We ARE Artists

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We held our first annual art show in August. The kids and I had a blast. Family members showed up and even purchased some pieces!
All kids are artists. The hard part is keeping them artists.
My personal love comes from my own artistic ability. It came to me gradually and through much effort. I simply set my heart on being an artist.
Paisley printed ladies with untamed hair pulled back with twine used to sit painting by rural roads when I was a kid. They looked so serenely happy. Their unfinished paintings were impressive even to a 9-year-old racing by with her nose pressed to the car window. So…I drew and I drew and I drew. At recess, in 5 th and 6 th grade, I walked around with a sketch pad. Finally, an adult, or two, told me they thought I had some talent.
That gave me wings!
With my day care friends, I take that experience to them before they even start reading. Not all of them have the same level of interest but, those who do, are given every opportunity to shine.
I clearly remembered my childhood frustration over doing things “right” and my own talent never soared until I cast THAT idea away. Artists are not afraid of mistakes because there aren’t any. The work is an experience not a project.
My kids are only given plain paper and assorted tools. Our attitude is “go for it!”
The very first year (age 18 months and on) produces muddy messes. If it doesn’t, the kids are being held back in their exploration. Then, amazing things start to happen. The painted paper has separation of colors…the page goes from a scribble in one corner to a filled page…the child names her painting eventually and then decides to make a specific image before she begins. Bam!
An artist is born. No piece of artwork leaves my house unsigned after that. It is owned by its creator.
The kids who spend their formative years playing with me, don’t ever for a minute plan to become artists, they know they ARE artists.

Identifying Adversaries

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Communication is a delicate matter. Some would say communicating with small children is extra difficult. They haven’t mastered language and, therefore, they cannot make their needs precisely known. This seems very logical.

What children have to offer, though, is an unbiased view of the world. Yes, they are self-centered. It is themselves against the world. Yet, their honesty is quite refreshing and often funny.
For some time, I have scoffed at the efforts in Early Childhood Education to do away with competition. My argument was that life is a competitive sport and learning to lose, with grace, cannot be taught without it. I have revisited this idea, and although I still find it valid, I am willing to see a benefit to reducing competition. Yet, the common practice of giving everyone a trophy is absolutely absurd and won’t teach them what I believe is the most important lesson. Insisting that everyone wins implies that any trophy is a fully worthy kind of goal and “fighting/competing” is never required for the BIG win. We want kids to realize that they must compete but, sharpening competitive skills, should comprise growing up to compete against problems, not directly against our comrades. We must not buy into making everyone “feel” good while reducing the motivation to DO good. No one vote, one act of kindness, or one “wrong” corrected, can change the world. Winning requires a group effort and a truthful definition, of the competition, includes identifying who/what the real adversary is, not just an “eye on the prize” trophy at all (or no) effort or cost.
What brought me to this new enlightenment was my heartfelt concern over the division in our country today. We, Americans, aren’t doing well in efforts to solve problems because we are focused on competing with each other. (Yikes…”divide and conquer” has caused the demise of other thriving societies. I hope you do not think we are impervious to that principle.)
Winning individual arguments has taken on a lopsided, more important, role than working together toward a collective victory. In politics, the largest amount of energy has been going into trumping each other’s advances. How did we lose sight of the fact that we belong to the same team and mission?
The tactic of demonizing each other’s motives is the worst of this. Time for us to ask ourselves the hard questions because any open-minded person (most of us) would admit we know ourselves better than the complexities of anyone else.

The most important question we must ask is, what do I want?
Be honest, after all, you are asking yourself.
Do I want a better country?
Can I make it better without a united effort?
Many of us are angry, who are we really angry with?
Am I buying into a media and political hype by embracing that there’s a “right” and “wrong” side to complex problems or that either/or arguments really help?
Let’s examine a few ridiculous, often not challenged, assumptions:
Republicans don’t care about poor people, gays/lesbians, women, minorities or the elderly.
Democrats hate America and would rather consort with terrorists than work with Republicans.
Really?
Break it down then…There are gay, female, poor, minority and old , Republicans. There are veterans and public servants galore who are Democrats. Oh, they must be the ignorant ones who don’t recognize evil when they see it?  Really?
So, what can we do about this?
Neither side deserves a trophy, at this moment. But if being united is essential to “winning” and getting what we want, what good does accepting “holier than thou” conclusions do?
I return you to children. Children should not even witness the current vicious (childish) behavior but I know what they would ask.
Why are you mad at each other?
Do you hate them?
Are the ones you’re mad at “bad” people?
When you’re done being mad, can we all have fun again?
My heart is sinking because the last question cuts right to the bone. What will their future, their country, look like when we are done “being mad”?

