Category Archives: Learning, Play & Education

Religion in Daycare and the recent changes in Quebec

On Facebook the other day (yes, amoment2think has its own Facebook page!) I shared an article via PhdinParenting (which I believe Annie wrote). It is about a recent announcement from the provincial government of Quebec that they will no longer provide subsidies for daycare’s which provide religious instruction. Here is an other article about the issue via the National Post to take a look at: Quebec Toddlers Can See Religious Symbols but Can’t Have them Explained. Take a read and then head back here.

So, as I mentioned on Facebook, I have been puzzling my thoughts on this all week. First some background. Quebec has a publicly subsidized daycare program, unlike the rest of the Canadian provinces. Other Canadian provinces subsidize some proportion of low income households, but does not guarantee $7/day daycare for all like Quebec does. (I’m jealous!) Also, many provinces provide some financial support to some religious primary and secondary schools via separate school board systems. (See some information via Wikipedia here.) Alberta has a “Public”, “Separate” (aka Catholic) and a “Charter” school system, all which receive some public funding. I know when we vote we indicate if we support the public or separate school system and I assume this has an impact on funding. This article via CBC is a great overview to the issues. Obviously, this is a much much bigger issue. And one that has been going on for a very long time. This change in policy in Quebec is just a catalyst to bring it all up again. Not to mention that Quebec has a unique culture and language and there are often debates there about culture, religion, language and the role of government.

Here are the issues as I see it:

1) Separation of Church and State

In theory, there is suppose to be a separation of Church and State. But in reality, that is not the case. Based on the articles I read in doing a bit of research into this issue, the Canadian Constitution does provide provisions for Catholic school boards in some Canadian provinces. Not to mention the non-secular experience of many students in Public primary and secondary schools across North America. (This post from Parenting Is Political about just that issue is very much worth a read.)

The question remains, to what extend should the government be funding education which is linked to religious instruction? Particularly if that funding funds some religious denominations and not others.

2) Tax dollars funding of Religious instruction

Further to that point, the natural extension is that if the government is funding religious education then, we, as tax payers are funding religious education. And, as I discussed in this post, there is a pretty negative view of religion in general in much of our society right now. So if you happen to be someone who believes that religion is all indoctrination and brainwashing- then reasonably you may be pretty upset that your tax dollars go to fund that. Or, if you are comfortable with religion, but question the teaching of it to children, preferring that religious education wait until they can make their own decisions; or prefer that if children are to be taught religion that they be taught a wide range of religions in a neutral manner and have the opportunity to make their own decisions about that information; again, this use of tax dollars may be concerning. If, on the other hand, you believe that religion is central to some peoples lives and/or cultural heritage or if you tend to be very supportive of religious education, you might be more inclined to not take issue with that use of your tax dollars.

3) Accommodation of Diversity

The next issue is to what extent should our government support diversity when it comes to religious education. What I think is interesting about the Quebec daycare case is that it involves daycare’s which are run by a diversity of religious organizations; Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant. Unlike the Catholic primary and secondary school issue, where only one religious group is being supported in the education system, these daycare’s represent a diversity of religious organizations. Is allowing religious education to be a part of (very) early childhood education part of the reasonable accommodation of diversity? Particularly when all religions are welcome to be represented, so long as they have enough families who want to enroll their children in the program.

4) Parental Choice in how their children should be educated

So what is wrong with parents choosing to send their kids to religiously affiliated daycare’s with some component of religious education? If all religions can receive public funding and parents have full choice as to where to send their child and there are lots of daycare spots which are secular as well, then what does it matter? Is it hurting anyone? What is the harm? Part of the Quebec’s government’s argument is that it negatively impacts children’s ability to integrate into Quebec society. I find this argument odd. How is understanding and learning about your families religious background having a negative impact on integration into society? Furthermore, isn’t part of the value of Canadian style multiculturalism that people here are like a mosaic. Many people retain their cultural identity while fully participating in Canadian society.

5) Societal values regarding a secular society

I think what this really comes down to is our values around a secular society. Part of what got me thinking about this issue so much is wondering if the government has any right in dictating secular education? If parents want their children to receive particular religious education as a part of their educational curriculum, who is the government to say that that is not appropriate? Is that any more appropriate then the government dictating that children should receive a particular religious education? If there are parents out there that want to send their toddlers to a Catholic/Jewish/Muslim/Protestant/Buddhist/whatever Daycare, why should the government withdraw the funding for that? And as a taxpayer, why should I have say over how an other parent wants to raise their kid? So long as there is equal access to the service…

And I know, there is the argument that if parents want their toddler in a religious daycare program then they could pay for a private one (do they have those in Quebec?) But really that just means that the rich can choose how their child is educated but the poor can’t.

