There’s nothing like getting a present when you’re a kid. I still remember the anticipation as my birthday or Christmas approached. For the most part, I was never really hoping for any one item in particular. I was just excited that I was going to get SOMETHING. I couldn’t wait to tear apart the paper and discover what gift awaited me!
In all those years, it never occurred to me how challenging it would be to think of a cool gift to get kids someday when I became an old grown up. But here I’ve been, futzing around the last ten years trying to think of what my little cousins, goddaughter, and friends’ kids would enjoy as gifts. I feel like it’s been easier the last couple years for people with kids around the same age as my kids. I use my own experience and my own children’s interest as reference, but I’m always a loss for kids who are a bit older than my own. So when Sierra from Gifts.com shared this fantastic guide to age appropriate toys with me, I knew I had to share it with you! Not only are there great, gender neutral gift ideas, but they promote growth and are developmentally appropriate!
I have a confession to make. Despite teaching for over eight years, I had actually never taught a kid to read from the very beginning. I would always get a handful of kids, even in fourth grade (and in sixth grade…) who were still hovering around the first grade reading level, but they already knew their ABC’s and the general idea of piecing sounds together. I usually focused more on building fluency and developing comprehension. So when my daughter started asking me to teach her to read, I would smile and assure her that someday, yes, someday, I’d teach her.
Let me be clear, I was NOT planning to tiger-mom this, and I was never planning to teach her to read at age three. But I do try to be supportive of her interests, and I do love teaching. So when she kept on asking me to teach her and she seemed ready to learn, it wasn’t in me to say no.
But I definitely tried to put it off. As her love for books grew, her persistence in asking grew, and soon I started wondering when was too soon, and I began the rabbit hole of research that is when and how to teach your child to read. I was hesitant to introduce the alphabet to her, because I had read somewhere that the names of the letters will just confuse a learning child who should first learn the sounds they make. I read up on different philosophies, which left me feeling paralyzed and even less confident about starting anywhere. I asked my teacher friends who taught younger grades, and got a lot of great ideas, but still felt like I needed a program to guide me. I thought about buying a home-school kit or something, which is how I stumbled upon How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
Honestly, it sounded like an unrealistic stretch, and I got the same feeling I have when I watch TV infomercials: If it sounds too good to be true…
If it weren’t for Amazon and the 2,000+ glowing reviews of this, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But it piqued my interest enough for me to read several reviews and I even took a “Look inside!” the book. I saw strangely scripted words and antiquated cartoons. I wasn’t sure about this.
A few weeks later, my friend put up a video of his young daughter writing and he mentioned this very book. HMMM. I asked him what he thought, and he also had glowing reviews! Still, there was a lot I was skeptical of. The “100 days” part. The “easy lessons” part. The “just 20 minutes a day” part. The “love, care, and joy only a parent and child can share” part, because if this were so effective, wouldn’t teachers have adopted this into their programs long ago? Well, I pulled out Sambla’s lanekalkulator, did the math, and I thought, I guess for $13, I can just buy it and see what it’s all about.
When it arrived, I did the nerdy thing I do and I read the entire Introduction and Parents’ Guide from start to finish. It was no small feat, with its 20 small-fonted textbook sized pages. It didn’t take long for me to get totally absorbed in it, nodding my head and learning new things the way I did in teaching school. I appreciated the introduction. Their methodology was clearly laid out, thorough, and thoughtful. I appreciated the strategies they offered for teaching, including how to keep kids on track, pacing, and the hurdles they predicted would happen (and what to do about it). These guys knew what they were talking about, and it was clear they had a lot of successful experiences with this program. I was sold.
I was standing near the shipwreck, angling myself so I could keep one eye on my daughter digging in the gravel pit and one eye on my son as he climbed up and down the mini bridge. Minutes passed, and for the most part, I stayed where I was, willing myself not to interrupt my children’s play and holding back even as I watched a boy treat my daughter unkindly. To a stranger, it might have appeared that I was disengaged and not really watching any kids, but really, I had my eye on both while I tried to give them space to be immersed in their play and explore and learn independently.
As I stood there, I listened as a dad excitedly showed his child something neat about the water area. They remained for a few moments, and then just as quickly, the dad said, “Okay, let’s go, let’s see what else there is.”
