragement and connection when you’re in the middle of something but they’re looking for some input. I love especially using a little hand-squeeze when we’re walking together to say something like, “Isn’t this nice, you and me?” They notice and smile up at me, and squeeze my hand back.

I’m always looking to expand my list, so do let me know in the comments if you have any life-changing strategies or tools!


Kinderlove: Visualizing Kids’ Emotions

Recently enjoyed this post by Dr. Hazel Harrison about how to teach kids to understand what is happening in their brains when they’re experiencing big emotions. It’s a long read, but really worth it, with great kid-friendly explanations for fight-and-flight emotions and ideas for how to help your child visualize and problem-solve through these feelings. Here’s a quote:

“I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs… Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain – the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain – the downstairs). Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix. The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy… Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other. This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations. Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts ‘the downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger’. The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.”

I’m excited to talk this out with Scout Kid (I think the Feral Kid is still too young, and also too feral, for this talk, but I can definitely see him needing it later as his feeling brain is a big feeler!) and do some illustrations/visuals. I think I’ll lose the gender-specific names, though; that one:six gender ratio doesn’t fly with me 😉

We just watched Inside Out as a family, and although it’s a bit over Scout Kid’s comprehension level, I think it will help him understand these concepts too as he gets older.

Advent Activities 2015: December 8th, Christmas Cookies

I’m going to be up front here. It’s 4:00pm, and I’m sitting here while my kids watch Sesame Street, waiting for my feet to stop feeling like someone drove railroad spars up my heels. If every day was like this, I’d have quit Advent activities long ago!

But anyhow. In preparation for having some friends over to decorate cookies tomorrow, we made two batches of cookies to decorate. I’ll include the recipes below (I made half-recipes of each kind.) Scout Kid and I made the dough while Feral Kid napped BECAUSE I’M NOT INSANE, and then when he woke we rolled them out and used our gingerbread people, heart, star, and Christmas tree cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Feral Kid attempted to bite the head off all the gingerbread people as he was transporting them to the cookie sheet, but otherwise a good, if somewhat chaotic, time.

The first type we made are a crunchy cinnamon cookie fondly known as Moose Cookies in our family. (Long story, don’t question it.)

Moose Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cinnamon

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well until incorporated.
2. Stir in flour and cinnamon. Dough will be on the crumbly side.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to 1/4 in. on lightly floured surface. Cut shapes with cookie cutters and place on parchment-paper-covered baking sheet.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before transferring carefully to cooling rack (cookies are brittle.)

The second type is Eggnog Sugar Cookies. The original recipe called for rum extract, but I used almond extract because, well, that’s what I had.

Eggnog Sugar Cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs

1 tablespoon almond extract

1. Combine all dry ingredients except sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in eggs and almond extract.
3. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until just combined.
4. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half, and form into two flattened discs. Wrap separately with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 1-1.5 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/8″ thick. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and arrange 2″ apart on baking sheets.
6. Bake until cookies just start to brown around the edges, 7-8 minutes. Set sheet on cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove cookies to rack to cool completely.

Eight Reasons I Love Screen Time

Watching this TEDTalk this afternoon was the catalyst for this post about screen time. (One of the things I appreciated about this TEDTalk is that it distinguishes between the effects of entertainment screen time vs. educational screen time. I wish there was also more research on the effect of interactive (iPhone/iPad) screen time vs passive screen time (TV). Mostly it seems to focus on TV.) Anyways, I know this isn’t the usual kind of post you see about screen time, but I wanted to talk about the ways in which I think screen time is awesome. For me, it’s all about quality and balance. We have a few basic boundaries (something along the lines of ‘You need to stop playing iPhone now because Mummy wants to check Facebook…’ and ‘I WILL NOT listen to the Paw Patrol theme one more time today.’) but mostly, it’s not about time limits or guilt, but about a rich and varied experience. So without further ado, eight things I love about screen time:

1) Screen time is unjudgemental learning.

I’m sure not every child is this way, but I have a kid who is very reluctant to try and fail in front of people. He doesn’t like guessing, he likes knowing; he resists situations where he feels he might not be able to perform or answer like he thinks he’s should. And while we’re working on this, both on addressing his fear of failing, and addressing the way we approach tasks to reduce the pressure on him, one of the great beauties of the screen is that he can learn without performing for anyone.