I really don’t know on this one. I do believe in parents having choice. And trusting in their choice. You know what is best for your kid and I know what is best for my kid. What business does the government have in imposing secularism in our lives? At the same time, our education system, which in Quebec includes the daycare system, is the business of the government. How we educate out kids with public funds is very much the governments business, and the government has to make decisions to that effect based on the values of the society. If Quebec’s political culture is one where secularism is a core value, then perhaps it is appropriate to dictate that in the education system. Although, if that is the case, I certainly hope that goes far enough to prevent the type of non-secular activity as described by Parenting is Political— if the government is not going to let  religions provide religious education in their own daycare’s then let’s hope children from non-Christian religions do not have to feel alienated by our non-secular-secular public system. I think my major concern over all this that is should be one way or the other; either all religions have equal access to public funds for education from Daycare on to High school OR all Daycares, Primary and Secondary schools are truly secular. Or all teach a wide range of religious beliefs and practices. From my understanding, Quebec is trying to move towards all schools being truly secular. I wonder what those secular schools look like this time of year.

Shhh… don’t tell my daughter

Photo by albastrica mititica via flickr

 

This year we are keeping Christmas simple. We have always tried to keep the toys to a minimum and focus on the more simple toys. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things here and there that require a battery, but for the most part we try and focus on just having a few toys that Audrey can really use her imagination with. And also, I feel like I am constantly stepping on toys and books strewn all over the floor, so I would prefer not to add to much to her basket.

I thought I would share some of her favourite current toys are and the things that are going under the tree. Audrey will be 2 in March (Oh my!), but I think a lot of these toys are great for many ages.

Current Toy favourites:

  • simple musical instruments- a trumpet, tambourine, little toddler piano, egg shaker
  • set of small silicone bowls- ones you would get for the kitchen. She loves to stack and unstack them and also drop them from various places
  • simple wooden puzzles- I watched her remove and replace all the pieces in one of her two puzzles at least 4 times in a row the other day
  • books- really, who could go wrong with books
  • old fisher price play house- ours is from 26 years ago or so. It was a gift for my brother and my Mom gave it to us when Audrey was little. But I have seen some ‘retro’ toys come back.. some of the really simple ones from 25 years ago are great and sans-batteries
  • Deck of cards- yeah, apparently 52 pick up is a great game, not just an annoying joke

And now for part idea sharing and part shopping advice seeking. These are the things that, between the grandparents and us, will be wrapped up under the tree for Audrey. Some of them I am still on the hunt for and any tips would be appreciated!

1) Books

Replacements for some of the books she has eaten like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit and a few new ones.. mostly variations on Peter Rabbit. Audrey loves her some Beatrix Potter.

2) Lego

Audrey absolutely loves playing with Lego. Duplo (Lego’s bigger cousin) actually. She talks all the time about building towers and it is often something she asks to do. She has a small set, but the pieces always go missing. In fact we aren’t hiding Easter eggs this spring, we will go looking for Lego instead. Anyway, we can always use more Lego.

3) A Box of Crayons

Because her current box has suffered one of two fates. Half the box she has broken and the other half a box has been eaten by the dog. Time for replacement. P.S.- didn’t they use to sell those BIG GIGANTIC toddler crayons? Like Jumbo ones? Now I can only find the bigger triangle ones or those weird creepy wobbly people ones that Audrey doesn’t seem to understand how to work. Seriously, what was wrong with the jumbo ones? They were hard to break! Anyway, if anyone knows where to find them in Calgary, please comment below! I digress.

4) Playdough

Yes, I could make my own. But I didn’t. There were tubs of it for $1 eat at Superstore. So I just got those.

5) Buckles

Audrey has an unnatural obsession with buckles. One of her favourite things to do it to climb up into her chair (which we recently converted from an infant high chair to the ‘toddler’ version which is pretty much a small and tall chair so she can sit at the table but get in and out of herself) and buckle herself in. Not because she likes to be trapped, it turns out. Which kinda defeats the purpose of converting it to a toddler chair because currently she enjoys buckling herself in and then asks to get down 2 minute later just for fun. Anyway, the point is that she just likes buckles. A lot. She also will buckle up any rogue stroller straps she encounters… you’ve been warned.

So we are going to go try and find some big buckles that she can just play with. And while we are at it we will probably also try and find her some giant buttons. I could see her liking that too. She likes buttons. That being said I am not sure where to find either. I tried a GIANT craft store to no avail. But there must be somewhere where people buy these things. Maybe I need a fabric store.

6) Doll clothing

Audrey has this lovely, simple baby doll that friends of ours gave her on our last visit to the West Coast. She loves that baby doll. It came with a diaper, slippers and a towel, along with a pretend bottle of shampoo which Audrey calls ‘clean.’ Audrey loves to sit on the floor and try to clean the baby with the bottle of shampoo and then open the bottle, pretend to pour the soup out and then say “all gone?” But the baby? Baby goes mostly naked as keeping the diaper or the towel on the baby is a challenge. So I am going to look for some simple baby doll clothing.