 

 

 

 

What do YOU mean?

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You cannot notice things if you are talking. Makes me wonder if Nature’s wisdom runs even deeper than WE notice?
Babies cannot talk. We take that for granted, in fact, we take many things for granted.
The greatest joy of the presence of small children is the innocent wonder they bring to the world. Babies notice everything!
Kids draw connections between “ordinary” things which frequently make us laugh. Even when they begin to talk, their misuse of language shows an understanding of language principles and points out just how many rules are not written in stone.
I’ve had many frustrating conversations with toddlers. Many times they take on the same humor as the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine.
“What’s your name?”
Child: “Me.”
“I’m talking about your name. Who are you?”
Child: “You Susan.”
“You are Evelyn.”
Child: “I’m me. You are Susan.”
“Yes, me is Susan.” UGH!
Child: ” You is Susan…me is Evelyn.”
“That’s right. My name is Susan and yours is Evelyn.”
Child: “NO! Your’s Susan …Me’s Evelyn.”
Okay, what’s Mommy’s name?
Child: “Ellen.”
“Does Daddy have a name?”
Child: “Kory. Daddy is Kory.”
“Who are you?”
Child: “Me.”
The hard part to wrap your head around is the kid is not incorrect. She is just thinking about the world in a more simple way. The rules of language are the barrier in this case.
We all knew what she meant, though, and we laughed because she was right.
How nice it would be if we adults would stop quibbling about words and realize that meanings are more important. They are there. We just need to stop talking and listen more often.

 

“That’s Why I’m Easy”

 

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More than any other child care situation, Family Day Care mimics a family. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the kids grow from infancy to Junior High under my roof. During this time, there is an intimate bond created among all of us.
If you remember your high school years with a magic of a time and place…with deep relationships of friends from a common history and group, then you may understand (in a small way) our clique.

What’s very interesting to me is, once grown, the kids see each other and reminisce about the “good old days” much like siblings. I’ve yet to hear of any of them dating either. “Ewww…she’s like my sister.” has been the common phrase when asked. On several occasions, teenagers have knocked on my door for a visit to their old stomping ground. Of course, I’m flattered and happy to see them but after they offer me a hug, they then toss me aside and flop on the couch. Their attachment is primarily to the place and they wince if they find major changes in the house itself.

Some parents, through the years, actually referred to me as the “second mother” of their children. Many grandparents, upon a “pick-up”, have expressed a small envy when their grandchild clung to my leg asking to stay, instead. These can be ticklish moments. I’ve learned to handle them well by acting excited to send them off. Yet, the warm role of “motherly auntie” is an important one that some parents can not ever embrace but the wise ones cherish. The familiar shoulder for tears offers real comfort and the watchful involvement of an adult (who also loves them), is priceless.

There’s a scene in The Breakfast Club, when Carl the janitor says, “I am the eyes and ears of this institution my friends.” I feel that encapsulates my role. In the parents’ absence, I listen to their children and I watch them from the “wings”. So familiar, I do what stay-at-home Moms have always done. I notice.

Once I saw an eight-year-old day care friend, crossing the street with his nose in a handheld video game. I called his parents secretly. I assume they addressed this dangerous behavior and chalked it up to the “all-knowing” nature of parents because they never ratted me out.
Recently, I heard a first-grader describe a TV character as “hot”. I secretly told the parent. She knew immediately which friend had introduced the phrase to her child and said the friend had already been discouraged from play dates. I am an informer.

I am, also, a detective. One child, who was about 8, decided he’d had enough of a 5-year-old’s taunting. Everyone knows biting is a big no-no and he had decided to get the little “demon” in BIG trouble. He came to me with crocodile tears and showed me a red bite mark on his arm. I examined the bite. It was on the inside of his arm and the pattern showed a recognizable space between the front teeth. He claimed that “little miss nemesis” had bitten him during their most recent argument. As I turned away, he beamed with satisfaction that his diabolical plan was working until I remarked that it was very naughty to try to “frame” some one. I took his arm and explained that no one, who attacks someone, ever bites them on the inside of the arm. Then I pointed out how exactly the pattern matched his own teeth. His chin just about hit the floor. He’s now a college graduate and still remembers the incident, as clearly as if it just happened. I’m wondering if those kinds of events teach kids to be honest or just make them into more careful “criminals”. LOL

The hardest thing that I am called upon to be, several times a day, is judge and jury. The Supreme Court has nine brilliant minds and months to decide. I have only myself and must form decisions in moments. I’m aware that I don’t always get things right and my default decision is usually in favor of the younger child. The older kids are asked to develop defense mechanisms. Usually, this is in the form of ignoring and/or removing themselves from the skirmish. These lessons will serve them best. The younger kids are initially gratified and rewarded for being “stinkers” but will soon learn that being a “stinker” is a lonely profession.

