Parent Educator and Author, Elaine Heffner once said, "The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children."
For our first big trip overseas with three young kids in tow, we stayed with family who manage a missionary hospital and orphanage in central India. The orphanage currently houses 60 girls from 6 years of age.
WHAT WE DID:
Before we embarked on this life changing journey, we decided to raise some funds for the orphanage. When my 7 and 4 year old sons brought some artwork home from school (and amazed me with their creativity), I curated a few and designed them into celebratory cards for birthdays, Christmas and the Chinese New Year with Vistaprint, online. We sold the cards at our local community group and celebrations, raising enough to pay the school fees for two of the girls for the coming year.
LET'S CREATE EXPERIENCES!
When the boys presented the cheque to the very excited girls at their annual Christmas function, I felt so proud of them and I could see they felt pretty special to have helped support the orphanage. The boys enjoyed the simple living so much that they didn't want to leave when it was time to say farewell. They were amazed at the incredibly poor conditions but still thriving people of the hospital and orphanage.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Needless to say, this exceptionally enriching experience and many others in India gave the boys the opportunity to learn invaluable life lessons including empathy and tolerance and obtaining the virtues of kindness and humility. It was great to see their emotional intelligence kicking in when I heard the older one tell the younger one that they shouldn't eat the Cornettos that the orphanage gifted them with, in front of the girls, as the girls could not afford to eat them. They chomped down the melting ice-creams soon after we left the orphanage. Now that was some new found self-control for one of their favourite desserts right there!
We're thinking this creative project for our wider community might become an annual Christmas tradition - please email me if you would like to pursue a similar project! I would love to explore more creative ideas for community and encourage 'the art of living' to my kids. Hope to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.
Also published on Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) blog, Lollipops in the Garden.
And the June/July edition of MamaMag (Page 46), Growing out of Dummies.
"Mama, look! Lollipops are growing in the garden!" said excited Little Person with a big imagination. The look of awe on our toddler's face when he saw his favorite treat in bloom and in place of where his dummy had been planted, will always be a magical memory.
There are many ways of getting rid of the dummy (or pacifier), including weaning it off slowly, calling upon the dummy "fairy" to take it, or simply saying "goodbye" to it. I learned of another creative approach to completely ditch the dummy; planting it! Since digging is one of our son’s favorite things to do, this approach was fun, imaginative, gentle and meaningful.
As a parent, you are best placed to decide on the right time for your child to transition to a time without dummy. Experts suggest a good time to try is when there is not much change happening in the household; your child is feeling settled and has transitioned from using the dummy all day to only using it to soothe to sleep, and has an alternative favorite comforter or soft toy to soothe to sleep.
Our son only used his dummy to soothe himself to sleep. When he was a little over 2 years old, we started to tell him how big he was growing and how he wouldn't need his dummy by the time he turned 3. So, it was a great parenting win to see him "grow" away from the dummy sooner with the help of "magic" and Mother Nature!
On the morning of planting his dummy, I explained to our son that today he would be saying "goodbye" to his dummy by planting it in the garden. I told him that when he woke from his nap, something special would have grown in its place.
Before nap time, I helped our son dig a hole in the garden, filled it with his dummy, and watered the dirt. When he settled down for his nap, I ensured he had his favorite comforter to snuggle with to sleep. When he called for his dummy, I reminded him that he had planted it and it would be growing into a surprise by now.
While he was sleeping, I dug out the dummy from the dirt and replaced it with a lollipop. (TIP: you can replace the dummy with another edible treat or a special gift, such as a colorful windmill.) When he woke, I ran to the garden with him and marveled at the magic of nature. He saw his favorite treat in bloom in place of where his dummy had been planted!
While he enjoyed his treat, we connected over how special it was for his much-loved dummy to transform into something he loved. At night time, I ensured he had his favorite comforter to snuggle with to sleep. When he asked for his dummy, I recounted his experience of it growing into something special. I reminded him that his treat was now snug in his tummy. And a magical moment was planted in his memory forever.
Who likes to daydream? Who has ever dreamed of flying? And who has ever tried to fly? Well, that is what Arya’s Flying Dreams (now available in eBook format) is all about!
Who likes to read books? Who has ever dreamed of writing a book? And who has ever tried to write a story? Then you have just planted the seeds for your own book that you could be the proud author of! Because in dreams we plant the seeds of our future...
