Language development in early childhood: get reading

Babies begin language development from birth.  As they are exposed to the language of their parents and environment, their brain works to make sense of what they are hearing.  During the first three years of life, a baby’s brain grows and develops faster than any other period of development.  

It is during these early years that children are most intensively focused on speech and language development. During these critical years, babies and young children are most able to absorb language.

Even before they learn to talk, babies are learning to associate sounds and their meaning thanks to repetition of words in their environment. 

Stages of language development

Early on, babies start to make sounds on their own.  Soon they begin to mimic the sounds they hear around them.   Most children say their first word between 9 and 18 months. By the time they are two, a toddler will be able to say between 50 and 150 words and will understand many more than that.  

Toddlers move from one-word speech to two words.  Ultimately developing the ability to put words together to form a primitive sentence, such as ‘Up Daddy.’

By the time they are 3, children are using language to ask for things, to comment on what they are observing, to talk about past experiences, and even to describe what they are imagining.

One of the very best things parents can do to support language development in their children is to talk to them –  and read to them – frequently. When I started raising a visually impaired son I discovered the benefits of narrating.  

For blind babies, talking about everything helps orient them to their environment, preparing them for mobility as well as language development.  Naming the objects that they touch and feel provides context as they learn about the world through their other senses.

Sighted babies also benefit from listening to their caregivers talk about the world around them.  Narrating provides exposure to the language, builds vocabulary, and contributes to brain development.

Narrating is simply saying what you are doing and making eye contact as you are speaking.  Invite engagement and attention during the interaction. Even a newborn can be introduced to language as they experience their first diaper and clothing changes.

The conversation during a diaper change might go something like this:

“Ok, it’s time for a clean diaper.  You will feel so much better when we get this wet diaper off.”

“Let’s get these snaps undone.  There, now we can take off your diaper.”

 “Oh, this wipe is cold!  I will be quick so we can get you wrapped up and cozy again.”

“Here comes the clean diaper.  I will need to lift you up to put it under you.”

“Ok, we are almost done.  Let’s put these snaps together again.  Are you warmer now?”

“There, we are all finished.  Doesn’t that feel better?”

Using language to describe the process and following a routine that repeats the same motions each time they are changed or dressed supports language development and their participation in the process.  

When caregivers narrate regularly, by the time a child is walking they will have heard the names for all the parts of the process a multitude of times.  Whether changing, dressing, preparing for a meal, or heading out the door, they will understand and be able to follow simple requests, such as “hold my keys, please”, even before they are able to speak.

Talking to your baby, making eye contact, and naming the things you see and do together all establish the foundation of language development.  

Language development and Reading

Reading to your baby from the very beginning of life also introduces them to language, words, and the images that represent the things described by the words.  These important concepts support written language development in the school-aged child.

Experts recommend that you begin reading to your baby early and continue throughout their elementary years.  

A study done by the New York University School of Medicine shows that reading books with a child beginning in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later, before the start of elementary school.  

A great place to start is at the public library.  Most libraries offer Baby and Me reading time to help inspire reading with young children.  Children’s librarians can guide you to board books for infants and toddlers, and picture books for preschoolers.

Another great resource is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.  The Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program provides free books to participants each month.  The United Way of Benton Co provides support for this program to local rural residents. If you live in Monroe, Philomath, Alsea, or Blodgett, you can sign up to receive free books here:  https://imaginationlibrary.com/usa/find-my-program/

Reading regularly to your baby, toddler and preschooler is the very best way to facilitate language development and early literacy.  A sound foundation in language supports early literacy and sets children on a path for success in their school years.

For more information on speech and language development, check out the Communicative Language checklist here:

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/speech-and-language

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori toddler teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Screens Revisited

It’s time to raise my quarterly alarm about the effects of screen time on children. Don’t worry, I’ve already laid the basic foundation of ranting, so I won’t get into that here.  Moreover, I have offered up an alternative use for a smartphone or pad that will allow you to make dinner unhindered while eliminating the perils of the screen (ie: cover it up and let it talk).

Well, it’s time to be alarmist again. New research as presented by psychologist Sue Palmer supports previous warnings about “links between excessive screen-time and obesity, sleep disorders, aggression, poor social skills, depression, and academic under-achievement.” Along with this, “a rise in prescriptions for Ritalin, a drug for attention deficit and hyperactivity – a four-fold increase in less than a decade.”

