Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sign Up for Next Joyful Days Tele-Class

Hi Everyone,
          If you sign up by March 31st, you can get the introductory rate $150 for the six-week tele-class Joyful Days with Toddlers and Preschoolers!  Starting in April the fee will go up to $220.  The inaugural class is still ongoing, and so far it has been a great success.  Here's what current participants are saying:

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this class.  It truly has done wonders for our family and for me as a mom.  The tips have been amazing and even just the act of being on the calls calms me.  My husband has noticed a big difference with me and with the boys... I got more than I imagined I would have gotten [from this class]."
                                                             -C.L., mother of 2

"Every week has given me new ideas to try and made me more mindful of all the elements that go into this work...Love your teaching, the three layers of: watch the video, hear your comments on it and live question session, followed by written thoughts, and follow-ups to specific questions, it really creates a rich texture to the class."
                                                              -H.C., mother of 2 and Parent/Tot teacher

"I am sooooo happy with this class!! And so grateful for all that you are sharing with us. I can't tell you how many jems I have already taken from this course.  I want to say so much more but nap time is almost over!!! I think 'I love it' and 'thank you' sums it up."
                                                            -T.H., mother of 3 and home-daycare provider

          The class consists of weekly conference calls, watching and discussing videos from my own home daycare, Rainbow Bridge (see an example to the right), weekly readings and optional assignments on the online discussion group.  All calls are recorded for those who can't make it.  Choose Tuesday calls (6:30-7:45pm Mountain Time) starting June 21, or Sunday calls (2-3:15pm Mountain Time) starting June 26.  Click on the tab above titled "Classes with Miss Faith" for more info.  Email to reserve your spot, faithrainbow@yahoo.com

Miss Faith

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Smooth & Easy Transitions

          Usually we think of transitions as something that must be done in order to get to something else, but very young children don’t think this way and can’t think this way.  Young children live in the moment.  So in order to have transitions go smoothly and enjoyably, change your view so that each transition is an activity in its own right, with a beginning, a middle and an end.  Think of it as a structured activity like circle-time.  It doesn’t happen in a ring, but it’s a series of actions to be done together, with song and verse.  It should be just as structured and just as enjoyable for the kids.
              Here are the steps that I use to make a transition go smoothly:
             1. Get everything you need ready before you start, so that children can be in motion the entire time (no waiting).  So this means, get handwashing stuff ready before you start tidying up to come to a meal.  In fact, we get our end-of-meal handwashing ready before we even start cleaning up from free-play, so that it’s a smooth transition from play to eating to cleaning up from a meal.  Think ahead!
             2.      Use songs during transitions.  This makes a HUGE difference!  Songs are really useful because they let a child know what's coming, without all the talking.   You don't have to be a great singer for these, just use songs you remember from your childhood, or take the tunes of songs you know and add simple words.  To the tune of "Twinkle twinkle little star" you could sing, "Find your shoes and put them on, find your shoes and put them on."  You may use several songs, one for the start of the transition, and one for the end. It's useful to use the same song each time for the same task, so that kids really get the hang of what happens when a certain song is sung.
                 3. Give individual tasks.  Giving tasks that children can accomplish is important.  First of all it keeps children engaged in what's going on.  For instance, giving them something to carry out to the car when you’re going somewhere makes it much more likely that they'll walk straight to the car, instead of getting distracted on the way.  But even more important, it allows the child to contribute to the process.  It goes more smoothly because he’s helping you.  You’re doing it together.
             4.  Keep things moving.  Start the process with some sort of fun thing that gets your child moving (a little game, or putting something in its place), then keep them moving smoothly then entire time.  So, start with tidying up, but then move seamlessly into getting ready to go outside.  Don't stop and talk about it, just do it.  Children will be swept up in the movement of it and will most likely follow your lead.  Children do best when they're in motion, so think of the entire transition process as a dance where you walz from one thing to the next.  If you do things in this way, once you get a child to stop his play, you can tidy up, get a fresh diaper, change the laundry, and get out the door.  If you have each step prepared, involve him in each step (give him individual tasks), use song and verse, and keep things moving, it will probably go well.  Better than breaking him away from his play four separate times, by far!