These were some of the discussion points used to engage 200 Grade 2 and 3 students during my Book Talks for Book Week at local primary schools.
We all have a story inside us that we dream about making into a book and sharing with the world. The feedback from the teachers, including my sister, was that students felt inspired with practical tips to write and publish their own children's book.
It was a fun family affair to help support and promote Arya's Flying Dreams with my older son participating in his Grade 3 Book Talk. Then, my middle son dressed up as Arya and my niece dressed up as Arya's Mum in their respective Book Parades.
Did you know that the word ‘inspire’ originates from the Latin word 'inspirare' meaning to ‘breathe into’, as in to breathe life into an idea? Our stories are simply ideas that we bring to life, using our imagination. Here's what I covered in my Book Talk to inspire you to breathe life into your idea - your story:
What I did:
The topics I covered:
I expanded on the above topics and included sneak-peaks of my original sketches that my illustrator, Valerie Bouthyette interpreted beautifully. In particular, I covered brainstorming ideas, creating structure for your story, identifying themes, utilising literary devices, practicing and editing your writing voice and the publishing journey.
Connect and Inspire...
In order to inspire the students to connect with and participate in the discussion, I set a simple challenge to listen for a few tips that would score them a few copies of Arya's Flying Dreams for their school library. I hope these tips encourage you to take small steps towards creating your dream story:
If you know a primary school, library or community that would be inspired by this discussion, I look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com.
Please share Arya's Flying Dreams with friends. It is available online at Amazon, Book Depository and Booktopia. Thank you!
Dinosaurs, digging and tools are a few of my boys' favourite things. So, when they discovered how to create mini ice excavations to free frozen dinosaurs, it was NEXT LEVEL!
This STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) and sensory play has since become the kids' favourite activity not only because it's fun and easy to do but it also helps them to focus on something engaging, quickly. There is nothing quite like hammering away at blocks of ice to unwind and release energy – for both kids and parents!
Now, we always keep an ice tray full of frozen creatures. Preferably, near the ice packs for injuries in our freezer. What is the method behind the madness? When the kids (or I) feel grumpy or get a bump, we quite literally break ice as an ‘ice-breaker’ and a distraction from the stinging pain of cold ice pack on owie!
In fact, experts advise the art of distraction is often effective to help calm kids down, especially when they are hurting or need to let go of tension. Now, even the kids' play-dates request this fun, easy and engaging activity when they come over. A win-win for everyone :) Learn how we do it, below.
WHAT WE USE:
Invite the kids to place a creature figure in each open space of the ice tray. Then, help them to pour water into each space and put the ice tray in the freezer. When the water has frozen, remove the ice tray from the freezer and extract the ice blocks onto a large surface (preferably on the ground, outside). Then, let the kids excavate away at the ice blocks with their toy tools to free the fossilized bugs or dinosaurs! Another option is to use water sprays to slowly melt the ice blocks. My kids also like to find different things to freeze to keep it interesting, such as tiny trinkets and water beads.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Not only is this activity an effective distraction and releases energy, it also develops skills such as:
'Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain - unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10-20 repetitions' - Dr Karyn Purvis
So, when this play-based activity to combine a beautiful story with playdough, hands-on learning and real-life experiences came along, we swam towards it! This Playdough Rainbow Fish is fun, easy to create and perfect for extending the kids' understanding of friendship.
What we use:
After reading and reflecting on The Rainbow Fish story and it's beautiful illustrations, we get creative with the playdough! The kids flatten a ball of playdough using their hands or a rolling pin and cut out a fish shape with a plastic knife or a cookie cutter. All that's left is to place the googly eye on the fish and adorn it with sequins for scales, before it's time for some fun learning! Ideas include counting all the same coloured scales on the fish, standing the scales up on their side and then flat on the fish, creating a pattern of scales such as row of blue scales and then a row of red scales.
Connect and inspire...
The kids develop language and conversation skills as we discuss the underlying messages of how we can share, learn to give and be friendly in The Rainbow Fish. Taking the kids to experience an aquarium also reinforces their understanding of the many real and beautiful fish in the sea. Apart from using their imagination to create colourful patterns on their rainbow fish, the kids learn fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and control.
