Getting Ready for Kindergarten

There’s nothing like the first day of kindergarten – for parents and their kiddos. It is the start of the public school journey for many families. It’s a momentous occasion even for students who continue their education in the same school where they’ve experienced a pre-school program. 

Kindergarteners are moving out of their pre-school years and into childhood, where their education will be a  primary focus for many years to come.

As parents, we are excited for them and a little weepy that our little ones are spreading their wings in an environment without us. 

They, too, can be both eager to be a ‘big school kid’ and nervous to be away from the security of home and their previous routine.

Here are a few tips for making the transition to kindergarten easier for everyone.

Six strategies for kindergarten readiness

– 1 Make room for the emotions

Transitioning to kindergarten is a big step for everyone, children and parents alike. It’s ok to be anxious, excited, and emotional. Invite your soon-to-be-kindergartener to share their feelings. Acknowledge those feelings and share a little of your own. Keep the conversation positive and upbeat while letting them know it’s ok to have big feelings. End the conversation on a positive note, reminding them of all the fun things they will do at school (meet new friends, play on the playground, try new things.) 

– 2 Get organized the night before

Make the mornings easier by laying out clothes and packing lunches the night before. Help your child be independent when dressing by providing clothes they can get on and off without your help. It is also a good idea to Include extra clothes in their school backpack, just in case they need a spare during the day..

– 3 Check out the school playground

If you have access, viisit the school playground a few times before school starts. This will help your kindergartener become familiar with the space and feel more comfortable that first week of school.

– 4 Choose lunch containers they can manage alone

Make sure they can open and close containers you send to school with them – their water bottle, lunch box, and food containers. In the days before school starts give them lunch at home in their school lunch containers a few times so they have a chance to practice. If they struggle, find containers that are easier for them to use.

-5 Establish a school day morning routine

Maintain a regular routine on school mornings. Decide whether you’ll eat breakfast or dress first, then make sure you follow the plan. Knowing the order that things will be done and maintaining consistency helps everyone be ready when it’s time to head out the door.

– 6 Encourage independence in toileting at home and in public restrooms

They’ll be expected to independently use the bathroom at school. Let your child practice being independent in the bathroom, both at home and when you’re out and about. When you visit a public restroom, let them go into the stall alone and take care of their own personal needs without your help. 

Kindergarten is designed to help them learn how to be away from home, take direction from other adults, and expand their circle of friends. It’s natural to feel they are too young and inexperienced on that first day of school. But before you know it you’ll be wondering when they got so grown up and experienced.

For more ideas to support kindergarten readiness, check out these Head Start activities.

 

Who needs parenting classes?

When you are pregnant, childbirth classes are the norm. Expectant parents attend childbirth classes to learn what to expect during labor and delivery. 

Regardless of the choices you’ll make about where to deliver or medications to use during delivery, attending childbirth classes is one of those things most everyone does to prepare for birthing a baby.

Immediately after the birth, whether recovering in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home, follow-up visits by nurses or doulas will include discussions of lactation, bathing a newborn, and typical sleep patterns during the early days and weeks.

Many new parents buy a book or two from the myriad books that have been written to help new parents care for their newborns over the coming months. But sometimes, there is a stigma around parenting classes. While childbirth classes are the norm for most pregnant women, once home, attending parenting classes is sometimes seen as something done only by people who struggle with parenting.

Everybody can benefit

But the reality is, parenting classes are designed to support all parents, not just those who feel like they are struggling.

Parenting classes provide a community for parents, both new and seasoned, to come together with others who are in the same stages of parenting. In parenting classes, parents have the opportunity to hear how others are handling situations that are familiar, to learn new approaches when something isn’t working for their family, and reassure them that what they are going through might not be that unusual.

NPEN, the National Parenting Education Network, explains the benefit of parenting education thus:

Parenting education empowers parents’ confidence and competence.

At the Parenting Success network, we believe that parenting classes are for every parent.

The Parenting Success Network is a coalition of organizations in Benton, Lincoln, and Linn Counties that have come together to support and encourage parents with children from birth to 18 years of age. A primary component of this support is offering the opportunity for parents to join together in workshops and classes. 

Parenting Success Network

Classes vary in focus. Some are specific to parenting for different ages, like Live & Learn with your Wobbler, for parents of children 9-18 months, or Living with Your Middle Schooler for parents of young teens. 

Others focus on specific parenting topics, like co-parenting and parenting a child on the autism spectrum. 

No matter where you feel you are on the parenting success spectrum, joining with other parents for community and support will strengthen your parenting.

Parenting classes are for everyone. Because all parents can benefit from the support and community found in workshops and classes led by trained parenting education professionals. 

Take a look at the programs being offered and sign up for some parenting support today.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real-life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantine, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for the green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.

The Importance of Routines (especially now)

In Benton, Lincoln, and Linn County, Labor Day is where the summer schedule ends and the school year begins as school starts this week. After the free flow of July and August, settling back into a regular routine is comforting and reassuring. But this year has been anything but routine. 

Many of us will be starting the school year from home, just like we ended things last year. Will the habits we’ve formed being at home since March be difficult to overcome when school starts? A regular bedtime? What’s that? Rousing my three teens before lunchtime? Hasn’t happened in months.

And yet, we know the value of routines for children both big and little. Routine provides children with predictability and familiarity, helping them feel safe and confident. Especially in anxious times such as these, knowing what comes next and being able to count on that reassures our children.

A routine is simply a predictable pattern of activity. As adults, we often structure our routines by the clock. We set an alarm for a certain time, we allow a set number of minutes for each task. We make appointments at specific times and allot a certain number of hours for various activities.

But for young children, more important than ‘what time’ is ‘what’s next.’ Following the same pattern of activity as we go about our days is more important than scheduling by the clock. For example, a simple morning routine might be: when we get up we use the bathroom, eat our breakfast, and then get dressed. Then we brush our teeth. Doing these tasks in the same order each day lets the child know that breakfast comes before dressing, reducing power struggles that can arise over something as simple as getting dressed. 

Another family may choose to dress first, then eat breakfast. And that’s the beauty of routines. You get to decide what works best for you and your kiddos. The importance of the routine is that once you decide, you stick with it. Even pre-verbal children can gain self-confidence and feel assured when their activities follow a predictable pattern. For older children, the habits formed in following a routine reduce conflict and build independence.

As our children reach adolescence, routines can grow and change to prepare them for the independent living of adulthood. With much joy, I noticed late last month that a routine at our house, established at least two years ago, has finally taken hold of my youngest. 

At some point in 2018, I resigned from my job as family laundress. I invited the kids, who were 10, 12, and 15 at the time, to take over washing their own clothes. My oldest, who was already in high school at the time, had no trouble doing her laundry each week. I never needed to mention it to her again.

My son and youngest daughter needed pretty regular reminders at first. But sometime in the last year, my son’s laundry started showing up in the washer and dryer without any reminders. And in this last month, the youngest, now almost 13, has not needed any prompting to take care of her dirty clothes. Not only do we have a working routine, but they have the confidence of knowing in this one small aspect, they are prepared for adulthood and living independently.

I’m looking forward to the start of school, even though they’ll be doing school from home. With school added to the schedule, we will establish some new routines. Maybe one that includes getting up before noon.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Gardening with kids

Gardening is the perfect family activity this summer, with many of us having more time at home together. Growing things together has so many benefits. In addition to the bonding that comes from shared activity, children who participate in growing vegetables eat healthier and are more receptive to trying new foods. Gardening can also help teach children how to relax and calm down. Being outside and tending to growing things increases levels of Vitamin D and helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol. 

You don’t need a big yard to enjoy the benefits of caring for vegetable plants or flowers. Even a patio planter in a sunny corner will work.