An Example
              So, using all of these tricks, getting yourself and your toddler out the door in the morning might look like this:  While he’s eating breakfast, you get everything you’ll need to take with you and put it by the door.  You also put his hat and his jacket on a little changing chair.  When you see that he’s about done with breakfast you sing out, “Last little nibbles!”  Before you get him out of his high chair, you get a warm washcloth and sing, “Wipe wipe wipe!  Wipe your face.  Wipe wipe wipe! Wipe your hand.  Wipe wipe wipe! You are clean.”  Then you lift him down, and give him his bowl to take to the kitchen.  You lift him up so he can set it on the counter, then immediately let him know it’s time to go get shoes on by saying, “Cockadoodle doo, my dame has lost her shoe!  My master’s lost his fiddle-stick and knows not what to do!  Where are YOUR shoes?”  As he runs over to them (or as you carry him over, if he’s not cooperating), you repeat the nursery rhyme at least two more times as he sits down in the changing chair.  He knows how things go, so he immediately starts trying to put his hat on.  I usually do hat first, then shoes, then jacket last (if it’s wintertime, hat first, then snowpants, then boots, then mittens, then jacket.  If you put mittens on first, they’re nicely tucked into the jacket sleeves).  Then get your own shoes and jacket on, and pick up your bags.  Take out one thing and say, “We’re ready to go!  I’ll carry the diaper bag.  Will you carry this for me please?” and then you walk out together.  As you’re walking from the house to the door, you have another song that you sing: this one a railroad song.  “I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day…”  This is a long song, and it lasts the entire time as you get him into his car-seat.
                   If you have everything ready to go before you start, if you keep moving from one activity to the next (finishing breakfast to putting on shoes to walking out the door), if you use song and verse as you go, and you give individual tasks, then you can have a smooth and easy transition.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Responding to Drama

Dear Miss Faith,
        I have two daughters, four-and-a-half and two-and-a-half.  Whenever my littler one takes something, or 'hurts' my older daughter she is very dramatic in her response.  She makes it seem like it's the end of the world!  Any suggestions for being compassionate, but not encouraging such a reaction?  Is there any way to discourage it? 
Thank, K.L.

Dear K.L.,
        First, cue your older daughter to say something more appropriate to the little one:  "You can tell her, 'please don't hit me!'"  And really start working with your little one on listening to requests to stop (see my last post on social interactions).  Your older daughter may not feel like she needs to put up such a show if it's clear that you're helping the little one learn how to act appropriately and that it's not "all right" just because she's little; she's learning how to touch with gentle hands!
        In the meantime, how to react to your daughters reactions.  Our tendency is to tell her to stop over-reacting, or to minimize what happened to show her how unimportant it was, but I suspect that the more you try to minimize it, the louder she gets.  In my experience, kids are often overly dramatic for two reasons:
first, they want more attention from you, or second, they have a melancholic temperament.  Or both.  If a child is simply wanting more attention from you, you can give it to them in a way that still empowers them to solve the issues on their own, by using humor.  If your two-year-old hits your four-year-old and your older child starts wailing, "She hit me!"  You can respond by going WAY over the top. "Oh no!  Stop right there!  Are you bleeding????  Don't move, don't move.  I'll call the ambulance right away!!!"  This allows her to
suddenly become the "bigger" person and tell you that it's really not so bad.  Or she just starts laughing and is distracted, which is also fine.  If your two-year-old "ruins" the older child's drawing, you might look at her tragically.  "Ohhhhh nnnnooooo.  That is now ruined for good.  We'll have to get a coffin and bury it in the back yard, don't you think?"  Really play it up for her.