Here is the trick- everything I have seen so far is some crazy set with a glitter pink dress, purse and locket for the baby doll. Baby doll is not going to the club. Baby doll is hanging out at home and going for occasional car trips when Audrey refuses to leave the baby at home. If Audrey doesn’t need clothing fit for glamming it up, then her doll certainly doesn’t. Where do I find more simple, reasonable doll clothing? Anyone?

7) A pair of P.J.’s

My favourite Christmas eve tradition is a new pair of PJ’s. I don’t think we did this every year, but I know as we got older I requested it. And I still do. I LOVE putting on a new pair of PJ’s to go to bed in on Christmas eve. As it is I have an unnatural obsession with comfortable PJ’s. And I plan to pass that obsession on to Audrey. So, if I can find some I like that don’t cost a fortune, I am going to get her a new pair of PJ’s for Christmas eve.

Okay, now I am excited.

Motivation and our kids

A colleague e-mailed me a link to this video a couple weeks ago. It is all about how we are really motivated. After watching this though, I started to think about how it relates to how we motivate our kids, particularly when it comes to encouraging good behaviour and discouraging bad behaviour. Take a look at the video and then let’s chat.

This video brought up a couple questions for me.

1) Is adult motivation and child motivation different?

From the perspective of someone who works in human resources and career services, I totally get this. I do believe that we are most motivated to do things when we feel a purpose and have the autonomy to make our own choices. We feel good when we are good at something and can demonstrate mastery over a skill.

Are our children motivated in the same way? I tend to think they are. I have seen the pride in Audrey’s eyes when she masters a new skill. That pride is totally internal, it doesn’t come from the expectation that she will be rewarded. Anyone who has a toddler probably is very familiar with the phrase “I do it”. They want autonomy and they want it now. They want to make their own choices, assert their will and have control over their world. I believe sometimes kids ‘get’ purpose more then adults do. We get lost in all the day to day figuring out our lives making ends meet stuff. Toddlers in particular, seem to see life for what it really is; get basic needs met, connect with the world, learn, love and have fun. So I can see these three basic principles of motivation at work.

2) How does this related to how we parent?

One of the idea’s this video challenges is the notion that if we reward good behaviour you will get more good behaviour. This is a key parenting principle that many, many of us are operating on. We are told to ignore the bad behaviour and focus on rewarding the good behaviour. We praise our children a lot. I am not saying that approach is wrong, but does it work?

This video suggests that rewards work when they are exercising a ‘mechanical skill’ but as soon as they cross over into ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’ then a larger reward only leads to poorer performance. And really, for a toddler for example, doesn’t everything require cognitive skill? I mean, they are learning everything from scratch… you can see in their efforts them puzzling through what in 2 weeks will then become a ‘mechanical skill.’

At the same time, the video does suggest that for things where we want someone to “follow along and get the right answer” and for “following rules” the reward system does work. This suggests to me that there are times and in some circumstances where it make sense to reward good behaviour. However, I think the implication is that it has to be very clear, straight forward and linear. When we are asking our child, for example, to make decisions based on more complex set of information and circumstances, it crosses over into the cognitive skill piece and rewards may not work. It is better then, in those circumstances, to support them to instead have the autonomy, mastery and purpose to make better decisions? Encouraging independence, providing choice and supporting learning of values is going to have a greater impact then just rewards.

Perhaps the idea in this video about adults and pay at work, the concept that you need to pay enough to take the issue of money off the table, could also be applied to kids. Perhaps we need to praise enough to get the issue of praise off the table. What I mean by that is that every parent wants their kid to know that they are loved, appreciated, and that we are proud of them. I just can’t help but blurt out a praise when Audrey does something new and really wonderful. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I know there has been a lot of criticism lately about over-praising. And I do think it is true that praising constantly for every little thing can cause a child to be dependent on praise for validation and then make life pretty hard when, as they grow up, that praise fades away. (Many millennial site that lack of praise at work is a major cause of dissatisfaction.) Internal motivation is where it is at. But I do think we also all deeply want to feel recognized and valued. It is all about balance.

I also find it interesting that what motivates adults is also what many of us strive to support our children in developing. “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose”. I believe many of us feel that if we can encourage our children to be able to take leadership over their lives, master a certain number of skills and interests and then have purpose in their life, then our child will be successful. Looking at it from a point of those being the key factors that motivate adults seems to back that goal up as being a good one to strive for.

Really, this is all well and good in theory. But we all know that it isn’t so easy in practice. When you are trying to motivate your screaming kid to go to bed or get out of the house in the morning, I am not sure how much this theoretical stuff will help. You do what you have to do and what seems to work best. I don’t know how much you can get a toddler to understand the purpose when it comes to leaving the house in the morning. And sure they might be proud of themselves over having some autonomy and mastery over the process, but if that means you are a hour late for work because they are trying to do it their way… well… that just isn’t going to work either. So grain of salt and all….