“Wait I just want to try-”
“No, c’mon, we have to see the other exhibits!” the dad insisted.
After a moment, his child reluctantly left the water area and trekked after his father. As I stood there, unhurried as my daughter continued to scoop gravel and my son continued to climb up and down, it occurred to me that just a year ago, I had been just like this father.
6/4/2017 UPDATE: Congrats to Natalie, the winner of our giveaway! Thank you all for participating!
I’m a big fan of letting kids have space to be bored, so when EQtainment sent me this article to share, it seemed like a perfect fit! It’s a more succinct version of what I would say, and I am happy to share it here with you today!
Scroll to the bottom to see the great giveaway we have for you today, too!
Guest post from EQtainment
What should you do next time your kid says “I’m bored”? Hint: Nothing! In fact, here are five reasons to do yourself and your kid a favor, and let boredom be.
Complaining about being bored gets pretty boring pretty fast. Finding ways to fill unstructured time is how your child finds their muse. Whether they use that time to build a fort out of couch pillows, make a mud pie, or pull pots out of the cabinet and bang on them with a spoon, boredom breeds inspiration.
If you automatically hand your kid your phone every time you sit down at a restaurant or get in the car, you’re robbing them of the chance to learn to talk with their own family, or even just look out the window. Enjoying the company of others — and yourself — is fundamental to well-being. Want to take it to the next level? Declare every Saturday or Sunday as Digital Day Off for the whole family.
When a kid is constantly busy, they may not get the time to perfect a drawing, or finish a puzzle, or practice shooting baskets in the driveway. Boredom is the chance to work at something hard and build a skill — and in turn, self-confidence.
When a kid has nothing to do, they learn to just be. Slowing down means time to recharge. Even kids get stressed when they don’t get that opportunity.
Between soccer and piano lessons (never mind school), kids spend a lot of time learning what we want them to learn. But without free time with nothing to do, they don’t get the chance to try things on their own and figure out what they like to spend time doing. That’s why it’s so important to schedule some unscheduled time into your weekly routine. Maybe they’ll catch caterpillars in the backyard, or make up a new recipe, or grab their crayons and Q’s Coloring Book. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll love the chance to be in control and discover who they are.
A note from JoEllen:
EQtainment also sent me some products including a game called Q’s Race to the Top. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but the reviews don’t lie- this game is a winner! It is unlike any other kids game I have played with my children. The first time I played it with my daughter, my husband saw the fun we were having and exclaimed, “This game is awesome! I want to play!” I could tell he genuinely did.
Before I had played it, I was planning to just do a quick mention of the game, but I can’t help myself- it’s easily our family’s favorite game now, and a must-have if you want to laugh, be silly and active, and have really interesting conversation with your kids. I’ve learned fascinating things about my daughter, like what she thinks about at night before going to sleep, and which rules at home she thinks are good (and not good haha). It offers opportunity for thinking through various social and behavioral scenarios without feeling like a lesson or chore.
I’m always curious to know what my kids are thinking, but don’t always know how to tap into their brains- this game gives a really unique perspective while helping us coach them toward better behavior and emotional health. LOVE.
I am so eager for you all to try this game that I asked EQtainment if they’d be up for a giveaway, and they said yes! Enter below for a chance to win a Q’s Race to the Top board game and a year’s subscription to the Q Wunder app (including access to premium content). You can enter daily through Saturday, 6/03, and I’ll announce the winner here on Sunday! Thanks, EQtainment!
Okay, you’ve got an idea about what kind of preschool you’d like to send your child to (read more here). Great! Now what? Warning: reading this next section might just make this decision feel even more complicated than it needs to be, so proceed with caution ;). Here are a few more things you might consider as you decide on a preschool.
I am NO EXPERT on early childhood education.
Which is why I would have really appreciated an overview guide like this a year ago, when I was neck-deep in preschool research. It can be a daunting task. There is still so much I don’t know, but my goal is to give new parents an idea of what kind of things to consider when getting started on preschool research. I want to help you narrow down your goals and organize your thinking. I’ll talk about the different factors you might consider as well as some of our thinking as we worked through our decision for our preschooler.