        On the other hand, your child might be over-reacting because she has a melancholic temperament.  Melancholics feel things very deeply.  They have a strong sense of justice, and they feel any perceived injustice very deeply.  If this is your child, she will NOT like it when you use humor.  In that case, she's getting loud because what she wants from you is understanding.  Instead of trying to minimize or distract, let
her know that you really understand.  "Wow.  You were just sitting there and little Addie came up and hit you.  That's no fair!  YOU know that hitting's not allowed, but she's too little and she just hit
you!"  Look right into her eyes, and ask sincerely,  "Are you ok?"  It makes no difference that you know that she couldn't possibly have been hurt. When you show your understanding of the injustice of it all, she can relax again, and nod.  "Oh, I'm SO glad," you say, giving her a hug. "Addie is lucky to have a big sister like you, who knows how things should be."  If your bigger kid is up for it, you might even 'brainstorm' with her.  "What should we do to help her learn?"  If she doesn't have any ideas, you could chip in,  "I know!  If you are playing with something and she comes up, you cold give her another toy so she doesn't try to take yours!  Do you think that would work?"  In this way, you can help give her some ideas of other ways to react.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Foundation of Social Interactions

The foundation of positive social interactions between children is to teach them to notice how other children are receiving their actions, and to listen to each others' requests. 

Noticing How Others React         
The first piece of this is to help youngsters start to notice both positive and negative responses to their actions.  This is especially important when children are touching one another, as it's often hard for young kids to realize what the results of their actions will be, especially the under-twos, who often like the feeling of grabbing or hitting.  I know one little boy who always wanted to hug his friends, but it often turned into a death-grip, leading the recipient of the hug to struggle, and both children fall down.   He wanted to connect with others but doesn't know how.  I worked with him for a long time, teaching him to do a quick hug-and-release.  When he was successful, I'd say, “Look, she's smiling!  She liked that!”  Or, if it went on too long, I'd say, “Oh no.  She's pushing you away.  She's saying, 'please stop.'”  Eventually, he was able to notice on his own whether others liked it, and others were able to say "please stop" on her own. 
          Note:  this technique for death-grip-hugs will only work if what he's wanting is connection.  If what he's actually wanting is physical stimulation, it's much more effective to pick him up and spin him around, hang him upside-down, or lay him on the floor and roll him over and over across the room.  That way he can get what he's looking for from someone who is enjoying the interaction.

Listening to Requests
        The other piece to the foundation of positive social interactions is to make sure that children respond to their friends' requests.  The biggest piece of this is to listen for whenever a child is saying “Stop,” and make sure that the other child stops.  At Rainbow Bridge, STOP MEANS TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY.  So, I keep my ears sharply tuned, and whenever I hear someone saying 'stop' (or preferably, 'please stop'), I'll turn around and watch.  If the child doesn't stop, I'll move in and say, “Oh!  I hear Jessie saying stop!”  Then, if they don't stop, I'll remind them, “stop means take your hands away.”  And, if they still can't do it, “It looks like you need some help taking your hands away,” and I'll help them.  There doesn't have to be any blame, it's just them learning to follow the rules, just like any other rules, such as staying at the table while we're eating, or only going downstairs with an adult.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bullying/Sibling Rivalry