I don’t really have any clear conclusions about this. It’s not like watching this video is going to change how I parent… but it is interesting to think about and do I think it brings up some good points to consider.

Free Range versus Highly Engaged Parenthood: The Debate goes on

Via Flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography, D. Sharon Pruitt

This is not a new debate. Not on this blog and not in the world of parenting. But it rages on none the less. And being a topic that is of great interest to me, I am content to bring it up and discuss it over and over again. The last time we talked around this issue was a ControverSunday topic. Check it out here.

This time, I am responding to this article, “Modern Parenting; If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?” by Katie Roiphe. Go read it, I will wait.

Her point is this, there is a tendency in modern parenting whereby parents are highly involved in their children’s lives. (Not all parents, but many). This high involvement seems to include parents going to great effort to ‘control and perfect’ the child and the environment the child grows up in. It is in part a response to perceived and/or real risk, both of which exist. And it is in part a response to try and give our kids a ‘head start’ at success. There many many examples of things that parents now do that were not common place 30-50 years ago. Playing classical music to your baby with earphones before they are even born. DVD’s, toys and flashcards promising to make your baby capable of things not taught until preschool. Enrollment in a wide wide range of activities and programs to try and ’round out’ your child with art, music, sports, ect. Advanced education programs promising to get your high school kid a head start at university.

And then there are the more subtle changes. Closer supervision. “Showing” babies how to play. Doing homework ‘with’ your child. Parents calling up University professors to argue their kids mark. Did you know that some employers are now sending an information package to the parents of the new graduates they are sending offers of employment to, as they are recognizing that winning over the parent is key in the new grad decision.

Not all parents do this. And not all kids that experience this are anything but wonderful, engaged, warm children. But. But.

Think about the homework thing for a minute. In the article, Katie says:

“I can recall my own mother vaguely calling upstairs “Have you done your homework?” but I cannot recall her rolling up her sleeves to work side by side with me cutting out pictures of rice paddies for a project about Vietnam, or monitoring how many pages of Wuthering Heights I had read.”

Here the thing. If you are eight and your parent asks if you have done your homework and you say you have, but they don’t do it with you. You haven’t done your homework. You go to school and you fail a test. You have just learned there is a consequence to your action. Then the next time you study and do your homework, and you get a B. You have just learned that you can do it. You motivated yourself and you accomplished something. You feel proud of yourself.

But if every time you do your homework your parent sits down with you a monitors to see if you have it done. Answers any questions you have. Helps you through it. What happens when you go off to university and you don’t have someone to do that? No one to give you a gold sticker for finishing your homework.

Obviously, not every kid who’s parents do their homework with them is going to lack internal motivation. It is metaphor for the larger point. Our job as parents is to support our kids to live their own lives. Learn what they are passionate about. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to make decisions, make mistakes, make changes, and motivate themselves. Learn how to like themselves.

“One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analysing really making anyone happier?… Is there something reassuring in parental selfishness, in the idea that your parents have busy, mysterious lives of their own, in which they sometimes do things that are not entirely dedicated to your entertainment or improvement?”

Children have their own lives. From the time they are babies their lives are their own. And as parents, we need to have our own lives too. Living your life through your child’s accomplishments is so not a life I want to live.

“Built into this model of the perfectible child is, of course, an inevitable failure. You can’t control everything, the universe offers up rogue moments that will make your child unhappy or sick or ­broken-hearted, there will be faithless friends and failed auditions and bad teachers. The one true ­terrifying fact of bringing an innocent baby into the fallen world is that no matter how much rubber flooring you ship to the villa in the south of France, you can’t protect her from being hurt.”

All you can do is set your child up to handle that disappointment, hurt, challenge. And setting them up means letting them practice, when they are young and you can be there to give them a hug and make them cookies.

I don’t believe Katie is suggesting we should stop parenting based on what we think is best. I don’t believe she is suggesting that we shouldn’t be involved and shouldn’t do things that mitigate real risk. What I believe she is suggesting is that we remember that the perfect world and the perfect child are unobtainable and that we need to remember that children have their own lives. And live is about ups and downs. From a very early age, children can direct aspects of their own lives. Make choices. Make mistakes. Learn consequences.  She says: “It might be time to dabble in the laissez faire; to let the imagination run to art instead of art projects; to let the imperfect universe and its imperfect ­children be themselves.” Dabble. Just dabble. Sure, I can dabble.

If you haven’t read it, I would highly highly recommend reading a book call “Under Pressure”, by Carl Honore. It is a fantastic book about the high pressure that many of our parenting and educations practices put our children under. If you want to really understand this whole debate, it is a great place to start.

