Hands Free

Hands Free Mama? What about Hands Free Toddler (or Child)?

(My Hands Free Baby doing a little dance!)

Yesterday evening after swimming lessons and dinner out I took my almost three year old to Target with me to pick up a few items. Of course, a few items turned into a few more items and we were there well over an hour. She wanted to ride in the cart, she wanted to ride on the cart, she wanted to stand on the back of the cart, and stand on the front of the car. She fell over, she almost fell out. A typical trip to Target. Oh, and she sat on the Cheerios box that I put in the cart as soon as we got in the store (it was on sale) and even ripped open the top asking “What is this?!” Luckily she didn’t make it INTO the Cherrios. Yikes!

After a few minutes of this toddler-sized chaos, I realized that there was a bag of items that we had purchased at the Dollar Store prior to coming to Target. I suggested that she take the items out of their packages while we zipped around the store. We had picked up some small beach balls and some toys for the swimming pool: most of them were all packed in paperboard and plastic. This kept her busy for a while but she was still into stuff, doing her typical toddler thing.

About half way through our trip, I noticed something interesting. There was another mother pushing the cart of a toddler just about the size of mine. But unlike my cart which was full of chatter and movement, her cart was silent. How could that be? A toddler sitting in the bottom of the cart and not making a sound? I looked over into the cart to investigate. There sat with a toddler completely silent, not moving, transfixed. What going on? Then I saw it: the smart phone. She was watching Elmo on her mother’s phone.

Now if you’ve read any of my other posts on children and screen time, you may know my opinion on this. Any time a child is spent engaged with an electronic device is time that the child is not spending engaged with another human being or a tangible object. The toddler is not learning how to entertain herself, the toddler is passively being entertained.

Now perhaps for that mother, that was just the break she needed. Who am I to judge? But the skeptical side of me says that’s not the case. The skeptical side of me says that the phone is whipped out whenever there’s an occasion to keep an antsy child from squirming, exploring, grabbing and generally making a mess out of things.

(This is also backed up by the fact that a different mother at the table of the restaurant we were eating at before the Dollar Store was on her phone the whole time and only spoke to her 5 and 8 year old kids when it was to tell them to sit down. Not a Hands Free Mom.) Her children ended up leaning over the booth for half of the dinner to talk and interact with me and my child.

The interesting thing about this trip is that it never crossed my mind to try to entertain in her in any other way than the way that I was, and I won’t be changing my ways anytime soon. For me dealing with a squirmy toddler is part of the job of raising a child. Sure, I was tired. I had worked a full day of work, I had taken her to swimming lessons, out to dinner and to the Dollar Store. I’m a single mom. I do these things myself. But a toddler is a toddler. She needs to explore, to learn about objects, to ask questions. On one trip to the grocery store I spent half the time reading the signs advertising the fruits and veggies.

The grocery store, or any store for that matter, is a 3D experience. She’s touching things, looking at objects, asking questions. She’s learning how to balance in the cart when she’s standing in it and it comes to sudden stop. Language, reading, fine motor, gross motor, it’s all there.

For me, the smart phone and Elmo is a last resort. It’s for times when there are few other choices.  This has always been while we on a long car trip. Giving my child the smart phone every time she is restless would be somewhat akin to giving her a cookie every time she cries. I do use the occasional cookie to pacify the upset child, but aren’t there other lessons to be learned? Shouldn’t she learn that there are times you don’t get what you want, or to teach her how to self-soothe or learn that her mamma is there when she needs a hug? Why use the phone when you can offer your child a learning experience and a chance to be in the real world? Sure, it takes more time and effort on the part of the parent. But isn’t that what we’re there for? Isn’t that what we wanted when we signed on the dotted line of motherhood?

For more on Hands Free mother check out the Hands Free mama blog.

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CHILDREN AND SCREEN TIME

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Now THIS is a Playground!

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One of the techniques of the Waldorf School is to provide open-ended objects to children and to allow the child to freely project meaning onto the object. Toys with concrete meaning already ascribed to them are less favorable because they require less of the child’s diverse imagination.

 This last weekend I went to the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota. http://www.woodlakenaturecenter.org/ It is a large green area smack dab in the middle of the city. It’s a Waldorf parent’s dream.

I’d never been to before and I was amazed! It was a dream come true for those who believe that the child’s imagination should come from materials that don’t already have assigned meaning to them. The children use their own creativity and ideas to decide what they want to do with their surrounding and their environment. They are free to let their imagination run wild.

This nature area has a beautiful indoor center where children can see snakes and turtles and salamanders in fish tanks. The center also has plenty of windows for viewing birds eating at the feeders.

But what follows blew my mind! It was the outdoor playspace.

A “back to nature for children” dream come true!

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No slides, no structures. Just one big fenced in area with two really big trees. No man-made objects. Just sticks, small logs, trees, rocks, stones, slices of trunks of trees.

The kids were in HEAVEN!

Climbing Trees.

Building Forts.

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Scaling high peaks.

 

     

Or staying close to the ground on rocks just her size.

 

    

The bridge was also a lot of fun.

And when we tired of that, we went for a walk on the paths listening for crickets, frogs and birds.

Into the woods,

 

   

where the ferns were exploding and so were the smiles!

 

Around the marshlands and lakes we went.

It was like a fairy tale. Just gorgeous!

(Our younger companion enjoyed nature from her stroller.)

But later fell asleep!

If you live in Minnesota, check out the Wood Lakes Nature Center. It’s a treat!