With a good educational app or TV show, there is no fear of judgement. Nobody’s watching over your shoulder. Getting it wrong is ok. So when Scout Kid is using a educational app, he’s not afraid to try, because he’s not afraid to fail. He’s much more willing to experiment, try, and test.

2) Screen time exposes kids to subjects and experiences they can’t learn in real life.

Whether it’s inside the human body, halfway round the world, in outer space, the distant past, or the microscopic world, screen time takes my kids to places they can’t go on their own. We love watching How It’s Made or BBC Planet Earth over lunch, and most of Scout Kid’s favourite shows work in great exposure to the kind of things he doesn’t meet in the everyday, from the wide range of STEM subjects in Curious George, to the prehistoric world of the dinosaurs, to the wild variety in the animal kingdom, to awesome heavy machinery and vehicles. We also love YouTube videos, especially for homeschooling– it’s a lot easier to get a handle on cloud formation, or light refraction, or what a ship in a bottle is, when you see it in action, versus just seeing a picture or hearing a description.

This exposure lets my kids make more connections and understand their world better; one of the things I love about when kids learn something early is that they’re ready to learn the next level that much more quickly.

3) Screen time exposes kids to people they wouldn’t meet in real life.

In the same way that screen time exposes kids to subjects they wouldn’t get to experience otherwise, it gives them the opportunity to experience a broader, richer range of cultures, ideas, and personal experiences. Research has show that this can contribute to more empathy and positivity, and less fear and prejudice, towards those different from your family. Living and going to a church in the country, my kids aren’t exposed to the kind of cultural variety they might get in the city– although our town is growing more diverse by leaps and bounds; when I was a kid, the town was basically a 50-50 split of Dutch and Portuguese people, and the Dutch crowd hung out with the Dutch crowd, you know? I make an effort to buy race- and gender-diverse books, to speak inclusively, etc., but I know it’s easy to fall into white/male default even when you’re trying not to. TV shows (carefully chosen to avoid shallow or stereotypical portrayals) and YouTube videos can help normalise other perspectives and points of view, and I think that’s grand.

Instagram’s another great one for this. I make a point of following POC, and women doing non-stereotypical stuff, like welding and skateboarding, so that the boys are just used to seeing those images as part of the morning post-breastfeeding Instagram browse. (If you’re looking for some account suggestions, or have some, hit me up in the comments!)

4) Screen time gives kids the power to connect on their own terms.

This is mainly a phone thing, I guess, although computers too, but I love seeing my kids text and Facetime family members. Scout Kid uses voice-to-text to send (admittedly garbled) messages to faraway grandparents or sends his favourite emojis to Daddy at work. Feral Kid loves to send videos of himself to people and get a video response. He talks to the video responses like they’re Facetime, which is adorable. Scout Kid even knows how to find people’s names in Contacts and phone them up, although I try to discourage that. One of the common criticisms of a screen-based culture is that it makes kids less social, but I think it can help as much as hurt. Through the above-mentioned channels, my kids learn phone manners, initiate social interactions, and enjoy jokes, express love, and connect across distances without needing me to prompt or manage them.

5) Screen time lets kids experiment with art.

Two things I’m thinking of specifically here, is the art of capturing and enjoying images, and of music. Scout Kid, like many toddlers, is a master selfie-taker, but he also enjoys photographing increasingly-less-blurry images of our house, his family, and weird close-up still lifes. He likes editing and filtering them, and favours black-and-white shots. Both boys love Instagram, which a Facebook friend once described as “a picture book created by the whole world that never ends.” Like, heck yeah they like that, and it’s a whole other ball-game than a frenetic, keep-that-kid-quiet TV show, so why lump them in together?

Scout Kid is also growing into a fine DJ, and has definite tastes. His current favourites are all what he describes as ‘beating songs’, a genre which encompasses hip-hop, dubstep, and good solid rock songs. I love hearing him sing beautiful, complex lyrics, instead of just typical nursery-rhyme toddler fare, and I love the questions he asks about the meanings of songs, and I love his little air drums when a favourite tunes comes up on shuffle. I’d actually love to make a mix-tape of his favourites some time; everyone wants to have Eye of the Tiger, Shut Up And Dance, Needtobreathe’s Brother, Trepak from the Nutcracker, Showbread’s Pachycephalosaurus, and Test Flight from How to Train Your Dragon on the same mix-tape, right?

