The other day my neighbors visited and were telling me about an App they are creating for 3-8 year olds. They wanted to know if my children used Apps and what I thought. So, I told them what I thought. I don’t believe that any child benefits from using an App, that Apps can not compare to digging in the dirt, and that everything I have read is clear that it is not good for kids. In our home we do not have television, or let the boys play with our cell phones, or use the computer. They occasionally watch a DVD but that is rare and they often don’t want to. Instead they spend time creating their own play. They are little masters of creativity writing a zillion fantasy stories each day. They dig up worms, touch frogs, feed chickens, climb rocks, swim in the lake, walk the dog, build their own toys! They ask me questions about everything completely absorbed with its workings. This is the way it should be. I know this in my soul. Children are not meant to sit at computer screens. During the conversation (and I do believe my neighbors mean well) I said this. After, I thought about it some more. Actually I dwelled on WHY it is so bad for children. What is it that really makes the real world different? The real world informs the senses. If you touch cold soil your sense of touch is telling you it is cold, grainy, damp, lumpy. If you pick up a rock and drop it you learn about the law of gravity. If it falls on your toe you learn about cause and effect and heaviness and pain. You smell things in the real world. The autumn leaves, rain on hot driveway, the smell of the chicken coop, freshly cut grass, your Mama’s cooking. In the real world sounds are more complete. They are more complicated. Some sound effects are not even actual sounds such as a “woosh”. With sound effects our ears make a short cut to complete them and when children are hearing a sound for the first time they have no short cuts so their first experience of a sound in not an actual sound. Think of a monkey sound we have all heard on an App. No one would think that was a real monkey sound except for a child. We didn’t grow up learning from computers. We have no idea how this will effect children. Take social skills for example. When someone is looking at a computer screen they are not looking at a face. They are not learning non-verbal cues which these days so many kids are lacking. They are not learning empathy. Even if something on the screen reacts this is not real. It can not possible tap into true human emotions. It also desensitizes people. Think of how many murders we have seen in a movie and we don’t even flinch. Yeah, your little child (hopefully) is not watching that but they are still shocked by things in kids movies until they are no longer as if the happening is of no importance. There is also the question of attention problems. According to the study Television and Video Game Exposure and The Development Of Attention Problems by Swing, Gentile, Anderson, and Walsh exposure to TV and video games was associated with greater attention problems. Quite frankly they are over stimulating our children in unhealthy ways and not providing actual real life sensory stimulation. Sensory stimulation is vitally important to development. When a child is sitting in the same position for hours over a screen they are not getting much vestibular (movement) or proprioceptive stimulation. These give us information from our muscles and joints and teach our brain to identify where we are in space. Have I mentioned the carbon footprint of all these screens? It’s HUGE! So after breaking this all down it is pretty clear to my why I am doing what I am doing in my home with my children. We will continue to swing, and dig, and create. It will be simple and wholesome. I believe they will be better off for it.
I am currently in the process of reading both Simplicity Parenting Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids and Planting Seeds Practicing Mindfulness With Children. I am continually amazed at how complimentary the reading and information I find is. Today I have been thinking about how all we have are moments in time. That the big picture of our lives is just the compilation/combination of these. Simplicity Parenting talks about how sped up peoples lives are today and the negative effect it has on children. I can say from my own experience that it was very hard to slow down after the birth of my first son. I was used to working full time plus and literally running daily. After he was born I felt like I was going stir crazy. I loved having my baby but I had a hard time just being with him. There was a constant need to feel like I was accomplishing something. Anything other than housework! Planting Seeds talks about how to practice mindfulness and ways to introduce it to children. Sometimes I think we should all just read children’s books and we would understand life so much better My family now takes a moment before meals to light a candle, hold hands, and say something we are thankful for that day. Today my boys and I spent a lot of time outside. It is the beginning of autumn here and beautiful out. I have always taken them outside and explored the natural world but today I did it with more reverence. While on a run with my youngest we stopped to look at a wooly bear caterpillar. He loves The Very Hungary Caterpillar so I thought what a great teaching/connecting moment. We picked the caterpillar up on a leaf, touched and looked at it, then set it gently on the side of the road. My son was completely in the moment and so was I. My run could wait until we had that moment. Later we discovered a cool mushroom and touched some frogs. For my little one it was the first time he had touched a frog. The moment was priceless. I wish that I could capture these moments and take them out whenever I wanted. But, even pictures can’t accurately hold on to them. They must be experienced, felt, lived. It is also important to remember the moments in which we instruct our children. I have struggled with recognizing the need to slow down when explaining something to my older son. I forget that he is learning all things for the first time. Something that is so rote for me like washing my hands needs to be explained slowly. It is much easier to do this if I am focused on the moment. He surely needs to be to learn it but if I am not why would he? The psychologist Lev Vygotsky talked about The Zone Of Proximal Development. This is the time in which a child is ready to learn something new. It is no longer too hard. They may need a little or a lot of help and it may take several times of instruction and practice but they can now learn the task. This is a fantastic time to recognize the need for and be in the moment. As I continue to parent my children I will try every day to remember at least once to be in the moment. When I teach them I will try to do it with my complete attention. When I play with them I will let the moment lead us. Often the most joyful things are accidentally discovered when we are just being.