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any one best philosophy or type of preschool for all kids. I think they all offer different and wonderful ways for your child to grow, and you should find something that works best for you and your child!
Where do I start my research?
Your preschool decision can be as simple as finding the closest preschool to your house, or finding one on the way to work. You visit and it’s warm, welcoming, and the kids are thriving. GREAT. Done. You are so efficient!
Others go with the recommendations of friends, which is a great place to start. Your friend raves about her child’s class and school. You visit, it’s just lovely, and you see her child thriving there. Sure, why not? Easy peasy, you are done!
If you’re like me, though, you take about 100 factors into consideration, weigh each one (using an Excel spreadsheet), agonize over how important each one is (both now and in nine months, when she would actually be enrolled), and flit back and forth as you get input from friends, the Internet, reviews, and your “gut feeling” after you’ve toured the school (not to mention the pressure of waiting lists!).
Sometimes, I really wish I were not that parent, because the first two scenarios seems so simple and everyone I know is still very happy with it. The best advice I got from a friend was, “Jo, don’t overthink it.”
So maybe you should do yourself a favor and stop reading right now ;). But if you must, then press on. Good luck. And really, try not to overthink it.
Different Types of Preschools
In my research, I came across five main different types of preschools: traditional, play-based, Montessori, co-ops, and home-based. While most preschools have elements from more than one category (i.e. “play-based co-op”), these are teaching philosophies and styles you might want to grow more familiar with.
“See, this is a corner,” I say slowly, poking my finger against the point of the puzzle piece. “There are only four corners in this puzzle, so there are only four places th-”
“Here?” she interrupts, trying to shove the piece in, “Here?” she continues, trying another spot haphazardly.
“Well, look at the colors-”
“Here?” she says, sticking it on a non-corner spot.
Ugh. Okay, new strategy.
“Well, look there’s also a border. This line right here,” I pull her finger along the bright blue line, “This is a border. So turn the piece so the lines connect on the outside.”
I know I’m losing her, even as I’m trying to make it tactile for her.
Have any of you taken the leap and started an art space for your child? I was so happy to hear that my brother and sister in law went out and stocked up on art supplies after seeing my post! I’d love to see pictures of your child’s work or photos of your space if you’ve done it, too! Now, if you’ve actually gone and started the whole art thing, you’re probably running into a common problem/fear of parents of kids with paint: MESS
I attended a training for Sunday school teachers this past weekend, and came across the most unexpected piece of advice: don’t make eye contact with the students.
Wait, what?? Did I hear that correctly? Don’t make eye contact?
Yet I knew inside, even as I wondered this, that it was exactly what the instructor meant. Because as I thought back to her slow and deliberate model lesson earlier that day, I remembered that she had indeed kept her eyes down on the materials and on her hands the entire time. It had been calming and strangely entrancing.
But it was still very counter-intuitive for me. She went on to explain, “This will be especially hard for those of you who come from a teaching background.”
“You’re used to making eye contact to keep the students engaged and to make sure they are paying attention. You need to release your students from that. Release them from that. If they are trying too hard to look at you to show you they are paying attention, then they won’t be able to see the lesson and focus as well.”
Hrh. I guess that made sense, in a sad, ironic sort of way: The effort I put into helping them stay focused could be the very thing that took away from their complete focus.
We are fortunate enough to have a dedicated art room. I basically decided we weren’t going to attempt fancy dinner parties anymore and gave away the dining table and chairs. (Everybody likes scrappy dinners better anyway, right?? I mean, at least they happen.) And just like that, we had a dedicated room just for making things.
I didn’t fill the space with a ton of stuff. Just a low shelf, a kid-sized table with chairs, and a rolling “art cart” full of art supplies. But before we got rid of the dining table, when I was still in my let’s see if this art thing is really going to stick phase, the only thing that made that space “the art room” was the art cart. It was a great start to our art studio, and if need be, it would have been enough on its own to accomplish most of the things I wanted to do with the art space.
What is an art cart? It’s just what it sounds like. It’s our 3-tiered rolling IKEA cart that I’ve stocked full of the most-used art supplies. Here are five reasons why I love it and would keep it even if we downsized: