Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Step at a Time

One step at a time. One sentence at a time. One word at a time. That’s what writing is. I love writing this blogspot, which is not a “this is what I did today” blog, but rather “these are the steps I’ve taken and the words I have shared” in my 39 years of teaching early childhood.

This blogspot, Colored with a Positive Crayon, is a front runner to my book of the same title. And that’s what I feel compelled to focus on right now – to finish writing the book. I’ll continue my weekly posts on my facebook page of the same name (that’s called marketing!), but will put aside writing new blogspots for a time.

Meanwhile, I suggest you look for parenting ideas on the exceptional website, Playful Early Learners. The posts and articles are rich with information about how young children learn through the simple, everyday activities of play, conversation, and storybooks. I highly recommend it.

For more reading ideas, look up Mem Fox's excellent website. Mem is one of my favorite children’s authors, not only because of her wonderful stories, but also because of her compassion for young children and their learning. And then, for the fun of it and for a little of “this and that,” I recommend the warm and folksy blogspot, Notes from the Nelsens.

Today, have fun one step at a time, one message at a time, one word at a time. Your words, and the emotions behind them, play endlessly on the tape recorder of your child’s mind. May your messages say, even in the disquiet of difficult days, “I love you, just the way you are.”

A Colorful Thought: The buckets of nurturing words you dump in your child’s head are critical for his life success.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"T'ain't Easy Bein' a Beginner"

I see the bent woman from my car window as day fades into the gray of night. She stumbles on the uneven sidewalk, willing one foot in front of the other. She looks so alone. Oh God, I pray, help that weary soul get wherever she needs to go tonight.

I turn my attention to the storefronts till I find the Laundromat. Maybe it’s been a decade since I last needed one. Laundromats are way outside my comfort zone, and I’m overwhelmed. Crazy-lettered directions hang from the ceiling; they make no sense. “2 loads here, 4 loads in this one,” the faded sign says. “6 quarters regular, 8 quarters double spinning,” says the next. “Bleach dispenser half-full,” reads another. “No attendant on duty,” the last sign forewarns.

I see two women folding their finished loads, but with “Don’t ask me” shrugs, they look away. Then sensing someone next to me, I turn. And there she is. My stranger. She has no laundry with her. “Need help?” she asks.

“Oh, I saw you on the sidewalk minutes ago,” I answer in disbelief. “You looked so tired, I asked God to help you.” I watch a smile cross her soul-worry face. “But,” I say, “Guess I do need help. I’m a hopeless beginner.”

“Okay bein’ a beginner,” the woman nods. “Show me what ya’ got.” Then shuffling her tired feet, she leads me through the maze. “I’ll stay a piece, case you need me,” she says. “T’ain’t easy, this bein’ a beginner.”

Later, driving home, I wonder if someone told her “t’ain’t easy” when she was a child. Little ones are perpetual beginners. They face a relentless progression of skills – sit up, stand, talk, walk, make friends, obey, be independent, read, write, think, ride a bike. “T’ain’t easy, this bein’ a beginner.” Children need approval for their very trying. And they need to share the elation when they get it right, like the laughing toddler in red. “Look at me! Me did it!” she exclaims. Oh, the joy!

A Colorful Thought: The gift of encouragement, like my stranger gave me, waits only for the moment you connect with someone who needs you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"I Love You I Do!"

The hotel lobby was a warm, welcoming place. It looked more spacious than it really was because of elegant pillars that stretched from floor to high ceiling. Each pillar, encased in glass panels, reflected the images of a small girl twirling in a saucy red skirt. The child danced happily from pillar to pillar, ponytail flying. Each time she saw her reflection, she was delighted anew. From time to time, the child stopped moving long enough to kiss her face in the mirror and declare, "I love you, I do!"

The child's mother rested nearby on a padded bench. With each kiss, mom echoed her little girl's words. "I love you, too. I do!" she said. In that moment, I found myself loving both of them, and I didn't even know them. I loved the child's innocent joy in who she was. I loved the mother for not restraining the joy of her child.

Watching them reminded me of a favorite children's story, Koala Lou by the extraordinary author, Mem Fox. Listen to Mem read her story about a mother koala who tells her little one a hundred times a day, "Koala Lou, I do love you." Until, that is, brothers and sisters are born. Mother is too busy to say the words. Koala Lou is sure if she wins the gum tree climbing event in the Bush Olympics, her mother will love her again. Alas, Koala Lou comes in second. She hides her sorrow in the dark of night where mother finds her and declares, "Oh, Koala Lou, I do love you! I always have and I always will!"

Koala Lou, like the child dancing among the glass pillars, is your child. She is every child everywhere, waiting to hear the words, "Oh, I love you. I do!"

A Colorful Thought: A child does not earn your love by being good. She has it by being born.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Locked Into Childhood

Oh, how I anticipated the evening out to see old friends. I was eager to reconnect, and enjoy a rare gourmet dinner. But the man seated next to me was so needy of attention he drained the joy right out of the evening. He wore me out.

In Garden Graces, Janice Elsheimer warns us about unattended garden soil that produces nothing but pitiful blooms. Alas, the "dried-out soil that needs constant watering" was sitting next to me. Hopelessly insecure, the man sought from anyone around him the approval denied him as a child. Unaware of his need, and hardly to blame, I doubt the young man ever shakes off the barren soil of his childhood.