Dear Miss Faith,
 I am looking for suggestions to help with some fairly severe sibling rivalry. This is a preschool-aged old boy towards his young-toddler sister, in a family which I visit with regularly and care about deeply.  Thank you, M.
Dear M,
          How frustrating for you to see two children you care about being unkind!  Kudos to you for looking to take some action to help this family.  When you are with the children, are the parents present or not present?  Are they at your house, or are you at their house?  These things will all come into play.  One book I like a lot is "Siblings Without Rivalry" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  Is it possible for mom (and/or you) to spend some time with each child alone every few days or at least each week? 
          For short-term strategy, here are some ideas; you can announce one day that there is a new rule in your house: everyone must touch with gentle hands.  Show everyone what touching with gentle hands means (at Rainbow Bridge it means kind of stroking your friends on the arm), and have everyone practice.  "Yes, that's it!  Now you know how to touch with gentle hands!"  Notice out loud anytime you see someone touching someone else gently.  And if anyone forgets to touch with gentle hands, show sadness that they forgot, and send them immediately to get the Healing Stone (or the Healing Cloth, or an ice pack, or whatever you wish; keep it in a special place that only comes out when someone gets hurt), and touch it to the child who is hurt.  Then find some good work for those hands: tidying some blocks, wiping the table, etc.  You do this "good work" with him, then thank him for his help, give him a hug, and he can go play again.  It's not a punishment, it's just helping him learn what is appropriate to do with his hands.
           In long-term strategy, you want to be calling out the archetype of the Knight in this little boy:  someone who is strong and good, and who helps those who are weaker than he is.  You might start telling a story about a boy who wants to be a knight when he grows up, but nobody thinks he could be.  But he knows he can do it.  He starts exploring what a knight is like, and doing all the things a knight does.  First he works to become very strong, then he starts to rescue people and animals who needed help, and finally he starts to help all those who are smaller and weaker than he is.  Everyone starts to wonder at the changes that have come.  Maybe he could become a knight after all!  Then one day when he's helping someone, the King happens to see it, and he calls the boy to him and honors him, and makes him into a Knight-in-Training.  You could either do this as one story that you tell again and again, or you could make it an ongoing story, that starts out the same way each time (introducing the boy and his desires) and telling a different "adventure" each time of how he helps someone, and this could go on for several months before the King ever notices him.
           In the meantime, start asking more from this little boy, and call out the best in him.  Ask him to help you with things, then ask him to do tasks for you while your hands are full but you're watching, and finally start asking him to help other children when the children ask you for help.  Notice how strong he is, how helpful he is, and start appreciating those traits in him.  If he starts having a new image to live into, he might be able to start moving away from being the Bad Big Brother who everyone is angry at all the time.
           It can be so hard to turn things around when we get stuck in negative patterns, so be patient and tenacious.  And good luck!


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Monday, March 7, 2011

End of Meal Transition

Dear Miss Faith,
I run a small home daycare, and a difficult time for me is clearing the table after a meal.  Do you have the kids clear their bowls or empty extra food into the compost?  My children excuse themselves when finished and leave their items on the table to be cleared and then washed by myself and any child who wants to help.  I'd like to have a clearing/composting process, but the sink is often not ready for dishes, and we do the dishes in wash tubs on the table anyway....any suggestions?  I'd love to know what you do with your children.  
Thanks so much, Jennifer
Dear Jennifer,
          There are lots of different things you can do to help smooth things out at the end of a meal.  At Rainbow Bridge, we do things differently at the end of lunch than we do for the snack after naptime, for example.  Lunch is the big meal of the day that is also a social time, so everyone stays at the table while the candle is lit, until the meal is done.  At the end of the meal I'll sing, "Last little nibbles," then "Last sips of water."  I'll blow out the candle and put washtubs on the table, and children put their bowls, cups and spoons in the washtubs.  Then I pass out a wet warm washcloth to each child, and we play a fun little game with wiping our hands, faces, and the table in front of us.  One game that the children love is "questions," where we all hold the washcloths up against our mouths, and the children suggest questions for me to ask.  The answer to these questions is always "no," so everyone shakes their heads while holding the cloths still, effectively wiping their mouths.  Questions range from "Will we wear our bathing suits to play out in the snow?" to "Is my house made of cheese?"  Then cloths go in a bowl and children push their chairs in.  A washcloth for each child definitely increases the laundry load, but it's well worth it in my opinion.  
          When my mom is in charge of a meal, she excuses each child by bringing out Redbird (a wool bird on a string, held by a stick), and children make a 'nest' with their hands for redbird to land in.  Once Redbird lands in a child's 'nest' he may leave the table.
          When I worked at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten, children scraped their bowls into the compost before they put them in a washtub.  This was a fairly energy-intensive activity for the adults, and success depends on having a good traffic pattern from the table to the compost bucket to the washtub.  The compost bucket also can't be too small!
          For the snack after naptime, things are much looser.  Children eat as they wake up, and when they are done they take their bowls to the counter and go into the playroom to play.  If they've spilled (it's usually apple sauce or yoghurt) they get a cloth and wipe it up.  
          So, there are different ways to do it, and different meals can have different levels of formality.  Since your children are excused from the table as they finish, it seems they could easily take their bowls to the counter, or to a washtub if the counter is too high.  I knew one LifeWays caregiver who had very little ones.  She would excuse them one by one and have them come stand in front of her, and she would wipe their face and brush off their clothes before they left the eating area.  It was a fairly slow process, but the children clearly enjoyed getting that snippet of direct personal attention.
          I hope these ideas get your creative juices flowing, and good luck!
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Practical Tips on "Life"

