Category Archives: the blog

Good Eats

We heard a story recently about a local teacher who for a cooking lesson, decided that her kindergarteners should learn how to make cupcakes. This would be a treat … if it weren’t the norm. From what we hear, the kids in this classroom are used to sweet snacks.

Hey, we love dessert. We aren’t against treats! Kid’s deserve celebration from time to time! Besides, constantly forbidding sugar and treats can make a child resentful. But school is for learning … so what is the lesson?

When you have kids to feed, offer variety and begin to introduce kids to all the wonderful, healthful foods native to your area (and then, the rest of the world). Consider fun ways and places to eat, like an afternoon picnic, or put out carrot sticks and hummus at a tea party. Experiment! Kid’s will often eat way more than we think. There is a multitude of foods that are tasty, fun, and interesting and can be introduced in creative ways that invite kids and adults to try new foods. And for goodness sake, a cooking lesson is the perfect opportunity to introduce new foods. In our experience, kids are willing to try more variety when they are a part of the preparation. A classic example: have each child bring one ingredient from home (a la stone soup), and make a great soup or stew together. For a quicker snack, have everyone bring a piece of fruit from home, and make a great fruit salad.

If you want to teach kids about baking (without the cupcakes) make whole wheat breads from scratch. And while it’s not as simple to put together from a trip to the supermarket, you could find whole grains and really start from scratch. Simply grind them in a blender, or get yourself a grinding rock and go olde school. Don’t have time for this? … swap your cupcake mix for a healthy muffin mix.

Bonus: here’s a list from a local pre-school of kid-tested foods that aren’t full of chemistry or all about the cavities. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments …

All Natural
Apples, avocado, bananas, berries, rice, beans, carrots, cranberries (dried), grapes, melons & cantaloupe, nectarines, olives, pears, pickles, pineapple, raisins, cheese, snap peas, jicama, sunflower butter (seeds–like sunflower–don’t threaten kids with nut allergies!) for sandwiches.

Prepared Snacks
rice cakes, rice crackers, seaweed snacks, cheerios, (multigrain), fruit cups, (no sugar added), guacamole (mild), graham crackers, turkey meatballs, fig bars, pita chips, potato puffs, veggie crisps, pretzels, raisin bread, ramen, snack animals, tater tots (check for no trans-fats), tofu (seasoned ok), tortillas & mild salsa.

Cooked Foods
Meats (ham, turkey, chicken, etc), fish sticks, shred-your-own hash browns with catsup, hummus dip, mini whole-wheat waffles & real maple syrup.

Treats
Fruit popsicles, vegan/dairy-free muffins, gummy fruit snacks, sugar free jello & whip, fruit sorbet, yogurt (try it with honey).

Perspective and Purpose

This week was a visit to the De Young Museum in San Francisco to see (among other works of art) photographs of Iraqi daily life during the US-led allied invasion of 2003, especially the photographs of that conflict’s impact on children. These moving and disturbing images remind us that war and deprivation wreak havoc on children around the world. Our neighborhoods seem so ideal by comparison.

We want to be mindful of our privilege, and thankful, knowing that there are horrors in the world that we are not required to face. And we also look for ways to align our family resources with works of justice and relief for those who suffer.

Yet we think that one of the best contributions we can make to the world is raising children to make it better. And the best way to do that, is to give the children in our care every advantage, so that they enter the world with love to spare.

 

Screen Time

The people who study development in young children admit that we don’t yet know the effect of video screens on the brains of the very young. However, we hear a common warning from these same camps: children under the age of three should not be pacified with video screens. This includes phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. Ok, we know: this is hard. Recommendations for the later years vary, but some say that an hour a day should be the max for kids up to age nine.

If we don’t yet know what effect a video screen has on a young brain, we do know that what young children need is physical human interaction and engagement, balanced with times of quiescence. Quiescence is unstimulated inactivity, and is the soil out of which grows creative and imaginative play. No matter how interactive an app is, there is a serious limit to how creative you can be within the fixed boundaries of a glass screen.

Any repetitive stimulation effects brain wiring. That is, you train a brain to depend on a source of stimulation. Too much exposure to limitless visual excess can wire a child to expect instant gratification (and not just of a visual nature) and become intolerant of any environment where they cannot have what they want when they want it.

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(Image from eBay user l8ouise, who will sell you an iPad mount for your baby’s car seat … if you are determined to do your own research on these matters.)

Attachment 101-What Infants Want To Know

There is a moment repeated hundreds of times in the first months of life, each a connection between mother and child, each one a building block adding up to a child’s sense of self. This is attachment Attachment is an infant’s emotional connection with their principal caretaker that is the basis for the capacity to love and live together. It’s essential.

In the middle of last century, a psychologist named John Bowlby proposed the theory that attachment is not a way to get other essential needs met: attachment is a need all its own. Infants need to eat, we know this: an early view of attachment was that bonding with mother ensured survival by making sure a child was fed and cared for. Bowlby’s insight was that an infant may be fed and cared for by anyone, no attachment required. Children who left London during the bombing raids of WWII were fed and cared for by extended family members in the countryside, but often became severely depressed and unwell. Babies raised in orphanages who are fed and have their basic needs met may nevertheless fail to thrive and sometimes simply perish for lack of meaningful attachment to a caretaker. The need for attachment is as essential to survival as food.

Why is attachment so essential? Althea Horner, in her way-cool book, Being and Loving, notes five questions that need answering in the earliest season of life. The answers to these questions are provided by parents, depend on the nature of the attachment, and become the basis for essential belief systems about the child’s self:

  1. What am I like? … Am I worthy of love and care?
  2. What are others like? … Are people for me? Are people caring and safe?
  3. What are relationships like? … Can relationships be sources of good?
  4. What do I have to do to be safe? … Is it safe to cry out? Is it safer to be invisible?
  5. What do I have to do to feel good about myself? … Will soothing come from outside of me, or am I responsible for my own comfort?