Being the arbitrator of many conflicts, can keep my hands tied, though. Especially when an older child displays too much sensitivity to the “goings on”. Sometimes, it becomes clear that the constant complainer is looking for my attention, too. One day, a few weeks ago, a school aged child kept hitting me with complaints every five minutes! “They are being mean.”…”It’s not fair!” … “I want a turn.”…”I don’t like these kids!”…etc. After two hours of complaints and my door opening and closing like a buzz saw, I’d heard enough. I told the child to stay inside. When she protested my decision, I told her, “I think you’re right. Those kids ARE mean and unfair. Stay here and sit awhile so that I can protect you from them.” HA! She wanted to argue with me but I was on her side! Needless to say, twenty minutes later she wanted to rejoin the group…there were no more complaints that day.

Child care isn’t as mundane as it appears. To some, what I’ve done in choosing to be a Family Day Care provider, is to become a mindless drone. Changing diapers, finding socks and making snacks sounds very boring. I knew early in life, that whatever I chose to do would need to be stimulating. When I groan as I feel the sweet relief of removing my shoes in peace and quiet at day’s end, I know that I chose very wisely. Trouble is, I sometimes make this career look easy. 😉

 

 

 

 

Parent Alert

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Just so you know, my tales of crazy moments during my Family Day Care years, may sometimes sound like complaints. They are not. I wouldn’t change one thing. It’s been a wild and deeply rewarding ride.
Hopefully, after reading my posts, you’ll realize that most child caregivers are the opposite of the culturally stereotyped “bon-bon eating” babysitters and even think of us when you need one of those “it could be worse” scenarios on days your own job seems too hectic.

Those of us, who last long enough to call ourselves career providers, become very astute psychologists. We can assess the needs of people in moments. This is an important skill with kids…a priceless one, when dealing with parents. In the beginning, I was quite lucky to have wonderful parents but, later on, my wonderful parents were chosen with my own kind of savvy.

As I am self-employed, I make the final call about starting new kids. When parents interview me, they are often unaware that they are being interviewed, as well. My questions are as plentiful as their own. If I haven’t asked you about your child’s medical needs and sleeping habits, by the end of our first meeting, you failed. Yet, your own questions, are usually my biggest warning.
Here’s a list of questions/comments that would disqualify you (from my curriculum) immediately:

  • “Are you sure your art materials are washable? ” Uh-oh, apparently the parents spend too much money on play clothes and find messy play distasteful.
  • “Do you have “indoor pets”? ” Uh-oh, these parents don’t want their kids around animals. (If the kids are not babies…they just may have unkind pet habits too.)
  • “How will my child be intellectually stimulated, on a daily basis?”  Uh-oh, these parents think this is a school. Especially scary inquiry, one time, when the child was 3 months old. (If they’d only asked, ” What do you do for fun?” We’d be okay.)
  • “I don’t worry about late fees. What’s your rate? “Oops, they have a habit of lateness and are willing to buy it. (I’m very flexible and find late fees inspire chronic lateness. Let’s talk about the actual time frame necessary. Please?)
  • “I don’t approve of Spongebob and I find Sesame Street too overstimulating.”  (Um…did I mention that my opening is tentative?)

And…If the parent comes to your house, with a laundry list of “picky” complaints about former caregivers, tell them the opening was already filled (just before you slam the door.)!

I really have met very few kids that I could not work with. You may have never realized this until now, but I’m telling you that the REAL comfy relationship in Family Day Care comes down to a warm, like-minded, friendship with the parents.

Ruling with Humor

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Nestling into a chair after work, I discover an abandoned sippy cup. Surprise! It’s drenching my bottom in juice. After a change of clothes, and scrub brush detail, I attempt a do-over of my calm surrender to the, newly towel draped, coziness for some TV time. Surprise! All the news people seem to have the same gooey scar on their chin. I get up to get the Windex and paper towels. Surprise! On my way, my instep finds the lost matchbox car which had caused the day’s final tantrum with its mysterious disappearance… This makes me wonder if working in a day care center might be a good move.
Truth is, the day care center wouldn’t want me. I’m a dangerous wise cracker. Raising the kids, in the privacy of my home, has morphed me into a Mommy role which, few will admit, is rarely concerned with political correctness.

