On Making Our Toddlers “Kindergarten Ready”

My 3-year-old loves baby dolls. Very rarely do we leave the house without one hooked under one little arm, a diaper bag dangling from the other. She wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up so that she can “go to the grocery store all by [her]self” and “do the dishes.” Girl’s got ambition — which I fully intend to exploit in 5-13 years. Taking care of her babies is just about the only activity that keeps her interest longer than five minutes.

I remember being alarmed at her early disinterest in learning … or at least what we think of as learning. Charlee had always loved to read, but early on, Hattie would slam the cover shut any time I even tried to crack a book. And the few times I attempted to teach her sign language as a baby, she would scream at me and yank her hands away, as if she was trying to tell me, I do not have time for silly things like this. There’s a whole world out there to explore.

While she can now engage long enough to complete a book or even a few (though she asks approximately 18,000 questions per page, some completely irrelevant), she’s still not interested in sitting down and working for long stretches.

Occasionally, against my better judgment, I get anxiety about the fact that she doesn’t know many letters or how to write her name or that she still gets that eleventeen-17 range jumbled when counting. I drive by the Montessori Preschools that I cant afford and think, “I should really work on preschool curriculum with Hattie so that she has a chance…”

But then I think back to my education degree and remind myself that Hattie just turned THREE, and this pressure that has been created to have my kids literate by the age of 4 and performing long-division by 5 and composing symphonies by 6 WAS NOT created by teachers or child development researchers but by the pressures of a flawed system and competitive parents.

I remember one of my professors discussing the new environment into which we are sending our students. This is no longer a world in which students who “know the most” will be the most successful. Information is now immediately accessible, so education is less about “knowing stuff” and more about creative thinking, application, cooperation, leadership skills, and all of that other intangible, “outside of the box” stuff.

Guess what!? These are things cultivated in free play, not rigorous preschool curriculum.

Then I think about my biblical duty as a momma: to make little, tiny Jesus impersonators. That changes things. Because Jesus is not remembered for his smarts but for his wisdom. He’s not remembered for his SAT score or for how many multisyllabic words he used in the Sermon on the Mount. He is remembered for his desperate pursuit of outcasts, his passionate cry for justice for the oppressed, and his counter-cultural inclusiveness — EVERYONE can be part of his club.

What if we taught our kids that while academics are important, because working hard at everything we do is important, school is not just a means to a good career but an incredibly convenient mission field? They have an awesome opportunity to desperately pursue outcasts, passionately cry out for justice for the oppressed, and be counter-culturally inclusive — make sure EVERYONE is a part of the club. They get to BE Jesus to the lost and lonely every single day. And if schools are anything like they were 4 years ago when I taught, there are PLENTY of lost and lonely.

When we push academic success at such an early age (or at any age), not only do our children lose valuable time to play and learn through osmosis, but we can unintentionally put SMART on a pedestal, high above KIND, SELFLESS, or COMPASSIONATE.

While at a bible study on motherhood, our incredibly wise mentor mom said, “When I walk into a parent-teacher conference, I push all the papers aside, and say, ‘I don’t want to know about grades. I know their grades. We can fix grades. I want to know what kind of person they are when they aren’t with me. I want to know if they are kind. I want to know if they play with the lonely kids at recess. I want to know if they sit with the lonely kids at lunch.”

In the long run, are we just dying for our kids to be rich and famous? To be the CEO of a company? Is financial success at the top of our priority list?

If not (or even if so), let’s just let our three-year-olds play. Let’s all just calm the heck down about Kindergarten readiness, because if you’re worried about your baby being ready, that’s a good sign that he will be ready. Instead, let’s make sure they know that sharing is JUST AS important as counting, cooperating is JUST AS important as phonics, that we care more about them being like Jesus than we do about them knowing a lot of stuff.

Let’s show our kids that we care more about them being the kindest than we do about them being the smartest.

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While I was agonizing over this article and trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, I flipped over to Facebook for a second so that I could stop using my brain for a hot second and THIS was the first thing that popped up:

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It was as if God was saying, YES. THIS is a message that you need to share. Thanks Jenn for posting — you were unknowingly encouraging me.

