Friday, April 6, 2007

The Perfect Play-Day

Play-days are the perfect learning experience: it is a time to have fun, share, follow rules, develop creativity, solve problems and learn leadership.

As moms, we have to plan play-days carefully. Lets say that I invite a couple of 3 year old playmates over; I will typically do the following:

1) The day before the play-day:

- We agree on a schedule for the things that will happen during the play-day, like, "first I will pick you all at school. Then when we get home we have to wash our hands, leave the back packs at the door ready for when their moms come pick them up. Remind your friends that they all will have to help you clean up your room, because is not fair with your brother that he finds his room messy when he comes back from school..."

- We will choose the games and activities; I will ask my son if he wants to play with cars, trains, water guns, blocks, memory, dominoes, bingo, hide and seek... If we are going to have a two hour play time, then I will try to choose a different game for every 30 minutes and have some other ready as back-up, in case that they change their mind. I will try to avoid TV, computer or video games on play-days.

- Then we go and check if the games that we want to use are complete and ready.

2) On the day of the play-day:

- I will explain the program to the other kids and will let them know our rules: how they must always share and take turns, how it must be fun day and not a time for fighting or arguing and we make the agreement that in order to do our play-day again we all have to clean up the room after we finish playing.

-If they don't feel like playing one of the games that my son and I chose, I will give them some other options, that I know are appropriate for their age.

- I will show to them the bathroom that they can use and tell them the time we will have our snack, this way we avoid unwanted trips to the fridge. It is a good time to remind them things like: "it is not nice to jump on our sofa, or no food or drinks inside the bedrooms, etc."

More Ideas on Play-days:
Kids work better when they know what you expect them to do. It is not that you want them to become robots, but at three years of age it is hard to know how to have fun on a play-day. Usually they come in and have a good look at the place, rooms, games, people in the house and ask all kinds of questions. After they familiarize themselves with the environment, they will go do the things they are most interested in, but then they have some difficulties sticking to whatever they choose to do and here is when the big mess comes: they start opening all the games, putting them on the floor but usually they don't really play anything.

It is a good idea on the first sessions of play-days, that you give them some ideas of how to play, like "imagine that you are working at an airport and this area of the room will be where the counter is, this other part is the waiting room... Who wants to be the pilot? Who wants to be the passenger? Who wants to be the flight attendant?" Let them imagine and use their creativity. Always make room for any kind of crazy idea, like "imagine that the counter is made of chocolate" or "if the plane where shaped like a square without wings..." After they are more or less organized, you may leave them on their own and they will probably start making up some other things.

It is also a good idea that they don't see all the games that are available to them the first time they play in your home, because the next time they come over, the games will not be new to them; it is better to make them think like they have a new game every time they come. This is why I try to give them out one at the time. All this is part of learning how to play.

Sometimes we do a learning play-day like phonic bingo or landmark bingo, art and crafts, playing with numbers, etc. depending also on my time. What we have seen is that the most popular game at our playdays is the Alphabet Bingo.

Our play-days are always on the same day of the week, and we rotate the house among the parents of the play-day group. We have found that every time we add new friends to our play-day group, the kids will be the ones that explain to the new ones how things work at our house.

Girls' play-days are different than boys' play-days. Girls usually are complicated when they start to fight over who is the best friend of whom, or who has the most beautiful costume. Boys are loud and energetic. If I have a coed play group and with different ages we often play restaurant, so we have role play for boys and girls, like a couple that comes to the restaurant with their baby, a chef, a waitress; this also works for office, store or bank, that way we have cashier, customer service people, etc.

Remember to always have fun and enjoy this great time in your child's life!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The In-Laws

We are very lucky to have two families instead of only one. It is not easy, after being part of one family your whole life, to adapt to a whole new family when you get married. Our family, the one that God gave us, where we have been born, is the perfect one for us. The second one, the in-laws, comes as a present with your beloved husband or wife. This second one is definitely chosen by us. Nobody forces us to become part of this other family.

When we raise kids, we should guide them on this matter and talk about their eventual relationships with their future in-laws, because the decisions they make will affect us all for the rest of our lifes. Often most problems are due to an "excess of love": your mom and dad LOVE you and miss you, as we today love our own children with all our hearts and will miss them; your in-laws love their son or daughter with all their hearts; you love your husband or wife with all your heart. The problem comes when we think that we want them only for ourselves, we don't want to share this extraordinary person with anybody else and in the end this hurts everybody. I wish that when it is our turn to become in-laws we can remember to be more detached from our children, to understand that our job of raising them is almost complete and that now is the time to see them flourish, hopefully as hard working, caring, loving, family oriented, promoters of harmony and problem solvers.