 So what can we do, as parents and caregivers, to ensure that these household tasks foster connection, foster competence, and foster the children's ability to contribute? What can we do to help tasks go smoothly, so that we don't feel frazzled as we try to incorporate children into the neverending tasks of housework? It turns out there are lots of things we can do:
  1. Slow Down! Take your time with each task. Make each task an activity that's worthwhile for its own sake, taking special care with the daily tasks. Approach each one with respect and enjoyment. When you rush, children tend to steer clear and try to stay out of your way, or they try to pull your attention away from your task and onto them, to get you to stop rushing. When you slow down and take your time, you have enough attention for the task and the child at the same time, and children will want to join in with you.
  2. Develop a rhythm. By rhythm, I mean to do things in the same way, at the same time, as often as you can. I fold laundry each day during free-play time. It gives me something to do so that I can be present and watch children play without being directly involved unless I'm needed. And I love to brush the children's hair after naptime. What a lovely way to bond with each child as we engage in bodily care.  Children are used to me doing these tasks at these times; it's an accepted part of our lives together.
    The other piece of rhythm is that when we do things the same way each time, children can learn that skill. Children learn through imitation. If you have any doubts on this score, read this article from Science Daily, titled “Humans Appear to Be Hardwired to Learn By 'Over-Imitation.'” What it shows is that children do things the way we do them. Even if we tell them to do it differently, they will still do things the way we do them. So think carefully about HOW you're doing things, the attitude that you bring to each activity. This attitude is picked up by the children as well.
  3. Use songs. Songs are a great way to connect with children, and they are also a great way to help kids track where in the process you are. I have a song for washing the table, for sweeping the floor, for folding the laundry. I also use songs for repetitive tasks like passing things out to each child, or if we're taking turns stirring the bowl, etc., each child gets to stir for the duration of a short song.  In addition, I'll also hum while I am doing a task by myself. I find that when I hum I slow down myself, and the children all around me settle down. I think when they hear me humming, they feel like I'm right there with them, even if I'm not looking at them or interacting with them. It allows my presence to fill the room and children can rest secure that I'm there with them and not distracted by other things.  You don't have to be a "good" singer for this to feel fulfilling for children.
  4. Set yourself up for success. By this I mean, figure out how kids can be involved, and be prepared. Most of the tasks I do while the children are playing, and children can join me or not, as they choose (although if a child is having trouble being gentle with others, we'll find some good work for those hands to do and they stay by my side until they are ready to try being gentle again). But when I go to wash a table, I'll bring two extra washcloths with me, and as I start to sing my table-washing song, children might come over and ask to help, and I have a cloth right there. Other tasks I know will be very popular, such as baking, so I gather all of the materials together before we get started, so that things can go smoothly. Another thing that helps things go smoothly, especially if you're alone, is to have an easy exit. If you and another child are washing dishes together but a tussle breaks out in the play-room, I'll lift the child down from the sink, pull the chair away, and ask them to sit on the chair until I get back.
  5. Appreciate effort over results. Young children are process-oriented, not results-oriented. While washing dishes, a two-and-a-half year old will often happily wash the same spoon the entire time you're washing dishes. When we appreciate their effort and acknowledge their desire to contribute, then the activity feels fulfilling for the young child.  Be sincere and genuine with your praise, and don't over-do it. An appreciative smile with eye contact during the act, and a “Thank you for your help” when they run off to play, can be quite enough.  The results will come over time.  
           Appreciating effort over results doesn't mean just letting them do whatever they want, however they want. They are learning these tasks at your side. So if your two-year-old wants to throw the laundry around instead of folding it, you can show him how to help you smooth each piece as you fold it. Only fold a little bit of laundry at a time, so that you can finish each bit together, then put them out of the way so the task won't be undone. With practice, he'll get the hang of it, and so will you!   