6) Screen time powers imagination.

Narrative is where we experiment with dreams, examine values, and forge cultural values. As a writer, I love this and embrace it wherever I see it. In our culture, our myths and legends are on the big screen, not a story around a fire. Although there’s beauty in stories around the fire that I don’t want to diminish, I don’t want to let a ‘things were better in the good old days’ attitude poison our experience of the truly great, hilarious, beautiful, or challenging narratives that nowadays come mostly from movies.

Visual imagination employed in reading is awesome, and we love to read here at the Parsonage. But the whole other immersive, visual world of movies, for my kids at least, seems to fire imaginations just as much. The boys have spent solid hours pretending to fly around the room to the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack, their dreams caught on the spark of beautiful freedom in shots of soaring and sweeping dragons. Scout Kid plays Survivorman in deep, involved ways, using all his toys and books and blankets to build elaborate shelters and animal traps, hunting and building fires and collecting the rainwater from moss with concentration and fervour. It’s no fun to clean up after, but that’s not really the point. The point is, if you’re choosing good quality narratives, whether they’re on a screen or a printed page or a verbal story, they’re going to power imaginations, and as long as you’re keeping the variety and balance between the different types, movies can be just as powerful and play-inspiring as books.

(I also give the boys room time every day, because I think involved, alone play is a skill to be cultivated, and I think that helps…)

7) Screen time provides concrete manipulatives and chances to build on or problem solve.

Montessori math manipulatives are awesome. And so expensive. You know what I like? Apps that have Montessori math manipulatives for $3. Apps that teach patterning and give instant feedback, allowing Scout Kid to shift and experiment with arrangements. Movies that use music, visual feedback, and story to teach all the phonics sounds in two days, instead of weeks and weeks of phonics flashcards. Apps that teach coding through play. The chance to get hands-on with abstract concepts that are hard to make concrete in the real world.

8) Screen time saves parental sanity.

Look, I get the fear and guilt. It’s easy to lean on screen time when you don’t have the energy or the patience, and that’s not always healthy. Sometimes we need to develop our own patience and our kids’ patience. Sometimes we need to invest more in face-to-face time instead of easy solutions. Sometimes we need to let kids be bored so they get creative about keeping busy.

But sometimes screen time is a great compromise. Sometimes your three-year-old stayed up late every night of the weekend, but it’s four o’clock and you can’t put him to bed yet so you use a movie to give him downtime and keep him away from situations where his immature emotions plus exhaustion are just going to keep creating friction. Sometimes you and your partner need to invest in each other and Curious George makes a good babysitter for an hour on Sunday morning. Sometimes convenience is good, if there’s other things that you also need to invest in– other people, yourself, your partner, one kid who’s particularly needy right now, your relationship with God. If my three-year-old watches a movie sometimes and sees me reading the Bible or helping a friend or putting energy into a special project, than I’m happy.

Balance. You know?

Toddler Tuesdays: Leapfrog Letter Factory

As we started working our way through School Sparks, I realized that before we could do the letters section, Scout Kid needed some serious phonics help. He knows his letters backwards, uppercase and lowercase, can write them all with minimal help, and has a few sight words, but he really only knew a handful of the phonics sounds despite, I thought, me being pretty regular about talking about them.
I got this movie on the recommendation of a friend— she used it for her kids in the past and apparently it works like magic for teaching kids phonics sounds. Since I am all about education in the form of magic, I bought it and, yep! It’s magic! Scout Kid went from basically not knowing more than a few letter sounds to knowing them all in two days! The video doesn’t cover long vowels, alternate sounds (such as for c, g), or digraphs, but it’s a good start and Scout Kid found it effortless and engaging.
Find it on Amazon for $15: Leapfrog: Letter Factory (link through my Amazon Affiliates account).