So much, so familiar (at least, I hope it’s familiar: enough so that parents would not put their child/toddler/oh-my-gosh infant to bed with a tablet). But here’s what I found interesting about this particular article.

Writes Palmer, “It’s not just what children get up to onscreen that affects their overall development. It’s what screens displace – all the activities they’re not doing in the real world.” In other words, if they’re swiping a screen they’re not interacting with others. They’re not looking around at the inscrutable people and things around them. They’re not experiencing (take a deep breath) boredom, that charmed state that has led, historically, to all the great artistic and scientific breakthroughs (and not a few of its greatest crimes).

In other words, if your small children are captivated by and absorbed in the screen in front of them (we know how that works, don’t we, fellow addicts?), then they are missing out on all the perception, interaction, and processing that makes a brain grow, and that prompts them to seek out new information and challenges in the world.

Perhaps most important of all, they’re missing out on that most essential element in child development: play.

Writes Palmer, “Each time babies or toddlers make something happen on screen, they get the same sort of pleasure hit as they would from a cuddle or a splash in the bath. When they can get instant rewards by swiping a screen, why bother with play that demands physical, social, and cognitive effort?”

I recently picked up a used copy of Neil Postman’s classic work of cultural critique, Amusing Ourselves to Death. I saw that it was published in 1985, long before civilian use of email, and looong before social media, search engines and streaming claimed victory over the 21st Century human cortex. Postman’s dire prognostications about the melding of public life and entertainment technology are becoming more relevant by the second. Not bad for a grumpy old cuss.

At the risk of sharing in the general grumpiness, I imagine that our children will be at least as resentful of our current compulsive phone-gazing behavior as previous generations were about growing up with the TV as the altar of the house. Let me just raise my hand right now.

Guilty!

I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

How Do We Even Know Anything About Parenting?

Okay, so this piece from Longreads, My Bad Parenting Advice Addiction, is pretty funny (be advised of a single strategic use of profanity within). In the essay, Emily Gould spends the first few months of her new motherhood desperately reading parenting books. She finds, as one would, that there are rough schools of thought around parenting practices that cancel out, if not fiercely oppose, others.

Without pledging loyalty to one camp or another, then, it can be mighty hard to find a way forward that isn’t mined with confusion and contradictions. Gould explains her dilemma in this way: “There seemed to be only two options: to raise a patchouli-scented wild child, or to engineer a dead-souled automaton whose early ‘sleep training’ paved the way for a lifetime of blind obedience.”

Of course, it isn’t really like that. As someone who participated in a fair amount of attachment parenting (holding our babies or slinging them, breastfeeding, co-sleeping) I find this assessment of the movement, as embodied in print by the prolific Dr. Sears, to be unfair, if kind of hilarious: “Critics of this approach tend to assume that there is a natural progression from babies who can’t fall asleep unless they’re rocked and nursed and cuddled up next to their parents, to children who are going to scamper all over a restaurant, ignoring their parents’ weak-willed cries of ‘Rowan, please sit back down!’ Wrap carriers, food co-op membership, hollow-eyed mothers whose looks and dreams have drowned in an ocean of their own breast-milk—these are the things, rightly or wrongly, that most people associate with ‘attachment’ parenting.”

I can certainly understand Gould’s feeling of being overwhelmed and bullied by so much disparate parenting advice. She claims to have read 25 parenting books in a row, which strikes me as fairly reasonable (she does not mention looking at parenting blogs, forums, social media groups, or other online sources; this means either that she was careful to keep herself out of that endless swirl of potential madness or that she just didn’t want to talk about it).

What Gould highlights in her entertaining and often insightful piece is how difficult it is for a parent to find what works for them. There is no lack of authors, experts, companies, organizations, and agencies who are ready and willing to dump advice on us (and in the process, generally make us feel as if we are failing and/or totally irresponsible if we don’t follow their path or buy their product). There is certainly nothing wrong with reading books and taking what we find to be useful. And no parent can be expected (heck, is even able) to go all in with one particular method or another.