When I was 15 I stopped believing in God. It just didn’t make sense anymore. So for the past (I’m dating myself here) 18 years I have been Godless. Since the births of my boys I have gradually come to recognize my own need for some kind of faith. Something to help me navigate the anxieties of parenthood. I’ve looked into Buddhism but it doesn’t feel completely right and I can’t go back to being a Christian. In April my 96-year-old grandfather died. My children were close to him visiting almost daily. My then 3-year-old began asking big questions about death and God. He has been to church with my father on a few occasions. I found out that I don’t know exactly how to answer his questions or when I do if I am answering them well. I give him basic replies such as “we go back to the Earth” but it only fuels more questions in his brilliant, inquisitive little mind. For example, we were walking along one day and he suddenly asked me “Is God watching us now?”. I didn’t know and told him as much. I’ve started reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds Practicing Mindfulness With Young Children. I thought this could be a starting place. It has some beautiful mindfulness practices and we have incorporated a few into our days. We have also decided to try going to a local Unitarian Universalist Church. I am hoping that we will be able to take morals from various practices, give the boys an opportunity to choose a faith if they wish, and find a way to give meaning and purpose to the chaos of life. It is difficult for me to talk about God because in my mind that traditional God doesn’t exist. I do think I may be willing to accept God as more of a concept of flow, balance, and divine purpose. Hopefully the structure of the Unitarian Universalist Church can pull this together for our family. And I wonder how do other Godless parents deal with this?
Always Wanting Mama’s Attention
It recently occurred to me how addictive it is to play with your parents. For kids I mean not so much 30 something’s. I have been struggling over the frustration of my four year old always wanting my attention. He does this to the point of seeking out negative attention on a regular basis. It makes me CRAZY. Or should I say it did. It intensified after his brother was born. Of course he was also almost three. We started out ok. He was somewhat accepting that I couldn’t give him my full attention. However, after a lot of “Mama play with me”, replied with “Not right now” or “In a minute” or “I’m nursing right now” he began climbing on me every chance he could get. This is very frustrating when you are trying to hold a newborn. I put his brother down as much as I could and tried to play but it was difficult. There was little time for all the things one needs to complete during a day. For example, everyone needs to be fed at least three times each day. Sometimes you can skimp on things like breakfast but cereal for lunch and supper on the other hand is usually not ok. Meals involve preparation, cooking time, and clean up. And let’s not forget the actual grocery shopping but that’s for another article. All of which take time away from mama’s attention. So how does a three year old get mama’s attention? He pokes the dog, he throws the recently folded (painstakingly folded) laundry about, he takes the baby’s Sippy and shows him how to shake the water out of it, and throws his food. He refuses to eat or brush his teeth running maniacally in the other direction with a laugh that makes you grit your teeth then go in the bathroom for a mama time out. And while you’re in the bathroom (the three seconds you’re in there) he pounds on the door screaming your name. So you squeeze a towel and scream in to it. Then come out, calmly, and say “We don’t yell.” I came to a point in my own process of recognizing that what I was doing was not working. There are people out there who have a relatively smooth transition from one to two kids. I decided I needed to find out how to do this better. So I have begun reading everything that resonates with me around compassionate, loving parenting. This has been in the form of books and blogs. In all this reading I have found the answer which was actually very simple and yet highly complex. Children need to be held in high regard, they need to be included in the daily housework, they need to be lovingly told “no” and have limits set for things that go against the house morals, they need to be outside everyday using their bodies, they need to be understood from their own little perspective, and they need to be played with too. So while pondering this all, as I have been for many weeks now, I began remembering what it was like to be a kid. I remembered playing hide and seek with my parents and how AWESOME it was. I don’t remember how old my brother and I were but I do remember my mother hiding under the blanket in his crib. Even my dad couldn’t find her. When she revealed herself my parents laugh was so genuine I smile thinking of it. These are the memories I cherish. These are the memories our children will cherish. My son is not going to suddenly stop trying to get my attention but my perspective has changed and that will make all the difference.