 

 

If this topic interests you, click to read this interview with my kindergarten teaching momma, Jody. She discusses what she she has identified as the most important characteristics in incoming kindergartners… and those that aren’t.

 

 

 

 

Parenting Prophetically

I wasn’t always the best student in college. I probably would have benefitted from taking a few years off after high school because I didn’t really understand the whole concept. Like, hey 18-year-old Jordan, this is training for the REST OF YOUR LIFE so please pay attention and put in some effort. I was admittedly more interested in writing ridiculous (though well-illustrated) poems about inappropriate things than taking notes, never mind the thousands of dollars my parents were shelling out.

You are judging me so hard right now. And I also feel like I need to ask for your forgiveness.

Anyway, I somehow remember one term from my Sociology class freshman year: self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the only thing I remember from that class; for some reason it stuck with me. The whole idea is that the things you believe about yourself, even if those things are initially untrue, become true, because there is such a strong connection between belief and behavior.

Let’s say I believe I’m an idiot. I have no proof of this, and am in fact very smart, but was once told by a sibling or parent, “You are so stupid,” and that statement became glued to the front of my brain. Now I don’t like school because I’m afraid the “truth” will come out — I’m an idiot. Learning becomes impossible because it’s linked to overwhelming stress, and I consequently begin falling behind academically. What was once a false statement, is now prophetic.

Our minds are insane. Words are so powerful. They form beliefs. And beliefs form behaviors.

 

My oldest child feels things with a far greater depth than I understand. The best word to describe her is sensitive. She experiences the world differently than me because she experiences it emotionally, rather than pragmatically. It’s both beautiful and terrifying, her greatest asset and her greatest struggle.

For me, on the other hand, sensitivity has been learned and developed over time. It doesn’t come naturally to me. So in the past, when something upset her deeply, I just. didn’t. get it. I would get frustrated and annoyed. All I could think was, THIS IS NOT A BIG DEAL. Why are you acting like this? And that attitude showed. She is able to read people incredibly well, so through my reactions to her, I was subtly, and consistently, sending her this message: You are TOO MUCH. Stop being SO dramatic. Be different!

And if we were in public? I would lose my patience so fast because STOP EMBARRASSING ME… which is a whole lot less about her and her issues and a whole lot more about me and my issues.

Then, my husband would get home, and I’d tell him the drawn-out story in great detail (not in front of her) and would throw in words like “crazy” and “out of control” for emphasis.

It didn’t take long (or actually wayyy too long) for me to realize this dangerous dynamic. I was speaking about her and to her in ways that were shaping her, that would surely negatively influence her self-image, and thus her future self.

Oh my goodness, y’all. WORDS. REACTIONS. TONES. The words we speak over our children are prophetic, for they will determine who they become.

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I am a prophet. We, we parents who dismissively mumble words out of weariness and exhaustion, we are prophets. We are piecing our children’s souls together, one irritated word at a time, creating a mosaic of phrases, remarks, and feelings. What do we want them to act like? Who do we want them to be?

In one of my education classes in college, (because I was always paying attention) my professor told us to “stay out of the Teachers’ Lounge.” The Teachers’ Lounge, she explained, was where teachers went to complain about their students. “The more you complain about your students, the less you are going to enjoy them. The more you tell stories about how awful they are, the more awful they will be because you are expecting them to be awful.”

In regards to raising children, we have to stay out of the metaphorical Teachers’ Lounge: our spouses, our families, our friends, and dare I say social media. Are we constantly complaining about our kids? Are we constantly ranting about how terrible they were today? In the name of “authenticity” and “being real”, are we sacrificing the dignity of our little ones on social media? Are we expecting them to be terrible? The way we speak about our children, even to our spouses, influences our behavior towards them, which in turn influences their behavior toward us. Seeking wise counsel is one thing but complaining and ranting is another. I cannot speak negatively about my children and NOT expect that to affect the way I treat them. The things we say mold the way we feel and act.

 

So the question is, how do we use the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies to our advantage? What behaviors can we cultivate in our children via diligent lip-service?

 

I want my children to believe they can do hard things…

so I will speak words of perseverance into them.

I want them to believe they are strong…

so I will speak words of strength into them.