Each family day care home, like real ones, develop shortcut phrases and inside jokes. The kids understand them but the world, in its new sensitivity, would not. The subtitle of this blog is “Does it look like my hands are busy?”.
I’m sure the young mother readers have already identified it or have adapted something similar. The only other phrase spoken with more frequency is “Get that out of your mouth!”

In case you don’t know, when a caregiver is up to her elbows in a poopy diaper, the requests for snacks, shoe tying or refereeing  arguments, will triple. “Does it look like my hands are busy?” is simply the  tidiest, and most thought-provoking, answer. The kids understand this.
When the child, who is most sensitive to fairness, asks for the umpteenth time, “Why does he get to be first?”  There’s nothing that brings a smile and stops the whining more quickly than the, “Because I like him best.” answer.
And when the kids are allowed to play semi-supervised with a garden hose, the “If you spray that through my open windows, I’ll tie you to a tree and put honey on your toes.”  phrase really let’s them know I’m serious.

Yep, I’m certain, day care centers wouldn’t want me…but the kids think I’m hilarious. 😉

 

 

 

An Understandable Confusion

As I chronicle these happy years, I may frequently slip into the politically incorrect use of pronouns by using only “she” when describing caregiver dilemmas. I’m inclined to believe that most early childhood educators are women because they predominantly are. It is easy to say that the post Daddy Day Care film era may have reduced the near 100% numbers, of women in this field, to 98% but it’s still women’s work. Many women opt to start a Family Day Care as a second income and a chance ( to pretend) they are maintaining the June Cleaver portion of their own motherhood. I did. I wanted to be home when my kids charged off of the school bus. But, in the real world, the high heels were sneakers and the crisp cocktail dresses were sweatpants complimented by an often stained shirt with missing buttons. Sometimes, I wonder if June’s pearls and dangle earrings would have held up when the Beav was eight months old, as well as, her choice of a feather duster used for all the heavy duty house cleaning projects. I guess we’ll never know.
There were few Family Day Care providers who lasted one year, when I started in 1975. I’m thinking they just couldn’t bear the “wake up call” of reality as they were also offspring of the 50’s and children of the 60’s.

“You may call me General.”

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There’s a philosophy that I find to be true. “Every thing’s strength will, on occasion, be deemed its greatest weakness.” In the child care business, I see this everyday.

The titles of “teacher” and “babysitter” equally make me cringe. Truth be told, I’m both. Family Day Care is an inseparable blend of learning and survival.
The biggest difference between FDC and Nursery School, is the constantly changing dynamic found in mixed aged groups…hence, the Family part. Last summer’s quiet story time successes cannot not possibly continue into the Fall when the, once frequently napping , babies become busy toddlers on missions.
In order to become a long-term Family Day Care provider, one must have the ability to quickly, and frequently, revise his/her strategies in the daily battles for success. Classroom teachers, not only enjoy, specific “age appropriate” goals but have a clear “exit strategy”, including a date, when the troops will be pulling out. With this in mind, I find my loose regard for organization and an easy-going ability to amend bite-sized goals, my strength. My title? You can call me General… the number of stars that I deserve, varies on a daily basis. Don’t let anyone tell you that every day holds an equal measure of educational accomplishment at ANY child care facility.  That’s pure bologna.

This General lies awake in the night, planning brand new winning offensives, which rarely include doing paperwork. (My Child Care licensor seems to find this, my weakness.) Overall, my “shoot from the hip” persona does work for me, though. The baseline in Family Day Care, is keeping the kids from harm and sending them home wanting to return the next day. I just slip in some preschool skill building, some manners and fun, and things start to jibe. Realistic goals offer the shortest route to feeling accomplished. So, on most days, I do feel wonderfully successful.

By now, all these war metaphors may have you wondering about the conflict that looms over these battles. It is the constant need to keep a comfortable home which just  happens to occupy the same space where children come to play and learn. In my world, this war will end when the last playpen and “Lost and Found” bag of socks, mittens, and training pants, disappears forever upon my retirement.

In conclusion, the glorious strength of the Family Day Care experience lies in its relaxed, unstructured, family like atmosphere. Parents who expect it to be purely a preschool are hereby forewarned that they will find, those same things, its obvious weakness.