Where Do You Turn When You’re Afraid?

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! We have been back from California for a week… Time is flying by! By the way, I previously – and erroneously – wrote that we were going to the Sunshine State, which my husband lovingly teased me is Florida. Oops! He is from the Golden State on the opposite coast. Don’t worry, I’ve updated the last blog post already. ūüôā

We had a good time with family and were able to attend two weddings at the beginning and end of our trip. Congrats to each of my brother-in-laws who recently got married!

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Always learning and exploring! Petting sting rays at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, with my hubby’s beloved aunt.

You will probably not be surprised to find out that while we were in the Golden State ūüėČ I borrowed my mother-in-law’s library card and took the girls there twice during our two-week stay. We read many lovely books that I don’t have time to share about, but one was particularly¬†meaningful: Safe in a Storm by Stephen R. Swinburne. This book¬†has comforting text that will reassure young children that their loved ones are with them, keeping them safe, even when they feel afraid. It ends sweetly and has the most touching dedication, remembering¬†the lives of the students and teachers lost at Sandy Hook Elementary. (Yes, I always read the dedications of books!)

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Reading in the beautiful outdoors, just northwest of Malibu, CA.

As we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country to keep us safe, I think it is appropriate to consider the question: Where do you turn when you’re afraid?¬†Reading aloud Safe¬†in a Storm to my precious girls¬†reminded me of Jesus, who kept his closest friends safe in a storm, too, and who has often been my refuge in uncertain times. (See Matthew 8:23-27 and Psalm 46.) I truly believe that God’s¬†love is strong and powerful and peaceful, the kind of love that I long to give my children when they feel scared. And¬†I desire with all my heart that someday they, too, will experience the safety and comfort of God¬†in their lives.

Safe in a Storm is not a faith-based book, so whatever your family’s beliefs, it is a tender and powerful reminder of the love we desire to show our little ones, a protective and strong and¬†enduring¬†love… A love that all our hearts long for.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

 

 

A Sweet Story of Friendship

Since my daughters were each born,¬†I have been praying that they would be good friends with each other. I also hope that they will¬†cultivate meaningful and supportive friendships with children their age as they grow and develop. As Anne in the well-known novel Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery states¬†in Chapter 8, many of our hearts long for¬†“A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit in whom I can confide my inmost soul.”

I have had the honor of having such friends in my life, past and present, and I sincerely hope to see my children have the same throughout their lives.

One children’s book that tells the sweet story of such a¬†friendship is Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon. My daughter received this as a gift for her birthday from a friend, who told us that it is one of their family’s favorite books. Since then, we have read it too many times to count! The story is easy to follow and relatable for people of all ages, as a friendship is forged and the two must consider what the other needs. It shows children the power of love and sacrifice and kindness.

In the fall, my daughters found pinecones on two family outings – once during a snack break on a bike ride, once during trip to a family friend’s cottage up north – and they immediately connected them to our oft-read story Penguin and Pinecone. So we gathered pinecones, brought them home to paint them and enjoyed¬†the book again..

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Happy reading! ūüôā

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Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

 

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of his most beautiful paintings¬†at both the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Art Institute in Chicago. Although his work was not appreciated during his lifetime, Van Gogh’s art is well-known and world-renowned today!

The book Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt¬†touches on a brief time in Vincent’s life and career when he traveled to a small town and befriend the postman’s family. They helped Vincent settle into his home, visited him regularly and treated him kindly and respectfully despite the other townspeople’s distrust of an outsider.

My children liked reading this book and it provided an excellent opportunity to discuss biography, art history and friendship. The illustrations are nostalgic and include photographs of real Van Gogh paintings.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Discuss how the townspeople treated Vincent and what was different about how the postman’s family chose to treat Vincent. How can we learn from them?
  • Vincent was a neighbor to the postman’s family and they welcomed him to their neighborhood with many kind gestures. Choose a neighbor (old or new) to show¬†kindness to this week! Bring over a homemade treat, send a card in the mail or offer to shovel the sidewalk.

