MISSING: Purposeful Work for Young Children

Hey there, its the 5 day in a row posting here!  This writing a post for 7 consecutive day from the #YourTurnChallenge is quite the regimen to behold.

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Today I want to share with you a topic that really changed my way of seeing children and therefore it has change my life.

Before kids came into my life I was not really interested in them.  I never babysat.  I might hold an infant for about 10 minutes but I always thought I did not habour natural nurturing instincts like other girl friends I knew.  I was always very content with the idea of not having children and just enjoy being a modern working woman.

The story of how I got here, not only a mother to two boys but a homeschooling mama to boot (gasp!) should be written in another post for I want to focus on sharing with you one of the biggest lightbulb moments my my parenting journey.

“Young children from infancy do not need to be entertained.”

Yes that was the message I got – and really needed to hear from a “professional” – on the first day I walked into a Waldorf parent and tot class, nineteen months into motherhood.  While before that day, I was fortunate enough to have encountered some amazing resources (oh I will share those!) that had lead me to find “Waldorf” and the philosophies of Dr. Rudolf Steiner.

Well, if children do not need to be entertained, then what do we do with them at home all day long?! (That is if you are at home with them).  That was the question that came up right after that statement from this amazing Waldorf early childhood educator.

“Young children need to do purposeful work, this is how you help them build their true will and their sense of self.”

Now please note that the “true will” is different than “willful”.  If anything a willful child is actually a child that lacks true will.  This topic was so well explained to me when I went to a lecture by Kim John Payne – the author of the game-changer book Simplicity Parenting.  (I think this is a must read for all parents)  Sorry, I digress so…

The big question:

What is it that we do with children if we are not to entertain them or find them something to be entertained by?

The big answer:

We engage them in doing purposeful work.

What is purposeful work we ask?

Well, isn’t that what is really missing in our modern culture today, especially in first world countries where knowledge and winning trumps everything?

Purposeful work is in my opinion the hallmark work of building true character with strength, values and empathy in our children–and for the rest of their lives– without having to actually verbally teach it.  That is the glorious beauty of engaging your young ones in purposeful, meaningful work.

What actually is meaningful work one would ask.  Here is a list of example of what it may be:

  • washing dishes
  • cleaning the floor
  • laundering clothes
  • ironing (yes! tell me who irons these days?  Who do you know has the patience to do this job today? Ironically – no pun intended – ironing actually is one of the best activity to develop focus, patience, hand-eye coordination, and last but not least something that most people complain about our youth today for not having: followthrough.  Yes ironing is actually something that can build character!!  Oh but it is so hot and it is too dangerous, I will not let me kid touch an iron.  Well of course you are not going to let a baby or 3 year old actually iron but if you actually do ironing in front of them on a regular basis as part of your weekly rhythm, out of the blue one day when they are 4.5 years old, they will ask if they can use the actual iron and be able to iron and fold napkins better than your grandmother.  True story. )
  • cleaning windows with newspaper (with vinegar diluted in water)
  • taking care of the garden ie. pulling weeds, raking leaves, mixing soil etc.
  • grow food (yes you can do this even if you don’t have a garden or balcony)
  • caring for pets – everything from grooming, taking them for walks, feeding them.
  • setting the table
  • help prepare meals.

Oh the list can go on.  I’ve been asked about how one can make an infant, preschooler actually do purposeful work?  The answer is that YOU actually are doing this purposeful work in front of them while they are by your side shadowing you while they…the drum roll…PLAY ON THEIR OWN!!! (Refer to my post on letting kids be bored and here as well.)

Of course the icing on top would be that you sing while you do these “chores”, but that is asking for a lot isn’t it?!  Okay one lightbulb moment at a time.

I would love to elaborate more on this for I love talking and helping people figure out how to be purposeful at home with young children but it is Friday evening and I am going to celebrate the end of a hard working week hanging out with my love.  Yes the kids are sound asleep and peace has reigned in our home.