Rather, what Emily Gould leaves smartly between the lines of her essay is that instead of turning to experts on how to raise our own children, we ultimately have to just get to know them, and figure it out, day by difficult day.

Much easier to read a bunch of books, right?

Kitchen Think

I had one of those moments the other day. I had asked my eleven-year-old to help prepare lunch, something involving the stove and the broiler, and was giving her instructions when I realized that I didn’t need to be telling her what to do.

Not only was she perfectly capable of measuring the ingredients, watching the time, and reasonably avoiding burning herself. She was also already carrying out the instructions. My continuing to “help,” in fact, was only getting in the way.

I stopped short. I felt pride, and a little bit of shock, and found myself pulling back from the moment–to what a journalist would call a higher elevation–and saw that the little girl I had been raising and guiding was now at least as competent a cook as I am. And I didn’t learn any of this until I was in my thirties.

While I was up there, above the kitchen at around 10,000 feet, I started thinking about how my role as a parent had been shifting and reconfiguring itself all along. Those tasks, those bits of information, and those thought processes which used to require close supervision and physical proximity were now hers to explore, to push against, and expand to the limits of her new older self. My gosh, I thought, she’s approaching adulthood before my eyes.

As I have come through my own journey as a parent raising four daughters, I have been through a similar process. With each new stage and new situation, I come up against my limits and have to start again, as a beginner on a new level. Some parents I know talk about having favorite ages, or conversely, struggling in particular ways with the developmental challenges of three, or seven, or twelve. I can’t say that I have a favorite age (or one that throws me for a loop). I like babies. I like toddlers. And so far, so good in the interim between that and teenagerdom.

I do look forward to being able to share more of my life and myself with my children as they become old enough to process it. To someday have adult conversations about how we got there, and what we took with us or left behind.

Standing in the kitchen with my large-hearted, sensitive, stolid, quietly competent eldest daughter, I realized that teaching her to make a tuna melt was no longer enough. So what’s next? Will she tell me? Or do I need to spend some time here, at the edge of myself?

Tending the Childhood Garden

Most of us would appreciate having some rules for good parenting; some ironclad procedure to follow in order to give our children the best of what we have. New research in the burgeoning field of neuroscience is taking what we know about the brain, how it works, and how it grows, and giving us some clues. But because it’s the brain we’re talking about, there are no simple answers.

What has been emerging is some support for certain approaches over others. And often this research brings us back to older ways of thinking about children and what they need to grow, thrive and succeed.

Alison Gopnik, in her new book The Carpenter and the Gardener: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children offers this very thing. Her central metaphor contrasts the model of the carpenter–the parent who attempts to construct their child through micromanaging and fine-tuning–with that of the gardener, who allows space and nourishment for a child to grow in the way it naturally wants to. Guess which one is more effective?

I have written about the metaphor of nurturing as cultivating the things we want to grow. We give our positive attention to the traits we want to encourage rather than focusing on the negative traits we would like to see less of. This is both a good and useful thing. However, there is more to it than that, and also less.

As Gopnik tells us, it is easier to allow children to do what they do best–learn–than try to will them into the shapes we want to see.  It sounds great, and quite a relief besides, to just move out of the way and let children grow. But that’s when we see that some approaches work better than others.

I encourage you to read the linked article, which provides a great summary of Gopnik’s research. And, of course, to read the book (I have it on hold at the library). Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Let children under 6 just…play. Academic preparation is just not effective for small children. It’s not a matter of getting them ready earlier, because that’s just not where they’re at. They learn through play. So give them ample opportunity to do so.
  • School-age children are ready to learn. So give them things to learn: cooking, building, cleaning, making. Show them, watch them, and offer ways to improve their skills.
  • Teenagers benefit from practical skills. Less homework, more real-world experiences. Teens used to enter the adult world through apprenticeships, and we can offer them internships, community service projects, and guided projects such as putting together a newspaper or, heck, starting a garden.

In each of these stages, children learn by doing. Our job as parents is to let them do it, in a safe and nurturing environment.

Sounds simple, right? Simple work is often the hardest. But really, the hard part for modern parents is just letting it happen.

A Few Words on Empathy

If nurturing means watering the plants you want to grow, what is at the root of those plants?

Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s empathy.