Denial

I knew it would come to this, eventually. I don’t know why I was pretending not to know. I mean, it always happens. It’s a cycle. Never ending.

I just didn’t thinking it would happen so soon. I’m not prepared. Life is already complicated enough.

Winter.

Okay, enough with the poetic melodrama. It is really beautiful though, isn’t it?

But seriously, what the heck am I going to do with this toddler all winter? We tried to go outside today, in the snow, and it was a total failure. We went for a quick walk and then Audrey looked up at me and said “up”. We thrive on trips to the park. Right now the part is under 2 feet of snow.

Sure, yeah, sometimes we will take her to the swimming pool or one of those coffee places where you can pay for her to play. We don’t do the library yet, because, as many of your know, destroying books is one of Audreys favourite hobbies…. going to the library would just feed this bad habit. And we have 2500 books at home. But what else is there to do with a toddler. Free, preferably.

Ideas for us? What is your favourite winter activity with toddler aged kids?

 

Books destroyed: take two

I submit for your approval two pieces of photographic evidence:

I wrote a post a number of months ago, when Audrey was probably 10 months old or so, about how my baby eats books. Want to hear something funny? That post is one of the small handful that brings people to my blog via google search terms. Ha! I guess I am not alone.

Well, Audrey isn’t a baby anymore and she doesn’t eat books anymore. But, as the evidence provided shows, she still destroys them.

Exhibit A, well we will get to that in a minute. But in Exhibit B you will see three of her favourite books she has destroyed. You may recognize one of them as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and yes, that is the THIRD copy of it she has ripped to shreads.

Tip for you new Moms out there, if you get gifted a wonderful classic baby book like 3 times and you instinct is to re-gift or return or whatever… you may want to wait a couple months to see if you child is also a book destroyer, in which case you may want to hold on to all 3 copies. On second thought, if you see an opportunity to buy like 10 copies on sale.. you might even want to consider that. Just a tip from me to you.

Also in Exhibit B you will see Audrey’s absolute favourite book de jure: Peter Rabbit. She loves her some peter and demands to take peter to bed most nights. Do you see the bit marks on the binding. Yep. She loves peter so much she gives him a little nibble as she is falling asleep. Peter is also now missing the first couple pages. She loves those pages so much she just cant help but pull them out.

And lastly, in Exhibit B, you will see Pancake, Pancake by Eric Carle. LOVE this book, as it goes through all the ingredients to make a pancake and has Jack actually doing the work to make them (cut the wheat, mill the flour, milk the cow, ect.) before he can eat his morning pancake. Audrey asks for this book by name.

She insisted it go with her in the car the other day. Husband and I were sitting in the front seat when we heard “rip rip” and saw that Audrey had loved that book to shreds too, but removing the first couple pages and then crumpling them up.

P.S. Replacement books are on her Christmas list.

Okay, so the toddler destroys books. I mean she love books, but she also destroys them. Ahh, toddlerhood.

So now lets talk about Exhibit A. (Really I should have made this Exhibit B, but I uploaded weird and I am too lazy to fix it.) Anyway. Audrey likes to read books a lot. And while sometimes we do get tired of reading the same book to her 25000 times a day, we are all for encouraging her love of reading. Soon enough she will only read teenager magazines (online I guess) and twitter feeds. BUT. We have a couple books which for now, are being taken out of the rotation. Because reading them makes me (and husband) want to poke our eyes with a stick.

(Mom, don’t take offense, I think you bought most of them.) Here is the thing, it is hard to ‘read’ a book with just pictures and the accompanying sounds. There is no plot line. No sentences. I just can’t do the funny noises anymore and still keep my sanity. Nor can I read a book that asks you to put cheerios in spots without a pile of cheerios to fulfill the instructions. “Some of the leopards are missing spots, can you help?” NO!!

So they are banned. Because I can. I know, I am a mean Mom.

Thoughts on Adult Education

Have a mentioned that I am taking classes? I know, all kinds of crazy over here. A perk of working on a university campus is that I have course fees as a part of my benefits package. So I thought, what the hell?

I am taking a Human Resources certificate program that will allow me to apply to get a Certified Human Resources Professional designation. Sounds good right?

I was on my way home from class the other night. Waiting at the bus stop. It was like a flash back to ten years ago when I started my undergraduate degree. And while I was waiting there I over heard a student complaining to a friend about a mid term test grade she received. It went a little something like this: ‘I can not believe they gave me a D+. My instructor said I did great on one part of the test. But then, in the written section I lost all the marks because I didn’t number each question and instead answered it in paragraph form. My teacher didn’t even read it, they just gave me no marks because they couldn’t be bothered to go through and read to see I had all the answers there.”