I want them to believe they are adored…

so I will speak words of love into them.

I want them to believe they are wanted…

so I will speak words of gratefulness into them.

I want them to believe they (and their eccentricities) were created purposefully…

so I will speak God’s words of truth into them.

 

I never want my daughter to think she’s too much or that her sensitivity is somehow a shortcoming. She is not perfect. But I will spend this next year, this last year I have her at home with me all the live long day, making damn sure she knows she was created exactly as God intended her to be.

 

5 Preschool Activities for the Underachieving Mom

I am a stir-crazy mom. I like to get out of the house if at all possible. I am happier. The kids are happier. Everyone does better when we have a little variety in our daily lives.

However, other than the 3 days of Texas fall and the 7 days of Texas spring, the weather in my homeland is extreme. 107 degrees? Nope. Not gonna do it. 42 degrees? Am I trying to get hypothermia?

The past couple of years, we’ve lived in small towns where the indoor play areas were NON existent. There were ZERO indoor playgrounds. No McDonald’s (with a playground). No Chick-Fil-A. So I was forced to Google “preschool activities” … nay, “EASY preschool activities” almost daily. Not because my kids need to be the smartest or the craftiest, but because I need them to GET OFF MY BACK for just one mother-loving second.

Now, there’s a time and place for parent-assisted activities, but maybe today you are just not feelin’ it. Maybe your coffee maker broke or the baby was up all night or your kids have been up since 5:30 am and you’ve entertained them for 2 hours straight when you realize everyone else’s kids are just now waking up and WHYYYY does the clock move so slowly and HOWWW is it JUST now breakfast time? If that’s the case, let me do you a solid. Here are some activities that keep all three of my kids (4, 3 and 1) entertained for at least 30 straight (almost) uninterrupted minutes.


POTS, PANS, & PASTA

At about 5 o’clock (and still 2+ hours before Daddy gets home), when it’s time for me to cook dinner, my 1-year-old just can’t do life anymore. He NEEDS to be held for the rest of the day lest he die of dehydration from all the tears he has shed. It is very sad and makes cooking dinner THE BEST.  Here’s my solution: get out a bunch of pots, pans, bowls, spoons, measuring spoons, mixers, spatulas, etc. and fill them with something. I usually use dried pasta… the bigger the better, because it will be everywhere. Bowtie is my go-to. Rice is never smart. Cheerios and Goldfish are my backups but they tend to disappear. All three kids will cook and mix and stir and create a huge mess BUT THEY WILL BE QUIET.

 

COLORED ICE

I have an ice crusher on my fridge door, but if you don’t, big cubes will work too. I usually use a little of both because the crushed ice melts super fast. Just fill up several bowls with ice and take them outside with spoons and cups inside, or even small figurines or toys that they can pretend with. For added excitement, put a couple drops of food coloring in each bowl. They will love mixing the ice to create new colors. THIS IS FREAKING EDUCATIONAL, Y’ALL. And requires pretty much zero effort. Annnnnd they can eat it without spoiling their dinner.

 

SCISSORS AND PAPER 

Listen, guys. They are preschool scissors and are about as sharp as a spoon. Call me negligent, but this keeps my kids entertained for days (minus the one-year-old). Before we had an iPad for road trips, I would give my kids a pair of (preschool) scissors and a notebook full of paper in their carseats and just let them trash the backseat. They cut and cut and cut and cut and little tiny pieces of paper covered the floor of the car but, once again, they were quiet and I wasn’t fielding 18,000 questions from the backseat. When we are at home, they will cut stuff out of the magazines and glue them to the paper with their glue sticks. Yes, it’s messy, but since this thing is my co-wife, it’s okay.

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RICE CONTAINER 

I can’t handle sand. It has this weird property where it doesn’t come off at all yet comes off everywhere. I don’t do sand. However, I love rice. Just buy a big bag of rice from the grocery store and fill up a plastic tub, throw in some toys (sand toys if you have them) and you’re done. I put mine on the back porch or in the grass.

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She’s definitely NOT about to grab that out of his hand and make him cry.

 

FOAM

I found this activity here. Grab a blender or food processor. Throw in a little water (like a cup) and a lot of dish soap (the cheaper the soap, the more you’ll have to use). Turn on the blender and let it go (let it gooooo) until it gets really thick and, well, foamy. If it isn’t thickening, add more soap. If there’s not enough, add more water. Keep going until you have found the right consistency/amount. I put it in pans and bowls, toss out some kitchen utensils and medicine droppers and let them at it. It does get slippery if it’s on the kitchen floor, so either put a towel down or put it outside. It also liquefies after a while so you’ll have to make another batch every 20 minutes or so. (BONUS: Just wash off the soap when they’re done and your dishes are uber clean. However, don’t throw them in the dishwasher unrinsed or else your dishwasher will start foaming at the mouth. Or so I heard…)

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Photo Credit: Hands On As We Grow

 

So if you are a mom that needs your children to be kept busy for a bit so that you can check your Facebook in peace for the love of all things fold the laundry and wash the dishes, I hope this helps! Please share your underachieving activities so that I can add them my brain! We are always needing some variety!

I Promise I’m Not a Jerk, I’m Just a Mom

I’m sorry. I’m just sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to cut you off. I really was trying to focus on your face and your words and make eye contact and offer relevant, interesting responses. I promise I have a couple of social skills.

It’s just that I have these two little parasites (that I love insanely). They sometimes knock me off-balance while scaling my legs like rock walls. Sometimes they awkwardly hide under my skirt mid-conversation. They grunt and scream a lot and try to catch my tongue when I talk. They are constantly on the verge of either disaster or meltdown, and I need to be on Red Alert, lest “a scene” be made.

Honestly, having an adult conversation when they are with me makes me sweaty. I feel like a juggling clown. And I’m not tossing around oranges. But something entirely more horrific like flaming swords or small cats or feral monkeys. Multiple objects requiring my undivided attention are being hurled at my face, and I am just trying not to sweat through my unironed shirt or break my tired smile.

Listen. I don’t want to be the mom that is incapable of having conversations because I’m so utterly captivated by all the adorableness of my precious offspring. However, I also don’t want to be the mom that forgets her child exists while out in public and subsequently is ignorant to the fact that my kid just knocked another kid off a scooter and rode off with William Wallace-esque freedom, leaving in her wake a lonely, weeping child. No matter how tempting to let somebody else deal with that mess.

I’m teetering on this line between momma-bear/helicopter-parent and welcome-to-my-adult-time-feel-free-to-discipline-my-child. I don’t think I’ve quite found the balance yet, though.

So let me apologize for all past and future social infractions.

I’m sorry about that time I cut you off in mid let-me-tell-you-my-struggle-right-now when my 2-year-old ran up shouting, “I need to go potty!” We were still in the middle (of a looooong) training and I knew the dribbling had probably already begun. Or that time I forgot your name, even though we’re definitely more than acquaintances because, well, I have no brain cells left. And especially for all the times I said, “I gotta go get these girls down for a nap,” while we were talking because trust me. I was serious. There is no Hell like “it’s nap time, but they are still not asleep Hell.”

Please don’t hear these as excuses. I hate that you think I’m a jerk.

It’s tempting to totally shut myself off from the social world because, honestly, it’s easier when my attention isn’t divided. It’s easier to go to the park and not feel like I’m insulting anyone when I run off to catch my child that is jumping from the ten-foot playscape. I know most people, especially moms, understand. But I still feel guilty.

But here’s an inspired idea. Let’s make a baby-less date and have a REAL conversation, devoid of parasites OR sweet, compliant children. I promise I’m much better at listening when I’m not distracted by the crying and the yanking and the “I HAVE TO GO POO-POO” and the “What’s that smell?” and the “Okay, we really better go.” I know you’re busy and I’m tired and evenings with our husbands are important. But I might go even crazier if I don’t talk about something other than Thomas or Elmo.

So I promise I will make an effort to pay attention to what you are saying when I spot you in the grocery store, if you promise you will forgive me if you have to speak over the screams of the two in my cart that have a thing against stopping.

And in a few years, I’ll be all ears. I’ll have nothing but time to just chat and listen. Please wait for me. Because I like you.

And in the meantime, I promise. I’m not a b. I’m just a mom.