In our Nurturing Parenting programs, empathy is the cornerstone, the trigger, the fuel, the baking mix. See? I could have used a lot of different metaphors. But the root sounds good so we’ll go with it.

What is empathy?

It sounds like “sympathy,” but should not be confused with it. Sympathy is the act of feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is the act of feeling what that someone is feeling.

It’s walking in their shoes.

Even if we can’t understand another person’s exact experience (and we probably can’t, most of the time), we can understand the feeling they have. Maybe we have been through something, good, bad, or more complicated, that put us in the same state. And the ability to go there with someone else is empathy.

Empathy is learned.

Some things are determined by our genetics and our family history. Things like whether you will cheer for the Beavers or the Ducks. Empathy is a skill that must be learned. It gets stronger with practice, and more powerful with intention.

This is not to say that we start out with nothing to work with. When a baby sees and hears another baby crying, they will begin to cry too. Is this empathy?

In any case, it can certainly be unlearned. And that’s where Nature passes the ball to Nurture.

So how do we learn it? And how do we teach it?

Like a lot of learned behaviors and skills, we pick it up from the people around us. Or, and this is important, not. As children, we need to see it modeled by other people, particularly adults.

As adults, we can give kids opportunities to act with empathy. We can discuss with them what another person must be feeling. This person can be real or fictional (how does Sleeping Beauty feel when she pricks herself on the spindle? How does Maleficent feel when she is excluded from the birth celebration?).

More importantly, we can approach them empathetically. We do this by helping them to identify their feelings (“Your words sound angry.” “You must be very disappointed.” “That’s scary.”). And,  — and I like how the Nurturing Parenting curriculum puts it — to honor those feelings.

When children know that what they are feeling is acceptable, and normal (even if they don’t know why), it helps them to respond empathetically to others.

Telling this to ourselves doesn’t hurt, either.

A Shopping Story

This week’s post was contributed by Kelly Schell. I hope that you find it useful and we look forward to more posts from Kelly in the future.

I remember my first solo trip to the grocery store several weeks after the birth of my second child. I took my two daughters, one a toddler, to do some grocery shopping. It was my first opportunity to do so since being discharged from the hospital. I was exhausted, and not at my best.

Upon arriving at the store, I looked for a cart and discovered that none of them had built-in infant seats. I did not have the type of infant car seat that had a detachable carrier, so I had to juggle my 22 month-old daughter, her newborn sister, and a cart. Faced with this situation, I decided the easiest thing to do was to let my 22 month-old walk with me while shopping. I awkwardly pushed the cart with one arm while holding my two-week-old infant with the other.

My other daughter, being a bright and independent toddler, soon realized my limitations. Taking advantage of this, she took off running through the store, ready to play a game of chase. I called out to her to stop, becoming increasingly frustrated when she kept going. I found that I had to abandon the shopping cart in order to pursue my wildly giggling toddler through the store. I became increasingly frustrated, angry, and embarrassed as I unsuccessfully attempted to rein in my errant daughter. My feeling of embarrassment was intensified by the fact that the chase was witnessed by other customers, most of whom openly stared as we passed them. I was sure I was being judged and found lacking as a parent; after all, I couldn’t even control my small child. When I eventually caught up to my daughter, I felt irritated and angry that she had done this to me. I retrieved her, ensuring that she knew how unhappy I was with her, and quickly left the store to go home.

I have used this more than once as an example to underscore how we perceive what other people are thinking often influences us, especially in our parenting. Most of us, especially in stressful situations, have a negative inner dialogue that happens regularly that we may not even be aware of. For example, when I am shopping and my two-year-old tantrums loudly in the middle of the store, I might think things like: “I’m a bad mother,” or “My child is acting awful”. Looks and occasional comments made by well-meaning bystanders often serve to reinforce our negative perception of our parenting. We tend to assume that people are judging us, even if they really aren’t. All of these factors can make it difficult to remain calm and focus on dealing effectively with our children.

There are several tactics you can use to help you remain calm and focused in these situations.

