Where Do They Get This Stuff? Oh Wait, I Know.

(Alternate titles to this post included, When Books Go Bad and The Bad Habits of Good Books.)

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About six months ago, I introduced The Berenstain Bears to JC. I was really excited about this for 2 reasons. One, I loved the books and videos growing up. Two, I knew I could use them to help facilitate discussions about everything from being kind to other people to visiting the dentist for the first time.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the bad habits he would pick up from Brother & Sister Bear and their friends.

For example, in The Blame Game, Brother and Sister blame each other for every broken vase, spill and accident that occurs in the Bear Family Tree House–until Mama Bears loses her cool and there is a big talk about working together to clean up instead of pointing fingers.

Sounds all warm and fuzzy, right? Well, it was until JC started imitating Brother and Sister whining. He thought it was hilarious. I did not.

Then when he realized he did not have a sibling to blame things on, he invented one. I believe I have mentioned Ansel, JC’s imaginary little brother who is the bane of my existence, before.

JC picked up obnoxious taunts and teases from Too Tall Grizzly in Double Dare. He spent a week jumping out from behind things and scaring people after we read Trick or Treat. 

It wasn’t that he wasn’t getting the moral of the stories–I know he was because we talked about them. It’s just that he was also getting the bad behavior, too.

I figure that he isn’t learning anything that isn’t typical kid behavior. And when the Bad Berenstain Bear behavior pops up, I have a lesson at the ready. And every now and then one of the many good qualities of the Bear Family will stick, and it reminds me why I started reading the books to him in the first place.

What are some surprising places your kid picked up bad habits?

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Screened In: Dealing with Screen Time and Preschoolers

I know a lot of screen-free families. I know a lot of families who have hard and fast rules about tablets, iPhones, and screen time.

We are not one of those families. That is not to say we don’t have rules. We do. But when it comes to screen time, we’re not very hardcore. JC mastered my iPhone when he was about a year and a half old. His very first game was called Zoo Train, an app that was worth far more to my sanity than the 99 cents I paid for it. It taught him spelling, matching, and fine motor skills. It also gave my husband and I a chance to eat a meal in a restaurant in peace.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say: children need to learn to sit and behave in restaurants without the help of an electronic. He can do that. In fact, he and I go on what he calls “Mommy & Boy dates” where electronics are banned for both of us. From day one, JC went nearly everywhere with me, and as a result of that, he’s very good in a lot of grown-up places. And because he has those skills, I don’t mind handing over a tablet to let him play games or watch videos.

Speaking of which: I think there is a difference between zoning out in front of a movie or TV show and playing an educational game on a screen. In fact, JC spends very little time “zoning out”. For the most part, he watches educational shows. In fact, last week he told me his favorite part of Curious George was in between the cartoons when they show real kids doing experiments related to the show. I have to pay close attention to those parts because he often wants to replicate them.

JC knows his way around my phone, iPad and computer. Does he have access to the internet? No. Of course not. I might not be hardcore about screen time, but I am about screen content. JC is very used to hearing, “that’s not age appropriate for you” and he is pretty good about policing himself. Big no-no’s in our house include videos with train crashes and Disney “big kid” shows (the last thing I need is a four-year old with a tween attitude). He loves watching videos of steam trains on YouTube–and there are a surprising amount of them available. YouTube launched their YouTube Kids app today on android platforms, and I can’t wait to try it out.

I think because screen time isn’t a fight in our house, we have an easier time: JC knows when to turn off the TV in the mornings and (for the most part) doesn’t put up a fight when game time is over.

My husband and I made these choices for our family knowing the experts recommend. JC plays outside, builds train tracks, reads books. Although we have relaxed screen rules, screen time is not the majority–or, I think, the highlight–of his day. A few days ago I read JC some eBooks on my iPad. He liked them, sat and listened, and when we were done said, “that was nice, but can we read some REAL books now?” It’s moments like those that let me know I’m striking the right balance in our world.

Sharing is caring: what are the screen rules in your house?

Today is Not That Day.

One day, I’ll pee alone.

One day I will be able to eat a sandwich and be seated the WHOLE TIME. One day I’ll be able to sit and write for more than 10 minutes at a time without rising to fetch a drink of milk, find a Lego piece or rescue a train that has been de-railed.