Until tomorrow.

Much love and warmth,
Grace

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Feeding Your Kids Boredom, Another Cornerstone of NOFOMO Living

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Here it goes, day 2 of my #YourTurnChallenge
(I am challenging myself to post everyday this week – so bare with me, very little editing is done.  Apologize in advance the spelling and grammatical errors.  I really want to practice the “just ship” discipline. )

Many people would not believe me when I first tell them our boys do have not watched a day of television, a lick of computer time and played with my phone, let alone a learning app on the iPad.

But when our friends and family experience them in person, (they are six and three and a half years old) they do feel there is something quite different with the way they interact with the world and mostly they cannot put a finger as to why that is.

This is not a post bragging about how amazing my children is. This is a post on our experience and objective observation on the effects of our No Media discipline.

I too had my doubts. For a long time I just chalked up my first born as one of those rare kids that is naturally good at playing on his own, by chance. We lucked out.

But when the second boy came along, I began to realize soon after his birth that this is not the case OR that I have won the lottery twice.

After six years into this discipline, I feel I can safely say that the No Media Policy (for the kids only, we do use our mobile devices but rarely in their faces, and watch movies when they are asleep) that our commitment to trying is out is paying off in thousand folds.

Most people don’t see how it can be different, they think that kids are kids, and like candy, they just have to experience it somehow, somewhere. Such is life.

I am speaking merely to the early childhood phase of course. I know things will change as they get older but during these foundation years, this kind of discipline we are upholding really does play a huge part on our children’s overall development.

Here is what we have learned and observed:

1. They can keep their attention span for a long time on any given subject of interest. From watching someone cook, to a construction worker working on the siding, to a person playing the violin on the street.

2. Their imagination is pure and dreamy. I would know that almost everything that they express is authentic to their character coming forth.

3. Their speech is clear and articulate. They don’t talk like a cartoon characters.

4. On a scientific level, boredom will help with a young child in the enrichment of the wiring of their brains, their neural plasticity.

Specifically from new born up to 4 (approx), the most optimal way to protect and aid in the synaptic refinement to their full potential is to keeping their environment as serene as possible.

In other words, less is really much more than we think, especially for a young child, contrary to how our modern society pushes the more is more philosophy.

In Dr. Lise Eliot’s book “ What’s Going On In There?, she mentioned :

“ The initial wiring of a particular brain region (the period of synapse overproduction) marks the onset of a particular ability, such as vision in the first few months and language in the second year. But it is the prolonged pruning period that fixes the overall quality of that ability, because this is when experience –translated into neural activity–decides which connections will be preserved and, consequently, how the brain will be permanently wired for certain ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting.

As long as an excess number of synapses are present, the brain remains maximally plastic and can develop in a variety of ways. But once those excess synapses are gone, the critical period is over, and it must make do with its existing circuitry; there is no trading up for a faster computer.”

So the next time your little kid is looking bored and staring out the window or in “space”, know that there is a WHOLE LOT going on in there and please do not “snap” them out of it.

5. Through boredom, we are giving them a gift of the space to rise above it and come up with new ideas on their own. Hence, in no time, especially when you are not afraid of “letting them be bored” from an early age, they will be come so skilled in playing on their own.

6. Last but not least. I have yet to teach our boys the actual word “bored”. So in many ways, they have yet to experiece it cognitively therefore they have never nagged and whined about being bored. In other words, what you don’t know won’t hinder you.

Now imagine how nice it is to be able to be in the same room as 2 toddlers and we are all doing our own thing together without the television on? Well, I really want to share with those of you who do not think it is possible that it is. It just takes the vision and the willingness to try out this discipline for at least a week. I can guarantee that peace will reign upon your household, and much longer than a tv program to say the least!

Go on and unplug that TV and iDevices. Just like weening off anything, the first few days will be tough but have the faith and know that in doing so, you will see a difference in the overall energy in your household and you will not want to turn it back on again…until they turn ten years old, maybe.