A garden gives you the opportunity to engage all the senses – the taste of a tomato fresh off the vine, the smell of rosemary, the sound of bamboo rustling in the breeze, the soft fuzz of a green bean pulled from the bush, and the beauty of a sunflower following the arc of the sun across the sky. 

Gardening teaches responsibility and patience, with visible results when plants are well cared for through regular watering. 

When getting started with gardening together, choose things to grow based on family favorites. For younger children, choose plants that are quick to sprout and easy to harvest. Two of our favorites are sugar snap peas and green string beans. Snap peas like cool weather and plenty of water, so are a perfect first crop in the late Spring. They will need a trellis, which is easy to make with three long poles tied together at the top, tee-pee style, and some twine. Snap peas can be eaten right off the vine – a favorite activity for toddlers and preschoolers. 

It’s not too late to sow some green beans this summer. Green beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Last week we replaced the sugar snap peas in our garden with green beans and expect to start harvesting by the end of August.

Kale and Swiss chard are other easy growers in the Willamette Valley. These, too, can be started now and will continue to grow as summer gives way to autumn. Kale will often overwinter in the Willamette Valley. 

We use lots of kale hidden in blueberry smoothies at our house. We also love it sauteed with some onions and bacon, or pounded raw into some olive oil and Italian seasoning as a salad.

Sunflowers are a fun option for family gardening. Although they require patience through their long growing season, they will provide lots of happy color once they bloom. Harvesting the seeds from the head of the sunflower is a perfect autumn activity. As the weather cools, the harvested seeds can be shared in bird feeders with our feathered friends.

If you are looking for options that come back year after year, consider a strawberry patch or adding a few blueberry bushes along a fence. Both of these perennial fruits are kid-friendly favorites for picking and eating.

Even the youngest toddler will enjoy helping prepare the soil for planting. Small trowels in a raised bed are perfect for this activity. Counting can be practiced as seeds are planted, and older children can practice math skills as they figure out how many seeds will fit in the space you’ve allotted. 

Green bean planting is perfect for this activity, as they are planted one seed at a time, four inches apart. Invite your elementary students to determine how many seeds will fit in your row. They can also help decide how much garden space to devote to each crop. If each plant will produce six string beans at a time, how many plants do we need to be able to pick enough for everyone at dinner?

Watering is a task that is vital to the healthy growth of the vegetable garden. Toddlers love anything that involves water, and will happily water the garden with you. Be sure to provide a watering can that is the right size for your small child. 

The necessity of watering throughout the summer here in the Willamette Valley helps build responsibility and self-confidence. With regular attention and a degree of patience, eventually, the fruits of your effort will be ready to pick and taste. Children can take pride in their contribution to the family table.

And if you’ve included flowers in your garden, invite your children to pick enough to make a beautiful bouquet for the dinner table. Bon appetit!

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Why Observe Children at Play?

My days seem so much longer during these weeks of social distancing. How about you? Without the regular commitments that keep us on the run and all the people home all the time, days seem to go on and on and on.

But while being home together, some of this ‘extra’ time we’ve been given can be used to practice our observation skills

Educators use observation in classrooms to better understand how their students learn.  Observation helps them tailor the learning environment to each individual child. What they observe helps them better meet the needs of each of their students.

The Benefits of Observation

But observation is not just for teachers.  Parents can also see benefits from observing their children at play.  By watching, without influencing or interfering, we can gain insight into the connection between our children’s motives and behaviors.  Understanding what is triggering a behavior can help us help them navigate their reactions and feelings. 

In a recent article on being home for an extended time with preschoolers, Teacher Tom encourages, “Instead of feeling like you need to fill their days with “enrichment,” I urge you to instead simply observe them at play: no “good jobs,” no unsolicited advice, no using the moment to answer email or check social media. Ask yourself, what are they teaching themselves right now? What theories stand behind their play? What are the driving questions they are trying to answer? I like to think of it as listening with all of my senses, with my full self. What will you do with the data you collect? Nothing. Be satisfied that you now know it. Better understanding our loved ones is an end unto itself.”