Toddler Tuesdays: School Sparks Preschool Worksheets

Hi guys! Sorry for the radio silence. Life and stuff, you know the drill. So! I’m currently in the backcountry of Georgia for work, and we don’t have much in the way of school or craft supplies. Scout Kid was getting a lot of mileage out of colouring the Shake N’ Steak hats we got, but I thought maybe something a little more challenging was in order. Did some browsing on Amazon and came up with this lovely workbook, School Sparks. It’s got 450 tear-out pages of worksheets in fine motor control, numeracy and early math, letter recognition, writing, visual discrimination, all the good stuff.

Scout Kid has been eating it up, doing a few pages in each ‘subject’, if you will, every morning while Feral Kid naps. It’s interesting to see where, as a newly-minted three year old, the sheets are too easy (visual discrimination is totally unchallenging for him) and where they are too hard (mazes are still tough, can’t really do initial phonics sounds or rhyming words at all. He outright tells me he has no idea what I’m talking about when I try to explain the concept of initial sounds.) It gives me an idea of where to focus our work going forward– on which note, anybody have a good phonics app/game/workbook to recommend?

School Sparks also has a website with printable worksheets. FYI, the link is currently listing the book for $300 used, but I paid $18 used here in the States, so maybe this is not a good time to buy through my Amazon Affiliates link?

Language: Lingu Pinguin App

You see a lot of flak directed at screentime for kids, but there’s one thing screens can do that I can’t do: provide my children with language instruction in a native accent. Whether it’s sign language or French (both of which I am teaching Scout Kid), my clumsy, slow translations can’t measure up to the fluidity and accuracy of a recorded voice.

The Lingu Pinguin app is just an introduction, providing a gateway for us to talk about the different languages people use (we currently have a French intern student working on our farm and Scout Kid was asking me today, “Gus learning to speak French?”, so we talked about how he lived in a country where everyone speaks French, and how his mummy and daddy talked French to him from the time he was a little baby, just like we speak English to Scout Kid.) The app is simple and attractive, and features several different screens with a theme (Animals, Toys, Nature, etc.) The different objects can be touched and respond with a narrator saying their name in French, and a little animation. The game also features a multiple choice quiz to practice. $1.99 for iPad and iPhone.

Homeschooling: Colour Mixing


Yesterday’s activity was a quick study in colour mixing. It wasn’t really the day (Mondays are meant to be for English, which still sounds like a really pompous thing to do with a two-year-old, but whatever: English, we read Huckle and Lowly. Anyways. Tangent.)

For this activity I made some homemade paint from a recipe I’m not going to link because it wasn’t that good. I think I’m going to go with boughten paint in future, toxic or no, because I’m not prepared to sacrifice all my food colouring in an effort to get true red so we can do a proper colour mixing exercise. What we did:
-Watched this video on the colour wheel. I was pleased to find this, so simple and slow.
-Mixed up some flour/cornstarch paint and explained how he could mix different colours to make new ones.
-Let him at it! You will see from left to right that he made some beautiful muddy colours with my original neons. He also experimented with dripping paint all over the place and making letters (his U is in the right-hand picture). And painted a dirtbike and a trail for it. A good day’s work.

Homeschooling: Canadian Geography

We’ve begun a very informal brand of preschool homeschool in which I have designated each weekday two subjects and if we have time, I come up with a quick activity related to that subject for while Feral Kid is napping. Tuesdays are for History/Geography and Phys. Ed (because it’s normally our swimming day; I want to make it our skating day in the wintertime.)

Today we did an introduction to the provinces of Canada. We spent about an hour on this (guided by Scout Kid’s interest) and did the following:
-Colouring maps of Canada, including drawing Scout Kid’s house and Grandmommy’s house, not to scale.
-Singing a song of the provinces that my mum invented for us years ago, slightly modified to fit in Nunavut because when I was your age there was no Nunavut. I might make a video of Scout Kid and I singing it sometime, once he learns to actually say the words instead of humming along in nonsense-language.
-Reading Paddle-to-the-Sea and tracing his route along the maps we had coloured.
-Zooming in and out on the satellite view of Canada on Google Maps. We talked about how the different colours meant water, trees, rocks, snow, mountains, and fields, and I showed him our house, and Northern Canada, and Hudson Bay and the Rocky Mountains.

*Disclosure: book link through my Amazon Associates account.