How do parents enrich the soil of childhood to "grow" a child into the person God intends him to be? And when? Don't wait to bungee-jump into his life when he's old enough for Little League or Scouts. You miss teaching your child the self-esteem and character traits you want locked into his childhood, and ultimately, his adulthood.

Jump in now! If all you have are quick minutes of attention, use them. Minutes of on-the-floor play, playing whatever he want to play, delight a child. Blend him into the scattered chunks of time that consume your days, "helping" you put away groceries, cook, clean, do laundry, even exercise. Talk all the while. Remember to punctuate your together time with warm hugs that remind your child you love being with him.

Like a tender new garden plant, your child is fragile, demanding, and totally dependent on you. But the watering "up front" in his early years allows him to thrive in every new stage of development. When tended well, the outcome is a masterpiece. Yours.

A Colorful Thought: Your minutes together, listening and caring, cultivate the rich soil of an extraordinary childhood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Come to the Garden Alone

As a young mother, I loved mornings. Each one was a new beginning, blotting out the "if only" of yesterday. Perhaps mornings will always mean reaching for the elusive perfect day.

In Garden Graces: The Wisdom in Growing Things, Janice Elsheimer writes about the first flowers to awaken in the morning. They call her to the garden, alone. "As often as not," she reflects, "the music of that old hymn, 'I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses,' comes to mind. And I pray."

The words strike a chord with me. The hymn was the first duet my sister and I sang as children. Oh well, maybe "duet" is fudging a bit. My musically gifted sister sang. I twisted my skirt in my fist, swayed from side to side, and stared at my shiny new patent leather shoes. But to this day, the words, "And He tells me I am His own" go right to my heart where they linger and comfort.

Is that not the message you give your little ones, no matter how imperfect the days? There are no perfect parents anywhere, nor does your child expect you to be one. Young children are forgiving. They also are constant motion, filling the space around them with restless energy that spills over in tears and upsets. But they are yours! No one anywhere in the world can lead and love them like you. The little one who acted out from dawn to dusk today is the child who most needs your attention. Her errant behavior is begging, "No matter how hard I push or how headstrong I am, will you still love me?" And your answer?

Every kissed boo-boo, every tantrum that ends in an understanding embrace, and every good night prayer rewrite the same message: "You are my own. And the joy we share, none other has ever known."

A Colorful Thought: Color your child with gentle words of unconditional love that last a lifetime.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Emotions of Childhood

"I get it! I finally get it! You taught me in your classes how important the early years are, but today, I really get it!" Carlson, my dentist and long-time friend, was talking to me in his office. "I read in my medical journal about a woman caught in the tangles of Alzheimer's," Carlson explained. "Yet, she wrote a book while it pummeled her back to the painful emotions of her childhood. The emotions were buried, but never resolved. For 80 years! Now they bedevil her mind again." Carlson shook his head and confided, "I finally understand the hurt of my childhood."

Before It's Too Late: Alzheimer's: Return of Childhood Emotions by Jane A. McAllister is Jane's story. A woman of great intelligence despite the disease, Jane writes, "The end of my life story is a painful shadow of the beginning, stored in the haunted halls of memory." The resentment, desperate isolation, and uncontrollable anger and guilt "are the same emotions that colored the earlier years of my life. Vivid and unsettling, they return as raging emotions."

That is why I write Colored with a Positive Crayon. It's a myth that children have no memories of their early years. What you do with your child today echoes for a lifetime. I am passionate that you know developmental stages so you understand acceptable behavior. I'm passionate that you respect your child's feelings. If ignored, feelings bury themselves. But they're alive, and someday explode. Jane tells us that.

A child is the last to know what she needs. That's why your child must have boundaries, and discipline that teaches. She needs endearing bedtimes to help her separate from you, and cheery mornings when you wrap your love around her again. The experiences of your child's early years will be stored forever in her hallowed halls of memory.

A Colored Thought: You color your child early with a positive crayon when you honor and respect her feelings.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Daddy Marine

We hadn’t seen our cousin and her husband for what seemed like ages. But some friends step right back into your life as steady as the metronome that guided my piano practice as a child. We didn’t miss a beat. Reconnecting with family is like that. Perhaps it’s the pendulum of memories.

Or perhaps reconnecting means sharing a “heart concern” with someone who cares. The highlight of our togetherness was a phone call of hope from their daughter, Kathy. Six months pregnant and remembering her three miscarriages, Kathy was elated with the all-is-well-ultra-sound-images of the tiny infant in her womb. It’s odd how happiness shared, doubles the joy. And on the flip side, how misfortune experienced alone, doubles the sadness. Kathy, caught in the separation of war, will give birth alone. Her marine husband, deployed to the Near East for the fifth time, is due home three months after the birth of their firstborn.

Like most military daddies, Kathy’s man is eager to stay connected. He already knows a father is critical to a daughter’s sense of self. He understands it is a father who holds up the first lens through which a little girl assesses her femininity.

But for now, this marine daddy wants somehow to bridge the miles. I suggested he wear a tee shirt (what’s closer to his heart?) and without laundering, send it to Kathy. And follow that with a Skype video call of him reading aloud a happy, rhythmic bedtime book (already on its way to him). Soon after birth, I picture the infant’s head resting on a crumpled tee shirt on Kathy’s shoulder, rocked to sleep by the rhythm of daddy reading to her from half-way across the world. The little girl will know the sounds and smells and love of her daddy Marine before the first moment he holds her. Sweet.

A Colorful Thought: An infant's sensory learning begins with the sounds, scents, smiles, and touch of those who love her.