Here is the crappy thing about university/continuing education level teaching- sometimes it becomes more about the marks then the learning. It is certainly possible that this student didn’t read the instructions and it clearly said to answer each question in point form. And it is even more possible that the instructor has a full course load and no teaching assistant and 150 students in each class and there is no way they could possibly read each students exam if they all wrote it in paragraph form.

But it doesn’t really matter does it? This conversation said something to me about how adult education works. Check the boxes. Get the marks. Define the terms. Get the grade. Learning is not always about actually learning.

The course I am taking is interesting. It is about how people behave and function in organizations, something I find fascinating. Our instructor has a background in adult learning and she fills the class with lots of discussion and group activity. Which is valuable.

But we still have that definition dense, theory thick, no application of theory $125 text book that we have to read 3 chapters a week to keep up with the condensed nature of this course.  I am sorry, I find so little value in that. The value of education is in critical thinking, application and developing skills. But courses so often focus on learning stuff… not what to do with that stuff.

And yet these course and certificates look good on a resume. So we do them.

That is not to say there isn’t something valuable about adult education. There is. But it would be a lot more valuable in my opinion if the course content was boiled down, skill focused and to the point. Don’t overwhelm us with terms to memorize and theories to recall. Help us apply, think and question.

If your community isn’t safe, make it safer

Look look! An other post generated based on the conversation in the comments of the last post! I am on a role.

So the jury is in and apparently I am reckless/neglectful nuts for being willing to leave my daughter (when she is school aged, which she is currently not) alone in a nearby park for a day. FWIW, I’d still do it.

In the course of the conversation I realized something though- part of the reason that I feel comfortable with that idea is because a) I did it as a kid and b) I don’t have any personal direct experience with anything bad happening that would make me more sensitive to the risks of doing so. Oh and one other teeny tiny thing. I live in a very safe and connected community.

When I say community I do not just mean neighbourhood. I mean Community, with a capital C. Like, as in, a sense of community. And whether you live somewhere that has that, in my opinion, can make a big difference to if you feel comfortable with the idea of your kid being outside of eye sight.

We are incredibly lucky to live in the neighbourhood I grew up in. What does that mean? Well, it means that I know a good 40% of the people on my block. And then I know a couple down the street and a couple a few blocks over. When Audrey is old enough and I let her head to the park on her own, I know I won’t be the only one watching out for her. I know all the neighbour hood kids that play outside every chance they get; they know her and will be looking out for her. I also know that the elderly neighbour down the street can see the park from her front window and that one of my neighbours teenage daughters walks home from the bus by going through the park. I know people who drive by and walk through the park all the time. Even those I don’t know by name, I know by face. I know all the other parents on the block who also let their kids play without direct adult supervision would be looking over from their windows every once in a while to check on the kids. As would I be. We can’t all see the whole park, but we can each see a part. We have a community. And boy, does that make things seem a heck of a lot safer. I would also argue that doesn’t just seem safer. It is safer.

I know that is not something everyone has. I probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable letting my kid play alone in a park in a completely new neighbour hood where I didn’t know anyone.

You know what bothers me? We think everyone we don’t know is out to get us or hurt our kids. We think around every corner there is Danger! We are trained by the media to be afraid of everyone and everything. Everything has warning labels. Every stranger is ‘bad’. This fear, I feel, is part of the reason that so many places don’t have a sense of community. Apart from the tendency to live in spaced out suburbs, we live in isolation because we fear each other. We are suspicious of each other. We look out our windows at every ‘weird’ sound. We don’t like it when a new car drives up and parks. We are scared. That ‘get to know your neighbour’ idea is lost. Or at least less common and an eroded concept. And when we aren’t afraid, we are indifferent. Too busy doing our own thing in our busy lives to make the effort to connect. I am guilty of that. I think we all are.

In many cases, our kids force us out of that. I don’t know about you, but I have talked to more strangers having a kid then I ever did before she was born. (Although, I have always been a stranger talker and been know to chat with anyone at the bus stop from the time I started taking public transit to school when I was in Junior high. That’s right- gasp- public transit.) Strangers with kids are safe. I am sure there are exceptions, but I don’t fear anyone I meet a the park with their toddler.

My point is that being a parent gives us a unique opportunity. Which is totally open to non-parents, but can be made easier by the kinship of parenting. Here is my suggestion to make your community safer: Get to know your neighbours. Get to know the family down the street. Get to know the little old lady one block over and offer to help her with her yard work. Get involved with your community association. If we build community and we know each other, the world becomes a lot safer. We could all use more people looking out for us and our kids.

And then get your (school aged) kid to gather up all their neighbour hood friends and go over to the park alone to play. And all the parents can keep an eye through the windows and trust that there are enough eyes to give the kids some freedom to explore. Or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, get all the parents together and all go with them over to the park and chat while they play. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

What about you? Do you live in a Community? Do you think it makes your neighbour hood safer?