  • Be aware of your negative self-talk and change it to positive self-talk. This is not easy and takes practice. Instead of “I’m a bad mother” you could change it to, “I’m a good mother doing the best I can.” Instead of “My child is acting awful” you could say, “My child is acting like a normal two-year-old.”
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and ignore unsolicited opinions. People may judge you, and you have no control over that, but you can decide how it will affect you. This is also difficult and will require practice.
  • Avoid or minimize the potential for public outings to become overly stressful. One way to do this is to plan ahead as much as possible and to set expectations for your children. When children know what to expect, things tend to go much smoother for them and for you. Be flexible; you may have to change your plan, no matter how well thought out it is.

I can look back on my experience and laugh now, but if I’d had more tools at the time, it would have been a better experience for both of us.

 

Kelly Schell is the Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery. 

Three Principles for Fatherhood

Howdy! My name is Rob, and I will be blogging for the Parenting Success Network. I’m happy to be here and I hope that you will find my posts useful.

I am father to four daughters, and one thing that is often pointed out about me is that I am male. In my other job, I work with children and families at a Relief Nursery. This is maybe more unusual than it should be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 less than 6% of people who work in childcare were men; in Preschool and Kindergarten, it was less than 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, and this is not the time to go into them. But I find it disheartening, given that around 100% of fathers are men, and they have real work to do.

I wanted to start with a couple of principles to which I subscribe in my role as a father. I didn’t make them up, and I can’t say that I stick to them with anything like total compliance (we all have days, right?). But I think they’re important and worth discussing.

  1. Be on the same page with your wife or partner.

This may take some explaining. My wife and I decided while the first one was on the way, that it was absolutely essential we were both on board with the hows, whens, and whys of raising our children. Having had no experience as a parent, or really being around kids at that point, I took it as a given. Anyway, she seemed to know what she was talking about. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions we have made as parents.

On what did we need to agree? It started before the birth, as we were lucky enough to be able to choose a natural birth with few complications. She wanted to stay at home, at least for the time being, so this required my cooperation (to say the least). I signed on to such practices as breastfeeding and co-sleeping with at least a partial understanding of the work this would entail. And later, the importance of consistent routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes. Later still, decisions about potty training, discipline, and education were made with mutual and conscious deliberation. This is not to say that what we had decided to do always worked, and that we didn’t have to go back to the drawing board again and again. The point is, fathers need to know what the plan is, and what it entails, in order to provide the support that the mother and the children need. We are a team, after all.

  1. Share the duties.

I can’t stress this enough. Fortunately, I have the research to back me up. A recent study found that, when men take part in housework and chores, it has a clear and positive effect on the child—specifically, that “when fathers take an active role in household work, their daughters are more inclined toward picturing themselves in leadership and management roles in potential jobs, as opposed to stereotypically feminine careers.” I was okay with doing the dishes before, but knowing that it actually expands the horizons for my girls’ future lives takes the edge off.

  1. Be present for the kids.

What does present mean? A colleague once shocked me by telling me that my kids were so lucky to have a father like me because she went on, I was there. Like, physically there in the house. That’s present. Go me. But as I am reminded more often than I’d like, just being there leaves room for improvement. Am I distracted by work? Am I focused on getting the beds made and pajamas laid out for the night? Am I thinking about the episode of The Sopranos I’m going to watch on my phone later? Am I conscious of the fact that, though I just worked an eight-hour day, my wife’s job runs to 24, with no overtime?

Kids need time with their father. They need him to ask about their day, to look at their drawings, to listen to what the warrior princesses were doing outside under the picnic table, and how the tea party went. They need him to be patient with bedtimes and give the extra hug, tell the extra story, and know that Tony Soprano will still be up to his shenanigans later. That’s presence. And it’s hard.

Healthy and Happy

I think if you asked any parent, they would agree that they want their children to be happy and healthy. We all want our children to have the gift of health and to live long and happy lives. All of us are coming from different places when we make decisions in regards to healthy lifestyles and how we implement them in our families. We were all raised differently and it can often be interesting and challenging to parents who may have been raised with different values around what “health” looks like and its’ importance.