For Teachers:

  • Camille was sad when he took his painting to school and his classmates laughed at it. How should we treat our friends when they tell us about something that is important to them?
  • Find the country of the Netherlands (Holland) on a world map, as well as Belgium and France. Explain those were the 3 places where Vincent lived throughout his life.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, complete this art activity based on Vincent Van Gogh’s painting style with your students. Coordinate with your art teacher if desired. Display completed paintings in your classroom, along with printed copies of his most famous work as seen in the book.

Talking with Kids About Bullying

My husband and I discuss emotional health and boundaries in age-appropriate ways with our daughters, who are ages 2 and 4. We especially appreciate using books and Bible stories as practical tools to help our children gain understanding of how to best handle conflict.

Even with kids who are not yet in school, like mine, or children who are homeschooled, bullying is an important topic to address. We’ve dealt with minor instances of bullying at the park, the children’s museum and¬†the public library. Having conflicts with other people is unavoidable! But we can prepare our children and our students for the best way to handle those conflicts.

As a side note, my husband and I also teach our children to check their own behavior and make sure they aren’t bullying others… or even one another!

My favorite picture book for introducing this topic with younger kids is Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Not only is the book cute and relatable, but it outlines 5 important aspects of bullying:

  1. Clear description of bullying behavior.
  2. Clear boundaries established by an adult (the teacher) that apply to all the children (students in the class).
  3. Simple and¬†clear language to say, “That’s not okay.”
  4. Adult involvement and appropriate consequences for the child who demonstrates bullying behavior.
  5. Opportunity for forgiveness and a “second chance.”

For many children who encounter bullying and/or domineering behavior, this is a great way to break down the way to handle that behavior. Llama Llama and the Bully Goat is an excellent resource for home or school use.

Note: If there is a serious, ongoing issue with bullying and your child is¬†involved, please use your discernment on how to ensure your child’s safety and emotional well-being.¬†Don’t be afraid to¬†seek assistance¬†from appropriate people such as a classroom teacher or school counselor.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

 

 

Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Just ask any parent or teacher or administrator out there: We all want to raise children to have self-esteem¬†and ultimately, to be healthy,¬†responsible¬†and productive members of society. But in the midst of¬†many differing resources and views at our disposal – and oftentimes clamoring for our attention –¬†we find ourselves wondering how to help children develop self-esteem. Especially when it seems difficult to find the time to fit one more thing in to the day!

Still,¬†I believe that it is worth giving time and energy to helping our children develop self-esteem. ¬†As a¬†Christian, I believe that it is even Biblical. (Psalm 139:14 comes to mind: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”)¬†From a standpoint of a parent and an educator, I think that building self-esteem in a child starts¬†with affirmation from the important adults in their lives.¬†This affirmation should be:

  • Genuine.¬†We’ve all been able to tell when someone is half-hearted in their praise of us or others. Kids can tell, too! Make an effort to be honest with your child/students,¬†and don’t feel compelled to¬†say something you don’t mean in order to boost their self-esteem. If it’s hard¬†for you to think of things to praise, set aside some time in your day or week to write down ideas. Ask your spouse or family members for ideas, or your colleagues if you are a teacher working with students.
  • Clear.¬†There’s nothing wrong with saying¬†“Good job!” or “Way to go!” but long-term, those phrases don’t give specific feedback to your children or students. Even though it takes more effort – and possibly a little more time – look for opportunities to clearly affirm specific behavior, decisions or character traits you see in your child/student. Name and praise¬†the exact instance of¬†taking initiative, completing a task, demonstrating strength of character, etc.
  • Frequent. No, we don’t need to give children a gold star for every little thing they do in the classroom or at home, or pat them on the back¬†every five minutes. But we should¬†sincerely praise them on an individual and group level with regularity. For parents, it should be on a daily basis. If it’s hard for you to remember, put a sticky note somewhere you’ll see it or program a reminder in your phone. For educators, individual affirmation will vary on the number of students you work with and will take some self-reflection – and maybe discussions with your colleagues – to come up with a frequency that works for you . Whatever that may look like, try to¬†provide whole-group and small-group encouragement on a daily basis. Put a reminder¬†in your lesson plans or attendance records to challenge yourself to meet this goal.