That is really the key: observation leads to better understanding. 

Ready to spend a little time observing? Here are some tips for observing children at play.

Choose a time when your child is playing independently.  Sit where you are not a distraction and avoid calling attention to yourself.  Have a notebook and pen handy in case you want to write down your observations.  If your child tries to engage you in their activity, reassure them that you are nearby, but are busy doing your work.  

Observe what your child has chosen to play with.  What do they choose?  Do they use a single toy for long periods of time, or move about the room playing briefly with many different toys? How do they play with them? Do they invent new ways to use their toys, or use them the same way each time?

Observe their interactions with others.  If you have other children in the home, how do they interact with others? What role do they take within the group? Do they initiate play or wait to be invited? What types of activities do they enjoy with others?  What do they enjoy doing alone? Do they look for your direction and attention? How do they ask for help? 

Observe their use of language. How do they use language?  Are they easy to understand? Do they make their wishes known verbally?  Are there other ways they express their needs? If you observe multiple times over the course of a week, do you see patterns of behavior?  Are there clues that lead up to a meltdown or a tantrum?   

Observe how they move. How much do they climb, run, skip, and jump?  Are they confident or hesitant in their movements? How is their balance? What physical activities do they enjoy? Does physical exertion change their mood?

Using what you observe

Teachers use the things they learn through observation to structure classroom experiences for individualized learning.  As parents, we can use our observations just to know and understand our kids a little bit better.

But we can also use what we learn by being intentional about observation to adjust our parenting. Do you notice that meltdowns happen just before 11:00 each morning? Would offering a snack and a change of scenery at 10:30 help ease them through this time of day?

My 6th grader was struggling with middle school last Fall.  So many classrooms and teachers, lots of responsibility for getting herself and her things where they need to be when they need to be there.  By observing when she struggled the most, I deduced that she was overwhelmed with the responsibility of all those choices. So we pulled back a bit on the independence and took away some of her choices. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. 

Some of what we observe confirms what we already know about our kids.  But some will provide new insights and maybe even an ‘ah ha’. When we take a step back and spend some time observing our children we give ourselves the gift of intentional time spent understanding them better.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori 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.

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.

My To-Do List

This week’s guest blogger is LeAnne Trask, the Pollywog Database and Social Media Coordinator.  LeAnne and her husband, Terry, are the parents of three college-age sons.

As a young mom, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a “plan” for raising my children.  What did I want them to grow up knowing?  What did I want them to believe?  What skills were they going to need?  What kind of things did my kids need to be prepared for?  What kind of Mom was I going to be?

Then, one day, I overheard a woman in my office talking about a “list” that her sister had created for each of her children.  I LOVE lists, and I barraged her with questions about this list.  A few days later, her sister called our office and my co-worker handed me the phone, and I introduced myself to Carol.  I asked her to tell me about her lists, and Carol explained that she believed that there were things that her children needed to know, needed to be able to do, needed to be sure about before they left her home–just like I did!

I asked for examples.  Carol said that she believed that each of her children should play a musical instrument–well.  She wanted her son to be an Eagle Scout.  She wanted each of her children to find a sport that they loved, and be good at it.  She wanted her children to be able to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner–well.  She wanted her children to be able to sew, and not just a button!  Carol told me many more things that she had on her lists, and I took lots of notes.

What a great gift Carol gave me!  When an experienced mother shares her thoughts with a new mother, it gives us “fresh eyes” for looking at our situation and setting our goals.  Her idea of using a to-do list for each of her kids was perfect for me because I was already a list-maker.  One of the beauties of using this strategy is that list-making gives back a sense of control, plus there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in crossing things off your list.

I went home that night, and I started creating lists for each of my sons.  Over the years, things have been added to those lists, and a few things removed from the lists, but overall, they were the game plan we used to raise our children.  I took some of the things that Carol had on her list, like the importance of being an Eagle Scout and learning a musical instrument, and I added things that were personal to me, like attending Church regularly and participating in service projects.  Learning to cook became a way of life at our house, and all of my sons know how to change their oil and tie a necktie!