Today is not that day.

Today is the day that I appeal to the parenting gods: give me patience. Give me a kind voice when my child asks me for the THOUSANDTH time, “want to talk about steam trains?” Help me remember that nothing is more important than responding with enthusiasm when he says, “will you come hang out in my room with me?” even though I want to shut myself in a dark, silent closet and binge eat Tagalongs. Help me celebrate the day, not just try to survive it. Because one day, he won’t want to talk, he won’t ask, and he won’t follow me around.

But today is not that day.

Your Mom is Your First Audience

JC is learning how to tell  jokes.

“Hey mom,” he said the other day. “What does a frog say when he sneezes? ACHOO!” And then he laughed hysterically.

Whenever he tries to make me laugh, I am reminded of a Robin Williams quote.

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I love teaching him how to tell jokes…but I often find him funnier when he’s not trying to be.

For example, he seems to think that California is the gateway to everything. We live on the east coast and have never been anywhere near California. This conversation happened in the car last week.

“Mom, do you know where my favorite place on the whole earth is?”

 “Where?”

 “The north pole. Mom, why is it called the north pole?”

 “Because it’s the northern most point on the earth.”

 “And it’s really far away from Mars!”

 “Yes, it is. What makes it your favorite place?”

 “Santa Claus is there. And I want to take a train there to visit him. Do you know what train goes there?”

 “The Polar Express?”

 “However did you guess, mom? Lets go to California.”

 “Wait—why?”

“Because that’s where the Polar Express’ station is. And then we can go to the north pole.”

He recently came to me and asked for a piece of paper and  pen. When supplied with these things, he wrote the handful of letters he knows and a couple of drawings of a train. Then he returned to me.

“Mom, I wrote a speech. But I need you to read it to me, because I wrote it in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish.”

Some of his best work is about his imaginary friend, Ansel.

“Mom, Ansel drives a Lancer. It’s pink and it has the word “whatever” written on it.”

“Mom, Ansel is in time out. He took all my clothes off my hangers and put them in the bath tub. But I don’t need a consequence. I’ve already handled it. 

Ansel is getting his own blog post soon. He is a trouble maker.

JC has very specific ideas about how we should play together.

“Mom, I want to play football outside. You be the guy who gets tackled, and I’ll be the guy who wins.”

(I can’t tell you how excited I was about that one).

Mom, your name is Captain Foofamaloo and I’m Captain JC. You drive the ship while I relax. You don’t sound like a pirate. You need to sound like, ARRRRRR. Or like Hagrid.”

Apparently, I need to work on my accents.

What was the last thing your kid said that cracked you up?

Classes Every Parent Should Take

I learned a lot in college.

For example, I can recite a great deal of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in old English. I conjugate verbs in Latin when I can’t sleep. And I always get all the questions correct on Jeopardy when the topic is Shakespeare.

In short, I learned very little that is of any use to me in my current life as a mother to an inquisitive, science-minded little boy.

I’m sure than one day my English degree will be handy when it comes to teaching my son. But right now, I’m wishing I’d been able to take classes like these:

Common Sense 101 (also known as How to Answer Questions about the Universe that you Probably Learned in 3rd Grade but Forgot by the Time you were 30): JC has been informing people how a steam engine runs since he was two or so. I thought it was cute and quirky. A few months ago, he asked me how ice was made. I told him that when water gets cold, it freezes. And frozen water is ice. This answer was not good enough him. After a long talk with his father, Little Man informed me that water is made of molecules, and when molecules slow down, they freeze. When they speed up, water boils. He then applied this information to his prior knowledge of steam combustion engines. And left me scratching my head.

Then came the question, “Mom, what is the difference between batteries and electricity? And where does electricity come from?”

Um…Georgia Power Company?

It is unnerving to feel like you can’t answer questions posed to you by someone who just learned to pedal a tricycle. I spend a lot of my downtime on google, researching his questions.

Budgeting: I took a personal finance class in college. I learned to balance a check book. What I didn’t learn was how to be prepared for the sudden onslaught of $20 Thomas the Train toys and the damage they would do to a household budget. Or how to coupon so that I could made space in my grocery budget to buy organic food so that my kid doesn’t grow up to have three arms.