Remember that the more you practice providing genuine, clear and frequent affirmation for your child/students, the more natural it will become. And the more meaningful that affirmation will be to each child’s growing self-esteem.

I can’t end a post without a book! ūüôā For those of you who have young children or work them professionally,¬†I highly recommend the book When I Feel Good about Myself¬†by clinical social worker¬†Cornelia Maude Spelman. There is¬†a¬†wonderful note for adults¬†that¬†precedes the story. The story itself has¬†great sentence starters to encourage your child/students to express what they like about themselves. (And may give you some ideas of what things you can look to praise!)

I’d also love to hear any thoughts¬†you have about building self-esteem¬†in children or resources you’ve found to be helpful! Please share in the comments.

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

Helping Children Cultivate Thankful Hearts

How many times do you remind your child to say thank you? When spoken with sincerity, these simple words can be so sweet to the spirit. But oftentimes our children or our students Рeven we ourselves Рforget to say thank you.

Luke 6:45 reminds me, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

You see,¬†if our children aren’t expressing thankfulness¬†(or¬†we aren’t), the root cause may¬†not be poor manners but the deeper reality that in our hearts, we aren’t very thankful. Perhaps we’re too busy to give thanks or too¬†focused on what we want and don’t have or¬†think we are somehow owed the good things that we have.¬†In any scenario, the condition of our hearts matter because that is what truly motivates what comes out of our mouths. And any parent or teacher who ever said, “Say it like you mean it!” instinctively knows this.

So how do we change this lack of thankfulness in our hearts, and subsequently, in our attitudes and words? The starting place is to choose to be thankful. Make a habit of looking for things that you are thankful for and express your thankfulness inwardly and outwardly. If this is hard for you, try to write down ten things you are thankful for each day in a journal or on a computer document. Then try to articulate those things aloud to family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors.

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I’m thankful for these smiles¬†…and Shout stain remover to take out chocolate ice cream stains ūüėČ

Each day¬†I choose to cultivate thankful heart, I experience great personal joy¬†and witness firsthand how¬†it naturally overflows into my children’s lives. They begin to mimic my behavior, speech and attitude. This is true for teachers, too! When I taught professionally, I noticed how much my demeanor influenced the culture of my classroom and my students’¬†attitudes.

For a wonderful book that will help your family or classroom cultivate thankful hearts, I recommend the book¬†Thank You for Me by Marion Dane Bauer. The warm¬†illustrations¬†highlight the¬†message¬†that there are¬†many¬†things in life for which we can be thankful. My daughters liked adding their own impromptu “thanks” as we read together.

Before you leave this page, please share your thoughts or experiences on cultivating thankfulness in your child’s heart. ūüôā

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • With your child, write out a list of 10 things¬†for which you are thankful. Hang this list on your fridge where you will see it often and be reminded to have a thankful heart.
  • Thank You for Me¬†draws on our 5 senses (touch, smell, hear, taste, see). Remind your child of these senses. Then choose one of the five senses to focus¬†on for a short time today. Practice expressing thanks for that sense and what it allows you to experience. (“I’m thankful for my ears that can hear the car beep as we drive to the store!” or “I’m thankful my eyes can see the beautiful drawing you gave me just now.”)
  • Write a card, send an email or text someone you to whom would like to say “thank you.”

For Teachers:

  • Make a thankful hearts jar. During morning meeting, hand out small paper¬†hearts to 5 students. Ask them to share one thing they are thankful for today. Then put the hearts in the jar and see how quickly your class can fill it up!
  • Print out a list of your student names and place them on your desk, a clipboard or binder. Over the next few days, try to thank each student in your room for something specific. Cross off the names as you go. Reflect on which students it comes more naturally for you to thank and which students you have a harder time thanking.
  • Think of another staff member or a parent helper to whom you can express genuine thanks. Write that person a personal note or email this week.