Over the years, many mothers have given me advice and shared their experiences–good and bad–and I am grateful for every one of those shared experiences.  I feel like we gave our kids not just a home and a place to hang their hat, but the benefit of our experience and the best of our knowledge.  My hope is that we turned out kids that were as prepared for life as we could make them.

What’s So Funny?

I remember the first time one of my children made a joke. My eldest daughter was barely a year old. She placed an empty bowl, with firm deliberation, upside down on her head, and said, “Hat?”

Now they all groan at what they have identified as “dad jokes.” Or as the youngest one syllogizes, “Dad jokes are bad jokes. Are all bad jokes dad jokes?”

I love that they want to talk about comedy, about how it’s made. The middle one asked me, “What makes a joke a joke?” We worked it through together:

 

A joke is a joke if:

a. You meant it to be funny, AND

b. Someone else takes it to be funny.

If b. but not a., it’s probably not nice to laugh.

Corollary: if b. but not a., you as the (non)joker reserve the right to later use it as a joke, on purpose.

If a. and not b., it is probably not a good joke (unless your Dad tells it, in which case his judgment is gold).

If a. AND b., it’s officially a joke.

 

Humor and child development are like this. (Sorry, you can’t see my fingers stuck together.)

When your child suddenly finds peek-a-boo hilarious, you know that they’ve crossed a cognitive threshold: object permanence has moved into place. The child understands that it’s you, still existing, behind your hand, and finds your futile attempt to hide hilariously pathetic.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

Later, as verbal and logical functioning revs up to higher levels, more sophisticated jokes, based on discrepancies between facts and perceptions, come into play.

I knew a 10-year-old who found this joke so brilliant she repeated it with maddening regularity: “Two muffins were sitting in an oven. One said, ‘Is it getting hot in here?’ The other said, ‘Oh my god! It’s a talking muffin!'” That one stayed funny for a while.

Now in my house, we’re going meta, discussing joke mechanics.

And just last week my oldest, now 13, left a note for me on top of the dinner dishes:

Hurrgh rurg arrook (Wookie for “I love you”).

 

Not as good as the one about the hat, but how could you top that?

 

Disparate Youth

An interesting issue came up in our Nurturing Fathers class recently: is there a right time to introduce a concept to your child when they might not otherwise know about it? Some examples: terrorism, drugs, political protest, gender ambiguity, racism.

Granted, this is a disparate list of topics, and the answer is going to be different for each situation (and for each family). But in each case, the parent did not know what, or how much, the child knew or from whom they might have learned it.

I described the scenario a few weeks ago in which I took my daughter, 12, to the doctor and she got tangled up in a list of questions about substance use. She didn’t know what they were about but knew enough about how drugs could be harmful that she was upset by the questions. I felt like I should have prepared the ground for her, given her more of a context for what she was being asked to think about (she doesn’t go to public school, by the by). But what should I have told her? And how much? And when?

So many questions! What’s the best way to approach a difficult topic with your kids?

The first step, because it can determine what course to follow, is to turn it around:

Ask your kids what they know about it. What do they think? How does it make them feel? What’s important here is not to identify the source or cast blame, but to find out what your child has to work with. Listen non-judgmentally, for content and for emotion. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Now, remember not to render value judgments on what they have told you, even if it is inaccurate or offensive. You don’t what them to shut down and quit sharing. Instead, offer to help them to find out the truth behind the subject: look it up together on the internet or at the library. While you do this you can teach them how to discern good sources of information from bad (we know how to do that, right?).

What if your conversation is not pure research, but touches you or your family directly? How do you give difficult information? I came across a helpful post on this very thing.

By approaching the problem in this way, you get to teach your child that it’s possible to learn and process challenging or even scary topics. And you get to spend some time together, to boot.

Thanks to Santigold for the title of this post.