A lot of us are also very confused. Should we take on the French philosophy of feeding? Should we eliminate gluten? Should we eliminate all food with dyes? What amount of exercise do we really end and what kinds are best?  The questions can be limitless and so can the information that is out there.  There are many new diets being introduced by the week and constantly changing ideas of what parents should or should not feed children. Many children today lead very sedentary lives with video games and media being a top priority. Included in this media are the messages sent about what is attractive in our society and what our society as a whole values.  It unfortunately usually doesn’t take long for children to form an opinion of what they think their bodies are supposed to look like according  to the messages that they see and hear. One of the messages youth often key in on is that being extremely thin is the ideal.

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This is “The Becerra Bikers” a few years ago after a family ride.

 

Though maintaining a healthy weight can certainly  be a part of a healthy lifestyle, I have realized more and more that automatically equating health with weight and size can be misleading and even harmful. I think that most of us probably know at least one person who is very thin but doesn’t live a very healthy lifestyle. When we see a person who is overweight, we might also make assumptions about the lifestyle that person leads. I know that I can think of examples of several people in my life who although  they may be a little overweight, they are actually very active and really value eating a healthy diet. It simply is not fair to make assumptions that people who are thin are automatically healthy people and that on the flip side people who aren’t super model thin aren’t.

In my Healthy Sprouts class that I taught through the Healthy Youth Program, we talked to families a lot about how we are all unique and come in different shapes and sizes.  Instead of putting the majority of the focus on size, it is important to focus on health for everyone!  Teaching our children how to care for their bodies (and modeling how we care for ours), is a huge gift! Every family is unique and faces different challenges, and there is not one size fits all package for any family. Through my research as a former nutrition educator for the Healthy Youth Program and my experiences as a parent, I have a few tips that might be helpful as you try to figure out what “healthy” might look like in your own family.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Because motivation, temperament, and activity level varies between each child, we might sometimes have to think outside of the box on how to make this process fun for each child. One of my children is so far not very excited about doing team sports, but she loves to ride her bike places and is open to doing yoga classes. I really do believe that there is a form of exercise for everyone. Walking, dance parties, organized sports, biking and swimming are a few of the many options when it comes to types of exercise we can encourage. This is something that I am trying to do a better job of with my own family, but my kids have been very receptive when we exercise together as a family.
  • Really think about the messages that you send your children based off of how you talk about your own size and body. Are you constantly weighing yourself in front of your children? Do you sit and talk with a friend about dieting or criticize your own body in front of your children? Children are extremely smart and perceptive, and I have really been contemplating the messages I send to my children by my actions and the things I say. When you put yourself down in front of your children, you are putting down a person who means the very most to your child!
  • Do your research. As you are deciding the specifics on what is best for your family, remember that not all information or internet sites are created equal. Often times sites have ulterior motives as they are trying to push their products.
  • From the years I spent teaching parent/child baby classes, I can see how common it is in our culture to compare body shapes and sizes early on. Though it usually starts as an observation or in fun, parents are often comparing their children’s size to their peers. Grandparents might joke about or constantly bring attention to the fact that one grandchild is much larger than another, even as babies.  I once had a mom break down in class once when she recalled how her family referred to her as the “fat” sister. She said that they were constantly joking and criticizing her and pushing her to lose weight. In tears, she told us that she will never do these comparisons or put this kind of pressure on her own daughters.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible. Family meals are a time to not only share food but also to share about our days and to check in with each family member. I inherited my childhood family table, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the many times my family gathered around that table. And to be able to do the same thing with my family feels very special!
  • Be mindful about how much and which kinds of media you allow enter your home. Though we won’t be able to always shelter our children from everything, we can do our part to have a healthy relationship with media. When we do see commercials or ads, we can talk about the fact that even these pictures aren’t usually accurate pictures of what the person really looks like. They are often photoshopping and changing models to fit the societal ideal even more. There is room to have many meaningful conversations about health and body image.
  • Be more gentle with yourself. It is extremely important to me that my children have a healthy self-image, yet I can be so hard on myself when I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like. It can also sometimes still be hard to accept the fact that my body, that has grown and birthed 3 children,might not quite go back to the way I would like it to, even when I am exercising and eating well. It truly is a miracle that my body was able to grow these 3  children that are now in my care each day. I should be celebrating the beauty of this as I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach health and body image in your own families. How are your ideas influenced by the way you were raised? What fun tips to you have for other families based off of what has worked well for you? I wish you and yours health during this new school year and in the years to come!