Public Relations: It would be useful to know how to smooth over a random person at the grocery store after my kid looks at her critically and says, “My daddy owns gyms. You could go there and get skinny!” Classes related to this subject matter would be “Tact” and “Conversational Appropriateness” (ie, teaching your child that the entire population of the Lowes restroom doesn’t need to know he has a small tushie and, according to him, Mommy has a huge one).

Methods of Withstanding Torment: Topics would include “Meditation for Mental Removal during Prolonged Viewings of Elmo’s World”, “Differentiating Between Manipulative and Actual Need Crying”, and “Repetitive Reading of the Same Bedtime Story”.

Coping with Sleep Deprivation: Sure, I was sleep deprived when I was in college. But I was only responsible for my own life and the life of my houseplant. I really could have done with a formula that would help me figure out the ratio of caffeine consumption needed per lost hour of sleep for optimal job performance.

I will say that there were some classes in my collegiate education that have offered me some help in parenting–and those were my theater classes. Yes, the very classes my father thought I was crazy for taking have been the only ones that have offered me “real life” preparation: I use improvisation skills on a daily basis, as well as tricks like being able to keep a straight face.

Motherhood has been its own crash course in all of these topics, but it would have been handy to know some of the answers going in. I guess that’s why, by the third or fourth kid, parents are more relaxed.

But I’m still on kid #1, so until that changes (if it ever does!) I’ll just get back to googling where electricity comes from.

JC’s January: New Year, New Pattern and New Things to Learn

We started pre-k “home school” in August this year. I say it like that for a couple of reasons. One, I think kids of all ages–but especially young kids like JC–learn best by playing and exploring. Two, I wanted to take the years before I have to start reporting to the state to really hone in on JC’s learning style and what works for us as a family…knowing that what works right now may not work down the road. What is working for us right now is Project Based Homeschooling. It allows kids to immerse themselves in what they love doing, and through that, learn the important skills they need. I think it’s a really happy medium between unschooling and a more traditional schedule. Before you write me off as being totally granola-crunchy, let me give you a couple examples of how it’s working for us right now.

JC is really into costumes and imaginative play right now. He got a handful of costumes for Christmas, so we’re doing a lot of dress up. In the past week or so, he’s been a pirate, reading treasure maps left over from a Disney trip, made his own map, and experimenting with a compass; a doctor, giving his animals check-ups and creating his own “big book of boo-boos” a la Doc McStuffins; and a train engineer, building tracks and bridges and combining his many sets. Out of that imaginative play, I got plenty of educational opportunities: we talked about the four directions and what direction our favorite places were from our home, he drew pictures and wrote in his doctor book, and he got a good exercise in problem solving skills (and patience) while trying to figure out how to build a bridge big and sturdy enough to go over his tracks. And all this happened on a non “school” day.

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There be treasure close by…

I guess that’s what I really love about project-based learning at this age–it all happens naturally. It reminds me of the first rule of improv I learned in theater 101: “Yes, and…?” When he makes a suggestion, I get to say, “great! Where can this go?” instead of “sorry, no time now. We have to sit down and learn.” Of course, there are some potential pitfalls. Because this way of learning is so child-driven, it requires a flexible schedule. JC, since day one, has never taken to any of the schedules I’ve tried to put him on…and I personally thrive on a schedule. So one of our January goals is to replace the word “schedule” with “routine” and find a daily pattern. Here is how I’m shaping our days right now.

Mornings are a combination of…

  • Independent play. JC is pretty good about playing on his own, and I often leave “invitations to play” on his kid-sized table: puzzles, a coloring/activity book, a simple construction project, etc. This is one way I’ve found to guide him in how and what he’s learning.
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Some mornings, we do our thing side by side. Work and play, anyone?

  • Errands. Is it just me or does everyone go to Target as much as I do?
  • Play dates/outdoor time/adventure time. We try to get outside at least once a day and do local activities like the zoo or aquarium.

Lunchtime…is often a struggle. JC likes to lunch late in the day, which can throw off dinner and then the evening. I’m trying to find the right breakfast time and combination of morning snacks to get him lunching at a reasonable hour. Our afternoons include…

  • One-on-one time. We left the afternoon nap in the dust long ago, but afternoons are still JC’s needy time. I try to make this time electronic free (unless we’re working specifically on a project/topic that requires it) and we read books, play together, or do an art project.
  • Screen time. JC gets an hour of screen time in the afternoon while I write. Right now it’s two episodes of Curious George.
  • Getting the wiggles out. Usually in the late afternoon we have a dance party or JC rides his trike for a couple loops around to get out the afternoon crazies.