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Beyond the Playground

Yesterday I had to take the day off from work because my child’s daycare had school conferences. On conference day her classroom closes completely and I’m forced to take the day off to watch my daughter. On the one hand, this is seen as an inconvenience. I can’t go to work; there are things that need to be done, etc., etc.

Obviously the flip side is that I have the opportunity for a full day of quality time with my child.

Fortunately for us, it was a gorgeous day out and we spent the whole morning outside. After the morning conference and a bike ride to breakfast, we ended up at a playground. As most children do, my daughter loves playgrounds.

“Momma. First eat. Then pwaygwond. Yes?”

“Yes, honey. First we’ll eat and then we’ll go to the playground.” For the hundredth time.

Finally we got to the playground. For the first time in months, perhaps even years, I was able to sit and just enjoy the out-of-doors while my daughter played. She was in heaven digging in the sand, swinging on the swings, watching the other children. I was in heaven doing nothing.

After a long time of enjoying this peaceful bliss of nothingness, I started thinking. What other opportunities are there for her out here? What can I show her in the world that goes beyond the man-made play structure? It was then that I noticed the field of dandelions. I suggested that she and I go look at the flowers. It was hard to tear her away from all the fun she’d been having, but she obliged and went out to explore.

We went over to the field of dandelions and sat to look at them. I had a flashback to some of my earliest and most delightful memories. I used to love to sit in a field of dandelions and just pick them. When I got older I would sit with my other little girl friends and we would make long chains of dandelions and turn them into necklaces.

I did the same now. I began to weave together a necklace of dandelions for my sweet little girl. I encouraged her to find me the “really long ones” and to bring them to me. She did. She would look really hard, would pluck them and would say, “Really long, mama, this one really long!”

It’s a simple story but one filled with beauty and delight, in the wonder and curiosity of exploring something new.

After making the necklace I tried to get a picture of her looking up at me but I just couldn’t get the picture. “Please, honey, look up at mama.”

“Why can’t I get a good shot?” I’d ask myself. “Can’t she just look up for just one second?”

Through the lens all I could see was that she wasn’t looking at me.

As I look back at the pictures now, I see now why she wasn’t looking at me. It wasn’t that she wasn’t looking at me it was that she was too busy.

She was actively engaged in this new wonder of the world.

She was looking down at the wonderful chain of flowers falling around her neck.

She was in her own world, in a place beyond the playground.

If you don’t advocate for your child, who will?

This week a friend told me a story about a little fourth grade boy who is being bullied at school. His mother is at her wit’s end. The fourth grade boy is in a combined classroom (4th, 5th and 6th grade). A sixth grader is picking on the little boy – let’s call him Raul. Raul is little for his age. He was born earlier and comes from a long line of skinny children. He’s underweight for his age. The sixth grader is dumping out his lunch when he’s not looking. When Raul tries to retaliate by hitting and calling names he gets suspended.

But this is not where it ends. Unfortunately, technology also plays a role in all of this. The sixth grader bully has a smart phone that he takes to school with him and which he uses on the playground. He also has a Facebook page and he looks at the internet while he’s outside “playing.” The school called the sixth grader’s parents and they said they were okay with this.

I don’t know the details but apparently some of the sites he visits and images he shows around to the other kids and not G rated and some contain violent images.

Who is there to protect our children against other children’s (and their parents’) misuse of the internet and of technology? When did it become okay for children to be using the internet or smart phones during recess? Recess? Really? When I think of recess I think of kickball and dodgeball, not sixth graders passing around their smart phones to young, young children. Recess is a time for our children to socialize and get physical activity, not to surf the web.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Montessori school interviewing the director of the school to see if it would be a place where I would want my children to be eduated. One of the criteria in my selection involves a LACK of technology in the classroom. That’s right, you heard me. No computers. No iphones. No internet. I want my child to be a child for as long as possible and for her to use her intellect and creativity, not a computer.

Another mother was at the meeting with a similar goal of finding an appropriate school for her child. However, during the question and answer, she asked the director if her 3rd grader can bring her iPad to school. I’m pretty sure my face showed it all as much as I tried to avoid looking shocked. Fortunately, the director politely explained the policy on such devices and said that the third grader would not be able to bring her iPad to school. Outside the mother (who seemed like a perfectly nice woman) confided in me that the school her son is currently attending, and the Montessori we were attending, “needed to join the 21st century.” I didn’t have time to explain at length why I disagreed but I did tell her my views were very different.

So back to little Raul. If I were his mother I would in that school faster than you could blink an eye, demanding a meeting. Demanding to know what the school was going to do to protect MY child from the misuse of technology on school grounds. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all children attending the school. Schools can and do make policies to protect themselves and their students. Just because a parent thinks that it is okay for her son to be playing on the internet and sharing it with his peers does not make it okay for him to be exposing these things to other children on the playground or anywhere else on school grounds. Nor does any of this have its place in a public school environment. Public libraries have restrictions on internet sites that adults and children can view mostly for the protection of children.

Cell phones, ipads, iphones have no place on school grounds. At best they are detracting and distracting from the learning that is supposed to be taking place; at worst they are exposing other children to material that their parents may not want them to see.

Parents must be proactive and must protect their children. Insist on a no cell phone policy at your child’s school. Phones can be left in the locker or taken away and returned at the end of the day. Contact the PTA. Ask for a meeting with the principal. Do what you need to do to protect your child and to ensure the best learning environment possible. Leave parental decisions about cell phones and the internet to the home environment where they belong. Not on the school playground, where they go unsupervised.

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CHILDREN AND SCREEN TIME