Attachment is the process by which we form mental models that remain our primary way of seeing ourselves and others. These early ‘models’ stay with us and influence a lifetime of decision making.

New Kinds of Happiness

In a class full of twenty-somethings at Santa Clara recently, the teacher referred to a research finding that having children has been shown to reduce marital satisfaction. This sent a chill through the room, among young singles as well as among the older been-theres.

As a father of grown children, I was surprised at the reaction (the young woman next to me turned white). I realized that the class was hearing the suggestion through a filter of fear … every young person has a kind of dread that they will soon lose their freedom and find themselves at the mercy of a little time-vampire in footsie pajamas.

But the findings are saying something much simpler. They do not say, or even suggest, that people who have kids are less happy or fulfilled. It says marital satisfaction goes down. No parent would argue against the fact that certain marital pleasures diminish for a season, if only because of the lack of sleep. But most of these would also admit that such pleasures can come back.

More importantly, when we’re talking about children, parents ought to be able to say that other kinds of satisfaction come roaring in like a flood.

Math & Music

Science education can happen by attraction; it doesn’t always have to be instruction. On Monday, some lucky preschoolers will find these on the table.

Mason jars, water, food-coloring … Light, color, sound, music.

math_music

The colors of the rainbow are both pretty and a pattern. The varying quantities of liquid are a pattern and produce different sounds.

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Play/Work

A beautiful picture of a community of adults, playfully passing skills to a child: she participates in the building of a critical piece of beach infrastructure near her home in France. At home the child replays the exercise on a smaller scale.

Though on the surface this looks like simple fun, we see that play is how children learn, and that play is a child’s work — through play, children internalize skills, find success, and learn confidence.

When patient and playful parents enter into a child’s world, they give the gift of affirmation to a child, along with all the benefits of play listed above. The lucky child is in this way encouraged and emboldened to risk more excursions into the adult world with all its challenges.

To put it another way, when we adults are willing to get down on the floor to play with children, those children will be better able to rise up and work with us.

Attachment 101

Attachment Parenting

When we set out on the parenting journey in the early 90’s, Anghelika was studying early childhood education at Pasadena City College, and we read books like William Sears’ excellent Nighttime Parenting. We learned about “attachment parenting”, though we did not have nearly the understanding of it that we do now. We might have summed up this approach by describing our family bed. … We knew that it had to do with allowing our child to decide when she needed to be near us, and then responding according to her needs (young children are selfish, and appropriately so). Allowing our child to come to us on her schedule would ultimately encourage her to explore ‘separateness’ with more confidence and courage.

In subsequent years, we’ve seen lots of parents raise lots of kids, and while attachment parenting is now widely practiced, we have at times seen a kind of reduced version of attachment at work: as practiced it can look more like ‘possession’ or ‘unfailing provision”. The mother that thinks attachment means ‘keeping their child close’, or that they must ‘meet all their child’s needs’, even before the child asks, is misunderstanding how attachment really works, and risks short-circuiting a child’s healthy development.

We have a lot to say about this subject and will cover the topic in subsequent posts, but today we want to say one important thing about attachment: attachment and separateness go together.

Good attachment doesn’t just lead to good separation, it requires it. How a parent allows their child to be apart from them is a critical part of healthy attachment. A child has periods of drawing close and seeking attention, and also has periods of drawing apart and …seeking nothing. These quiet times, or empty times, are necessary for a child to learn the boundaries of their own experience as an individual. When a parent interrupts such quiet times, it’s often to meet their own needs, not the child’s.

When children are ready to walk, it would be disastrous to carry them everywhere. In the same way, when a child is ready to explore alone, or simply to be alone, it would be a disaster to never let them exercise that muscle … to develop inner responses to the world as themselves. A parent’s intrusion on this process, imposing our meaning instead of letting a child find meaning themselves, can short circuit a child’s development.

… stay tuned for more on attachment.

Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep, by William Sears, MD

Admissions Anxiety

It’s that time of year—when students anxiously await word from the prestigious schools they’ve applied to ….

This week, a mother came into the preschool in tears. Her child had just been interviewed for admission into kindergarten. She sat with an administrator who listed all of the ways that her son failed to measure up to the standards of this great school. Standards that included writing his name, knowing the alphabet, knowing his home phone number. This is half-way through his first year of preschool. “It takes a lot to make me cry,” she tells us.

Of course, from the school’s perspective, this is all easily explained, and a parent would be foolish not to see the writing on the wall. If my child is not prepared for kindergarten, they will be behind from the beginning. Other children, ahead of the curve, will get more attention and affirmation from teachers and my child will be slowly left behind. The downward spiral starts now: my child is doomed. Might as well get used to being at the bottom of the heap.

This mother (who is not given to these kinds of extremes, thankfully) said they never asked what her child’s interests are. They might have learned that he’s been to sixteen of California’s missions, and could give a history lesson. They didn’t learn how well he does sitting attentively in circle-time, and if they had asked they might have realized that while he does not have certain facts in hand, he is ready and eager to learn.

It gives us hope to hear that mom was asked by an administrator at another school (she has applied to seven) to share three things that make her son special. That’s more like it.

Perspective

 a rare perspectiveYes it’s a rare moment, and no, these two did not always sit in quiet, reverent meditation. But we like the picture of two children looking out and having their own moment. We have a kind of reverence for the attention that children give to anything. And, we think that such a moment should not be interrupted except for a really good reason.