ControverSunday: To protect or not to protect

Welcome to ControverSunday all!

First off, I have to tell you all that Amber over at Strocel.com wrote a great post earlier this week, that while she didn’t brand official as ControverSunday (though she is welcome to), is on exactly our topic this week. So check it out.

Okay, here is the low down. Everyone is welcome to join. Just write up a post re: protection versus acceptable risk (see the topic post for more details). Grab your handy dandy badge from Accidents. And come back here to put your link in the comments so I can link you up in the post. And you can do that today, tomorrow or whenever this week.

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Ramble Ramble

Altered Sky

You know that parent at the playground who is letting their kid climb to what seems to be heights inappropriate for the age of the child? That’s me. (Wave and say hello when you see me).

That’s probably not totally true. Maybe some days more then others. My husband is likely to let Audrey climb even higher. But I still feel like I am more willing to let Audrey try things she may not be ready for on the playground then others.

Maybe I am paranoid, but sometimes I think I see a look in the other parents eyes that either they think I am being neglectful and not caring, or I am being reckless and don’t know what I am doing. Truth be told, as much as I would like to be more confident in my parenting, when I see those looks I tend to give in and hover a bit more closely.

But it is not just because of the looks I get from others. I find myself constantly battling two parental instincts. One is to let Audrey explore, make mistakes and learn, and the other is to keep her safe. You see, I think we have two main jobs as parents: keeping our kids healthy/providing for their needs and teaching them to not need us. And I think those two things often come into conflict; at least for me they do.

I am all for reasonable safety measures. There is no need to be reckless. Car Seats, not leaving kids unattended in the bath tub, holding hands while crossing the road, knowing where my child is; these are all good things. I appreciate how things have changed in the last 50 years (at least based on my unscientific observations about parenting in the 1960’s via Mad Men). We have done a lot of things to keep kids safer. Safer cars, homes, schools, playgrounds. Warning labels, less chocking hazards and guidelines. We ‘baby proof’ our homes.

But I think it has gone too far. (Maybe not with the peanut ban in schools; I hear the critiques of my last post that why should one kid be at serious risk so a few others can have their favorite sandwich.) But I do think we don’t give our kids the opportunity to learn, explore and build confidence because we are so afraid to keep them on anything but a short rope. We don’t just try and protect them from physical harm, we try to protect them from any emotional struggles. We try to protect them from the feeling of someone not liking them, or not be included, or not getting an A. Normal things that happen to us emotionally throughout our lives that we need to experience.

One good example is toddler play areas. My instinct is to step back and let Audrey do her thing. But I see other parents hovering around their kids and apologizing to me when their kid touches mine. Or plays in the same space as her. Or reaches for the same toy. Or whatever. Really? Why?

We spend a lot of our time at outdoor parks where, more often then not, sadly, we are the only ones there. We go to the indoor play areas for Audrey to be able to interact with other kids. And my feeling is that we should step back and let them interact and learn about socializing. That means not stepping in unless someone is at risk for actually getting hurt. (And I don’t mean ‘hurt’ like when a toddler pats an other toddler a little to hard. I mean actual hurt- like enough to leave a mark.)

I don’t care if your kid hits mine. Or if they fight over a toy. Or if they have to, I don’t know, actually work something out themselves. I want her to learn about interacting with others. Certainly I would step in if I saw her being unkind to an other child and explain that it is not nice behaviour. But the line at which we step in needs to move back a bit, in my opinion.

And I know this is just the beginning. The beginning of seeing that stereotypical ‘hellicopter parent’. I don’t want to be that parent. I would rather my kid skin her knee riding a bike on her own then have me right there all the time making sure she doesn’t fall.

Would I take my school aged kid to the park and leave them there for the day, a la Free Range parenting? Hells Yes.

Would I let my middle school aged kid take public transit to school? Hells Yes.

Would I let my teenager walk through the ‘bad part of town’? Hells Yes.

Our kids need to learn how to protect themselves. How are they to do that when we suffocate them with rules and over protection?

I don’t know. It is not a black and white subject for me. It is all shades of gray. I want to keep my kid safe, for sure. But when I see the confidence in her eyes when she does something that I wasn’t sure I should ‘let’ her try to do, Wow. She knows she can accomplish something, even if it is difficult.

I just wish we weren’t so afraid. We hear all these awful things that happen in the news and we panic. We don’t want our kids to eat Halloween candy for fear of poising. Even though every year there is a ‘feature story’ on the news about how poison in Halloween candy is pretty much a myth; the only kids to ever be poisoned that way were poisoned by a family member or family friend. Tragic, none the less. But not the same. We are worries about our kids being kidnapped. Which does tragically happen. But again, usually by someone the kid knows, not a stranger. Is our kid really any safer if we drive them to school every day instead of letting them walk?

You see, you can’t stop every possible bad thing for happening. You can try to take measures to keep kids safe, like car seats and teaching them about strangers. But you can’t keep them in a bubble. Nor should you. A child who is sheltered and protected their whole life.. they struggle as an adult, because they don’t know how to make good choices. They don’t know how to assess risk.

It sucks being a parent with all these topics of internal conflict. It sucks. And I can certainly understand that we have different tolerances for different amounts or types of risk. But I also think we have to keep our eye on the goal; a kid who is confident, makes good decisions, knows they can get back up again when they fall down. One that can assess a situation and figure out for themselves if it is safe. And one that knows that their parents will always be there when they need them, but that doesn’t really need them.

Back to School Insanity

(Warning, this post is half rant and half rambling train of thought. Don’t mind me, its September.)

So I recently had lunch with some friends and colleagues. And the discussion was all about ‘Back to School.’ As a toddler parent I don’t yet have to worry about ‘back to school’. Nothing changes in our routine between August and September. (Except that my job is NUTS in September… so I go a little crazy.)

But when I started hearing some of the ridiculousness of back to school these days, Wow. Just wow. What are we (as a society) nuts?

Speaking of nuts, I will start with the nuts thing. I get that there are kids seriously allergic to nuts. And it is perfectly reasonable for a classroom to stay nut free if there is such a kid. But it seems that the nut free rule is now 100% across the board, regardless if there is a kid with a nut allergy in the class. ??? I don’t know everyone, I have mixed feelings about this.

I get it, I get that peanut allergies are serious stuff. And if my kid had a sever nut allergy I would be pushing for a nut free environment too.  But these kids are not going to be able to live in a bubble forever. Isn’t it better to teach the kid with the allergies how to protect themselves and be careful, rather then have all the other kids parents searching the supermarket for nut free granola bars that are actually healthy?

I realized from talking to a parent who’s kid is going into pre-school, that of course, the healthier versions of granola bars are made by smaller companies and the smaller companies can’t afford to have special ‘nut free’ facilities… so the ‘nut free’ granola bars also tend to be the ones super high in sugar and fat. Awesome. Also, check out this post a while back from Ask Moxie.. re: pre-packaged food being preferred in Daycares over healthy homemade options, because they can know what is in pre-packaged and not in the homemade (I am guessing you can’t guarantee your kitchen is ‘nut free’.) How crazy is that? Discouraging home made healthy food for prepackaged stuff? WTF?

That being said, PHD in Parenting posted an awesome post the other day about a great nut free healthy granola bar recipe. Check it out.

Also, I heard that they are experimenting with a treatment from peanut allergies which involves exposing kids to very very small quantities of peanuts. And I wonder, maybe if they were exposed from a young age to the tiny bit of peanut residue on a table from Sally who had peanut butter on her bagel from breakfast and then put her little un sanitized hands on the table, maybe there would be less kids with peanut allergies. But I don’t know what I am talking about.

Seriously, as if packing lunches isn’t hard enough.

And then there is the obsessive practice of labeling. Apparently you have to label everything. Sometimes twice. Clothing, pencils, glue sticks, hats, mittens, shoes, water bottles. (Do you need to label your kid too?) Why? Kids loose things. They are experts at it. And no label is going to stop that. Is labeling some attempt to stop the spread of germs by insisting that only Johnny use Johnny’s glue stick? Like that’s going to prevent an outbreak of H1N1. What are we so afraid of? And why are we so obsessive (as a society)? What am I missing?

Also. I hear you have to buy everything on a big list of stuff. And it must be the same as every other kids. So they don’t fight over it. Because that’s not a natural part of growing up and learning how to get along or anything. No wonder our kids can’t solve their own problems anymore- we try and avoid as many problems as possible for them until they leave for college. They all have to win and get a prize for everything. They all have to pass every class. They have to have their work graded in blue pen not red, because red is negative.  I don’t know about you, but I want my kid to learn that we don’t all get the same things. And we don’t all get what we want. And sometimes we have to share and sometimes someone won’t share. And sometimes someone does better then us at something. Cest la vive.

And then there is the obsessive sanitization of everything the kids touch. Amber over at Strocel.com wrote a great post about those hand sanitizers today. But really, I hear they sanitize everything. It seems to me that immune systems need practice to be strong. I am all for letting my kid roll in dirt and lick the floor- fight off those germs! I feel like right now we are producing bubble children.

I really hope what I am hearing was exaggerated for effect. Maybe they were reasonably tired of hearing me complain about toddler mid-night wake ups, food battles and temper tantrums and wanted to remind me it isn’t all fun and games as soon as they start school. I don’t know.

But if it is true, I ask, why? Why is school this label focused, supply list, same as everyone else, santized, nut free land of obsession. Like a ridiculous cocoon from real life? Am I missing something? Tell me. Set me straight.

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