 

 

 

Outside Everyday!

While visiting The Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend with my children, I read a quote painted on the wall in the children’s area that said : “If we want children to flourish, we have to give them time to connect with nature and love the earth before we ask them to save it” (David Sobel). We have also been learning more about Helen Keller this summer as a family, and I love her quote that says: “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Both of these quotes really speak to me as I have really been making a stronger effort this summer to have my children outside as much as possible. We have been swinging, bike riding, berry picking, hiking, swimming (in pools and rivers),gardening, playing in the yard, and going on family walks as much as possible. I’m sure that many of you have been doing the same with your families with maybe even more additions to my list.

I have personally observed that my own children seem so much happier, fight with each other less, and behave better in general when given opportunities to connect with nature, whether on a hike at Bald Hill or in our own yard. Children of all ages really can flourish when we slow down and prioritize outside time every day. When given the opportunity to move outside freely, children encourage growth across all developmental domains.

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

Much of my motivation to get my children outside more often came after reading Richard Louv’s book: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” If you are not familiar with this book, you can listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. In his book, Louv explores many of the contributing factors to less outside play today, which include media use in the home as well as parents perceived yet inaccurate assumption that we are raising children in much more dangerous times than when we were children (thus not allowing children to roam and explore). I know for me, one of the biggest barriers to getting my children outside can be weather. I have no problem getting my kids outside for long periods when the weather is nice, but it can definitely be harder for all of us to be motivated on a rainy day in February when I’d quite honestly rather stay inside and bake pumpkin bread, even if my kids would be up for time in nature.

Though I am making a stronger effort to make outside time the norm in our family, we are far from perfect when it comes to getting enough outside time. In fact, it seems like we adults can sometimes have a harder time finding motivation to get outside than our children.  I have found, however, that there have been some things that have helped my family in our efforts to get outside more:

  1. Choose to bike and walk when possible. Though we live too far from my children’s school to bike (and lack a route that is safe), we have made more effort to walk and bike when possible. We only live a little over a mile from a movie theater, so we have been trying to walk or bike when we see a movie instead of hopping into the car. We also try to ride our bikes to the park and to church when I have my act together.
  2. Make sure that you have the right clothing and gear. There is a saying that says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” Having the right kind of clothing for weather can make all the difference in the world of making outside play a positive experience. Because nice outside gear can often times be expensive, look for used clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops if this is a concern for you. Another way to cut down the cost is to buy gender neutral clothing so that you can pass clothing down between brothers and sisters.
  3. Find kid friendly hikes and other outdoor activities in your area. With most of us being connected to social media these days, it would be very easy to pose a question to find out the best local spots nearby. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to walk the short boardwalk loop at Jackson Frazier Wetlands. If the weather is particularly bad, this short loop does not take very long and even toddlers can walk it.
  4. Make outside time a part of the routine so it just feels normal. I have thought about setting a rule that media use does not happen that day unless my children have first been outside breathing fresh air.  Limiting media use in general can also leave more time and motivation to get outside.
  5. Let your children participate in gardening. My kids love spending time in the garden and take so much pride when they have actually helped to plant and nourish the food that then nourishes our bodies. And as an extra bonus, my children are more likely to eat food from our garden than they are store bought food.
  6. Enjoy outdoor activities with other friends and family. I have found that my children are far less likely to whine or complain about going outside in the cold when they have other kids to run around with.
  7. Listen to your children and follow their leads on what they like to do outside. Children are going to feel more excited about spending time outside if they have input on what the activity is. Some children might enjoy the challenge of geocaching or having a bird guide with them while they walk so they can identify the wildlife around them.
  8. Slow down. Sometimes during the school year it can be hard to even find the time to get our kids outside when we are running children around from one activity to another. Make sure that no matter what activities your child does, they still have some time left for free play and spending time in nature.
  9. If you live in the Willamette Valley, make sure to attend “Get Outdoors Day” each year. We went as a family for the first time this year, and my children were so happy exploring and participating in all of the activities for hours

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at "Get Outdoors Day".

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at “Get Outdoors Day”.

Some of my best family memories from my own childhood and with my own family have been enjoying nature together. We would love to hear what you love to do with your families outdoors and how you make exploring nature a priority!