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What I mean by "Life"

In my last post I talked about Life As the Curriculum, and why children really feel fulfilled by helping with household tasks.  So what do I mean by "Life?" There are several layers of “Life” as I see it, that combine to form a rich day (and a rich life!) if they are done with attention, reverence, and spaciousness:

  1. Daily Tasks. These include preparing meals, setting the table, cleaning up from meals, sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, making your beds after naptime, etc. In addition to these, there are the tasks of self-care that make up a big part of “life:” dressing and undressing, brushing hair and teeth, diapering and pottying. We can use these times of bodily care not just as tasks to be done, but as special times to connect, and to allow children to gain competence. When they are able to do them alone, they will be contributing in a very real way. I love to brush the children's hair when they wake up from their nap. I make it very sweet and special, and everyone looks forward to it. I had one little girl who was with me for two years, and when her family moved away her mother said with real regret, “I think the thing I will miss the most is your hair-brushing.”
  2. Weekly Tasks. Depending on how many children you care for, laundry might be daily, weekly, or twice-weekly. Baking (either bread or muffins) is a lovely weekly task. Fridays are nice for 'cleaning day' where you can wash the windows together, 'mop' the kitchen floors with damp rags, shine wooden toys and furniture with beeswax wood polish, sort through any piles of stuff like lost-and-found clothing, etc. I have a basket where I'll put any broken toys I find, and every third or fourth friday I'll bring it down and see what I can fix.
  3. Seasonal Tasks. This is the part of “Life” that I love the most, and it's what keeps me from getting bored with life as the curriculum. Seasonal tasks often center around food and holidays, although not exclusively. Springtime tasks might include preparing the garden and planting the seeds, fixing or replacing any outdoor toys that didn't make it through the winter, planting wheat grass indoors and decorating eggs if you celebrate easter, making gifts for Mother's Day (this can take quite awhile and be a task that you work on most days over a period of time). Stories about the plants and the animals experiencing Spring are soaked right up, especially as you start to notice birds building their nests, and the squirrels playing with renewed vigor. In the summertime we start to see the fruits of our labors in the garden. We make grape juice from the grapes, collect plums and make them into jam (we cooked them and strained them together, but I did the canning in the evening after everyone was gone), and did lots of other things. Each season has its own activities.
  4. Making Things. Making things that you'll use is a great part of “Life” for children. Often these are tasks that children simply watch, but you'll see it come out in their play again and again. For instance, one winter I crocheted a dozen bibs so we'd have enough between loads of laundry. And when the latch on our fence broke, I got a board which the bigger kids and I sawed in half together, then everyone got to help sand it, and a few lucky kids got to help paint them a rich blue. They watched as I painted silver stars on myself, then sealed it, screwed the new latch on, and then we attached it to the gate. The whole process took about a week, and at the end we had a beautiful new latch for our gate which the children and I were both proud of. These practical activities are “Life” at its best for young children!

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