If the decision has already been made and our children are married and they already have in-laws, it is not the time to be hard on anybody, our job is to promote unity and friendship. Maybe we do not agree with their style, but we can work as ambassadors, promoting our child in the other family, helping our kid adjust to his or her new family, talking about the good things they offer, being happy because they love your child, being happy in their success. Above everything, we should avoid selfishness and stop promoting envy, competition (to see who is the best uncle or grandparent), forcing your children and grandchildren to choose sides. This is a terrible situation and if we are victims of it we can be walking a path to failure.

We must teach our children before marrriage and discreetly try to guide them in their marriage to be generous, so if we can, we will want to transmit the following message when the time is right: "if you see or feel that your sister or brother in-law has a preferential treatment, be glad for them, don't feel sorry for yourself. You will keep feeling bad and things will not change. It is too late to change your mind about your marriage. Focus on keeping a healthy relationship with everybody in your new family; don't talk badly about your own family, not even to your own husband or wife. Don't ever point out your spouses' or in-laws' faults to your children: respect and admiration is what we want to receive, so offer the same to them. Support your partner's work and his or her ways, and talk to God about your differences, asking Him to help you out. Research the issue, but keep the flame of love growing with details filled with love and tenderness. If you see that your husband or wife is going through a hard time with his or her own family, cheer him or her up, bring out the good things you see in their family, you are working as a mediator of peace."

I will feel very sad if I see one of my children go through a divorce. I will feel terrible if I, as his or her mom, had something to do with that divorce because of my lack of generosity. It will be a double failure if I raise them poorly to deal with their new family, their in-laws, and then also through my selfishness, I end up contributing to their failed marriage.

The consequences of my negative attitude towards my child's in-laws and of my poor performance regarding how he or she is raised to relate to them, could cause me to lose my grandchildren!!!

Be smart, start today, talk to your middle school children about how their eventual relationship with their in-laws should be; how this relationship can affect their marriage and if it can't be as they imagined, give them tools to manage the personal relationship daily problems, use real everyday situations as practical cases. Think way ahead: think of how you want to enjoy your grandchildren until the day you die. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

When to Teach What?

There are several authors like Fernando Corominas in Spain, that claim that when we are children, there are different ages when we will absorb different skills easier than others; these are called "sensitive periods" for learning.

For example: It is much easier for a 1 to 4 year old toddler to learn a new language, than for a 30 year old adult. It does not mean the older person cannot do it, it means that it is much easier for a 1 to 4 year old to do it because his or her brain is specially "wired" at that age to learn languages. This is great news because if we know when they can absorb each type of information the best, we can then proceed to teach our children different virtues and abilities at different ages when they are most likely to learn them naturally and easily!

From 0 to 4 years old: The focus should be in teaching order, obedience and truthfulness - Imagine how much time and effort we can save teaching these virtues at this age, rather than later in life! Also, this age is great for teaching balance and introducing our kids to languages and music. We have seen it with our kids: we have been able to teach them to ride their bikes without training wheels (balance!) in half the time when they are four years old, than when they are older - its really noticeable.

From 5 to 7 years old: playing skills, following rules, team work. It is fun to see how well they can understand the rules and make everybody else follow them.

From 7 to 11 years old: fortitude, charity, perseverance, laboriousness, patience, responsibility, justice, generosity. They love to talk, they want to participate. They are in elementary school, they have homework to do, they are eager to do it and we listen to the famous "it's not fair...".

From 13 to 15 years old: temperance, faith, intimacy, sobriety, friendship, respect. They will choose who are going to be their friend to go through adolescence together, so watch out, guide them, and try to have a very friendly house, were your children's friends can stay close and SUPERVISED BY YOU. This is no good time to delegate this on others.

From 16 to 18 years old: prudence, hope, comprehension, loyalty, humility, optimism. They start to use their freedom, they begin to drive cars, so it is the right moment to teach them what it means, to tell them that we have built a trust with them so they shouldn't let us or God down. They will listen.

Children have, in their nature, the inclination to be good. They really want their parents to be proud of them, so they try to be good.

When we had our first daughter it was very easy to put in practice these ideas, but now that we have five children, of different ages, it is very hard to keep track of it all. We try to focus on the very important things and give them very small amounts of information at a time. The good thing is that the older ones help a lot. Having the older brothers and sisters setting the good example for the younger ones is one hundred times more effective than having hours upon hours of talks. So now we are harvesting what we planted. And supervising.

It is not easy at all. Don't think that because I write this, my family is always perfect. I write this, because more often that not, we are in a complete chaos, but we have tried different tools to reorganize ourselves and get back on track and I try to transmit to you through this blog what has and has not worked.

Have fun enjoying every stage in your children's lives!