In addition, the kids learn math concepts such as counting and experimenting with size and area. Using creative methods to learn math extends problem-solving skills in exciting ways. To learn more about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), please read Fun Marble Runs!
What are some other creative ideas in response to The Rainbow Fish story? Creative Mama Joanna recently created a colourfully crafted fish book with her son and we shared it on the Creative Mama Community on Facebook!
When kids engage in creative pursuits in life (such as art, craft, writing or dancing) they are better at self-expression and have higher emotional intelligence. This is because they have a safe and welcoming (creative) space to explore and understand their emotions. Read more about how Creativity can Empower your Kids here.
Dr Laura Markham, trained clinical psychologist and founder of Aha Parenting advises we teach our kids that:
When my younger son has trouble expressing his emotions, he sometimes act out by yelling his frustration. This is because his brain has not developed fully to physically control his wild emotions. He doesn't even know his behaviour is inappropriate in a full-scale meltdown. Child development expert, Daniel J. Siegel suggests that “connection should be our first response in virtually any disciplinary situation.”
WHAT I USE:
It's not easy to drop whatever I am doing and become very present and empathetic to my son's needs but it is my most successful way in making him feel safe enough to express his tears and feel the fears that may be driving his anger. Holding him close, I acknowledge how he is feeling. He knows someone understands, which makes him feel just a bit better, so he's more likely to cooperate. He knows he doesn't have to yell or act out to be heard.
Engaging in creative ways together with my kids is also an integral part of my connection with them. In order to help them cope with their emotions whilst limiting their actions, I connect with them via a visualisation technique I created. When my son is willing to listen, I compassionately invite him to visualise an Airport Control Tower trying to help land planes safely, during stormy weather at the airport. The Airport Control Tower is his brain's Emotional Control Tower and the planes are his hands, feet and mouth.
I help him understand that just as we can't control the stormy weather, we don't usually have a choice about what we are feeling. However, the Airport Control Tower can control the planes flying around it and similarly, our brain's Emotional Control Tower can control how we use our limbs and voice. Our brain can choose to land our limbs safely by our sides and control the volume of our voice, during the storm. In time, the stormy weather will pass and so will our stormy feelings. They always do.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
This holistic visualisation usually engages my son's imagination because he loves aircrafts and begins to focus on what types of planes his limbs could be. This dissipates the desperation in his emotional outburst and helps him to feel in 'control' of his emotions, which he often expresses to me when he is ready. That is, until the next time a new challenge filled with new emotions he is unable to control comes his way!
Before that happens, it's time for a big glass of water to boost my own oxygenation and patience power...knowing that one day he will be able to 'control' his emotions because he has a healthy, expressible emotional life (like my older son) makes it worth the effort and wait!
Read Ice Excavation & The Art of Distraction for another technique your kids can use to let go of tension and release energy. How do you help your kids with their emotions? I would love to hear from you in the comments section!
Ever used distraction, coercion or tricks to get your toddler to eat a few mouthfuls of nutritious food?
When it comes to successfully spooning these precious morsels into my kids - especially my determined toddler - I often use whatever method it takes to accomplish this mission! Why? Because I worry that a poor appetite might cause a nutritional deficiency or not enough energy for their normal growth.
Despite knowing that these concerns are normal parenting concerns and that it is also normal for toddlers to have small servings at mealtimes, I still worry. On days when the kids haven't eaten much at all, I admit to:
The problem with all of the above methods is that they are punitive ways of eating and in the long term, studies have shown that this can result in kids having negative associations and unhealthy relationships with food. It is important to remember that experts advise that so long as healthy meals and snacks are served, our kids' brains will make sure that they eat enough calories for normal energy and growth.
WHAT WE USE:
Nevertheless, a mama still worries! Thankfully, experience with my first two kids means that I have had ample opportunities to experiment and get creative at mealtimes. I am delighted to report that my toddler has responded effectively to the following creative methods:
Sometimes when my two older kids have difficulty eating their meals (because this never really stops till they are no longer kids but it does get less frequent and easier), I engage them in creative word games such as:
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Creatively encouraging your kids to eat requires more involvement from you - plus things could get messy - but the pain is worth the gain; a belly full of nourishing food (and sometimes laughter) that is eaten by kids that are present and participatory at mealtime.
Do you have any tried, tested and tasted ways to encourage your kids to eat? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.
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