One day a week we have a “field trip day”…we spend the day at a train museum, a park we don’t visit often, or take a day trip somewhere. I try to plan something related to what he’s learning about, but sometimes it’s just an extra long trip to explore a new playground and have a picnic. The best part about it is that even though there’s no “school” time set right now, he is still getting the “reading, writing and arithmetic”. As with all kids, some days are better than others. Most days, it works really well. Some days, it works so well it’s like magic. And of course, there are always days when I want to pull my hair out.

Although we’re using a very child-driven program, JC still needs to be guided. This month, these are the 3 things I hope to expose him to:

  • Introduction of chapter books: I’m really excited to start included simple chapter books into our nighttime reading together. Some of the ones I’m considering starting with are Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, and the Paddington stories by Michael Bond.
  • Nature in the winter: we live far enough south that it isn’t unbearable for us to be outside playing (most days). I would like to help him discover some of the unique things about nature in winter: why animals hibernate, what animals are still around and active and how they eat/survive, and how the animals and plants adapt to the cold weather.
  • Introduction of a chore chart/system. I’m still not really sure how we’re going to approach this and what the reward will be (coins for the piggy bank, extra iPad game time, etc) but I know it’s time for something.

What is your little one up to this month?

How am I Supposed to Answer that?!?

JC is a pretty serious thinker. He hears everything, processes it, and then brings it up a week later in a completely different context. He rarely takes anything at face value. I’ve had to become a very quick thinker, because I never know what is going to come out of his mouth.

“Mom,” he asked me after an episode of Dinosaur Train. “Why do kids get adopted?”

Well, kids get adopted because…because…their real parents can’t take are of them? Nope, can’t say that. They lost their parents in a tragedy? Nope, not going there either.

“Well,” I answered. “Every family is different. Sometimes they come together in different ways.”

“Oh,” he replied. “Well, maybe we should get my little brother that way. Then it won’t take a long time for you to grow him in your belly. Where do you order one from?”

I should point out that I am not pregnant, nor am I planning to be any time soon. But JC is obsessed with babies, and he’s worse than a Jewish Bubbie when it comes to asking when he gets to be a big brother.

“Mom, can Santa Claus bring me a baby?” he asked nonchalantly last week, while he was zooming a hot wheels car along the counter.

“No,” I said firmly. “No, he cannot.”

“But I thought if I was good then my Christmas wish would come true!” The lower lip came out.

Sigh. I explained the “mommy has to grow a baby process” yet again. I’m pretty sure we talk about it daily right now.

Christmas has really offered a whole new host of things to think about.

“Mom, on Christmas, I’m going to wait up and talk to Santa,” he informed me.

“That’s now how it works. He won’t come unless you’re asleep.”

He gave me a look so reminiscent of his father in a bad mood I had to try not to laugh. “I have research that suggests otherwise, mom.”

Yes, yes he does. And I would like to thank the creators of the Peppa Pig holiday episode for giving my child hope that he’ll manage to wake up and chat with St. Nick.

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I really think there should some sort of agreement amongst parents everywhere that Santa Claus only comes when you’re sleeping, and he can’t bring you anything that’s alive: babies, puppies, lizards, hamsters, etc.

Seriously. I think you should have to sign a contract before you’re allowed to have anything to do with kids.

Apparently obsessed with families, the next questions I heard had to do with Santa and his elves.

“Where are Santa’s parents, mom? Do you think they’re proud of him? Where do you think he met Mrs. Claus? Are the elves their children? Did she have them all at once? Her belly must have been GIANT.”

Aaaand…faceplant.

Later that night, when JC was all tucked in and almost asleep, he revisited the topic again.

“I bet Santa’s mom misses him when he has to work all night,” he said drowsily. “Do you think she misses tucking him in when he’s riding around in his sleigh?”

And then he falls asleep, and it’s finally quiet. The quiet is what I’ve wanted all day, but now that I have it, I kind of miss his chatter. I kiss him, and answer his question.

“Yes, I think she misses tucking him in.”