Linking Up Today at: themodestmomblog.com

Friendship in Hard Times

I believe that personal suffering can bring out the best in a true friendship. In facing difficult circumstances, my closest and dearest friends have shown their love and care for me, as well as my family, in profound ways.

One of the most touching examples of this is found in the events surrounding our second child’s birth. Since both sets of grandparents live across the country, we had close friends from church who were “on call” to take our oldest daughter whenever I went into labor with the second. In an unexpected turn of events, during an appointment to check the baby because I was 11 days overdue,¬†my midwife came into the examining room and said that I was to report to the Labor and Delivery floor immediately. She had reviewed the¬†results from the ultrasound completed a few days prior (standard procedure in their practice with an overdue baby) and discovered that the levels of amniotic fluid were dangerously low. They were planning to induce me within an hour if my contractions didn’t begin to pick up.

Thankfully, the contractions did pick up. And approximately four hours after arriving at the Nurse’s Station and signing forms, our second precious baby girl was born.

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Love at first sight.

And then came the post-labor hemorrhage at 9 PM. The single most frightening event I have experienced in my life. Hearing nurses call for the crash cart, doctor and midwife paged to my room, nearly ten people surrounding my bed as my husband cradled our newborn in the corner and watched and prayed.

Once I was stable, we found out that we had a slightly longer stay in the hospital because of additional monitoring of my health. Our friends gladly took care of our eldest daughter a little while longer, with my husband going back and forth to spend time with her.

And once we arrived home, it was only 48 hours before the varicose vein that had bothered me so much during the pregnancy became hard and swollen, painfully red and warm to the touch. I went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight.

My 5-day old baby girl couldn’t stay with me.

I was hormonal and scared to be alone in a hospital room by myself, longing to take care of my sweet little girls but unable to.

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Best friends from the start.

Again, friends happily stepped in to help. One couple gladly took our eldest for a “sleepover” while another brought my husband formula and taught him how to make bottles and feed our infant (we had only breastfed our first child and he didn’t know how to use formula). That same friend later came to the hospital late that evening and stayed with me, bringing me a cell phone charger and my Bible, helping me to pump and dump breastmilk while my arms were hooked up to an IV for round after round of liquid antibiotics to fight the blood clots that had formed in the varicose vein in my leg.¬†The following day more friends came with cookies, hugs, a card game and lots and lots of love.

And once I was released from the hospital again, friends brought us meals, gave gifts to both our children, prayed for us, sent us emails and cards. Friends took me to the pharmacy to get my prescription injections and blood thinners to help dissolve the remaining clots in my leg and prevent them from spreading to my lungs or brain. They helped take care of our children when I needed to go to regular follow-ups with my physician and even offered to take my eldest for a couple hours at a time so I could get some rest.

Our friends showed us the love of Christ during one of the most difficult times in our family’s life, when I was physically weak¬†and but emotionally sustained by the care and support we received.

It is the power of that kind of friendship that I think of as I read Dean Roberts’ book Two Friends¬†aloud to my children. The kind of friendship that builds others up – in this case, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas – to be all they can be, to achieve their dreams and highest potential, to influence the world in marvelous and breathtaking ways.

As we read to our children and model our lives in front of them, let us hold true friendship in the highest esteem and encourage them to be good friends with one another.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas regularly met for tea to encourage one another in their work for women’s rights and African American rights. Host a tea party¬†and invite your child’s friends to come and bring a snack to share.
  • Check out this great article on explaining rights to children and share with your child in an age-appropriate manner what rights are.
  • Ask your child how they can show kindness to their friends. Share how friends have shared kindness with you.

For Teachers:

  • Prior to reading, explain what rights are. Refer to this great article for children.
  • After reading, give each student a printable¬†tea cup. Ask them to write one way they can show kindness to a friend and allow them to decorate their tea cups. Ask for students to share what they wrote on their tea cups and then hang them up in your classroom as a reminder to be¬†good¬†friends like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas were.
  • Show students photos from the Susan B. Anthony house and the virtual tour of the Frederick Douglas museum.

 

Linking Up Today at: modestmomblog