Much warmth,
Grace

Raising Babies and Toddlers without TVs & iPads is Totally Possible

It is true.  Both our boys (4.5 & 2 yrs) have not watched a second of television in our home.  They have not looked at or played with my iPhone/iPad, and have not been played back a digital movie recorded of them from all our cameras.  They are completely screen-free.

Almost every person that discovers this about our kids has the same reaction.

1.  They are shocked, eyes opened a little wider and followed by saying “like, none at all?  Not even a little cartoon on YouTube?”  NO, not even a 30 sec non-speaking-French/Japanese-produced-award-winning-short-anime on You Tube.

2. “Not even the iPhone?”  Nope.

3.  Then they will say:  ” Wow, ok.”

4.  Then silence.

5.  Then they would take a long look at our boys and would say:  “Maybe that is why they play so well on their own?”

Maybe, maybe not.  Time will tell, I tell them.  But in my heart, I truly believe that this is why we have such peaceful, joyful and engaging little boys.

How is that for simplifying?!  Yes simplifying does not mean it is easy.  In our modern environment surrounding us with so much technology and immediate information, deciding on no-screen-time AT ALL takes discipline and a very clear conviction on our part.

To give you some clarity, both my husband and I do not hate technology and we do not think television and computers are evil.  In fact we are total geeks when it comes to computers and technology.  I love movies, I was even in the film business as an art director for a while.   I love my iPhone to bits, mostly because of the camera.  I love Instagram.  I design eCommerce websites for companies.   When the boys are in bed, we both just go all-in on our daily fix of tech time.  Mainly the web and the occasional movie or TV show.

Screen time for young children is proven to hinder their development, and I don’t want to spend time here to count out the negatives.   There are many other obvious reasons why we’ve decided to do this and I will go into more details about this on other posts –  but the most simple answer is (sorry for using this word so often but then after all this IS what this blog is about):

WHY NOT!!

Think about it.  We only have one chance to parent these kids at this age.  We know very clearly the magnitude of how absolutely paramount the early years are.  As the Chinese would say: “By the time you are 3, your character is set for life”.  When we think about it this way it was so easy for us to commit to the No-Screen house rule, for the early years anyway.  What have our boys got to loose by not watch television, thumbing through apps on the iPad or iPhone?!

Nada.  If anything it has everything that is positive that comes with this no-screen discipline.  It forces us to work on our engagement and our presence with these amazing little beings.  They need our eye contact and our solid attention when we are around them.  You may think, if that is the case then we would have to hover over them all day long.  NOPE!  In fact it is the opposite.  You won’t believe me if you haven’t tried this, but it is true, screen-free kids don’t need to be helicopter-ed and we haven’t felt the need to do so.

Whenever I think of how I can simplify, I always do a “simplicity check-in” as I think about my mother’s childhood (over sixty years ago).  She grew up in Southern China without any modern technology.  She did not have toys and she did not have television.  She and her siblings ( all FIVE of them) grew up to be intelligent, engaging, funny, successful and adventurous people.  I would think about the stories she told me about her childhood and they were always funny and exciting – climbing plum trees, getting diarerhea from eating too many plums, taking care of the chicken (they only had one until it was eaten and then they would get another one ), hilarious stories about their fights over the most simple things,  and how happy they all were even though they were poor.

Life with kids without screen-time for us had been really peaceful.  I strongly urge parents to try it, especially if your kids are young, it is much easier to enforce.  They will not miss what they don’t have.  So what do you do with them all day long you ask?!  Oh the list of fun is long and I will talk more about our daily rhythms in future posts.

In the meantime, I am working on writing about the time we went to visit family in Hong Kong last December, on a 12-hour direct flight (there and back), stayed there for 10 days WITHOUT any screen time?!   Yes Hong Kong is one of the most media-driven, highly stimulating cities in the world and yes we did it. Yes it was not easy and no, no-one was hurt.  Nobody died.

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