loquacious family

The ramblings of a wordy woman on life, love, and the Lord

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Church for the Littlest Hearts

Or is it?

My heart is heavy, so I write this in search of wisdom from more seasoned parents who have walked this path.  

How do you church your sensitive, attached children in a way that is respectful and responsive, and still balances their spiritual needs with your own?

Let me clarify our struggle to provide some context. We are Jesus-loving people who seek to grow in our faith, and worship in community. We also want Little L to witness and participate in this part of our lives, just as we want her to learn more about Jesus and hopefully, eventually, come to have a personal relationship with Him. Those are big priorities for us, and we recognize the value and importance of going to church as part of being in a worship community and fostering an accountable faith.

However, we struggle hard with church attendance, not because we are unwilling to go or unable to find a good community, but because most churches as we've experienced do not have adequate means to minister to sensitive and attached children. Every church we have attended, as well as those we've simply looked into, sets up their children's ministries in a similar fashion:
  1. Children younger than a certain age will attend a nursery staffed by a rotation of volunteers. It's essentially a supervised play space for babies, toddlers, and possibly preschoolers for 1.5-2 hours with minimal Bible teaching.
  2. Children who have reached a certain age (usually preschool and older) will transition into a more "class-like" grouping with other similar-aged kids. These classes will take place during church service time and will be taught/facilitated by a team of rotating volunteers who follow a prescribed curriculum (usually worksheet and story-based). The quality of the class will be largely dependent on the quality of the teaching materials and the general experience of the volunteer Sunday School teachers.
  3. Once children hit a certain age (usually junior high or senior high), they will begin to join their parents in the worship service.
While I think that this kind of arrangement likely meets the needs of most families and most children who are generally adaptable and not prone to anxiety, it is less suitable for kids like Little L, who can sometimes take a long time to develop an attachment to the adults in charge, and who has never felt at ease being left with strangers (even those with much childcare experience and who have been vetted by the church). The very experience of being left with a stranger (or near-stranger) at a young age, even for a brief amount of time, can be vexing for someone who is especially sensitive and unable to comprehend what is happening. To the little person with no concept of time, being left alone is tantamount to being abandoned. Will it be forever? Will Mommy ever come back? As rational adults, we obviously know the answer, but when it's a baby or a toddler, the anxiety of the separation can be equally intense whether we are gone for 5 minutes or 5 hours.

So it was and is with Little L, who has a fairly anxious disposition when she doesn't have an adult to whom she can anchor her trust. Since most kids' ministries are staffed by volunteers that work in rotation, there isn't the consistency that would allow Little L to form a bonded relationship with any given person (or two or three people). Unfortunately, this has really made it difficult for Hubbs and I to regularly attend church, and to attend it together; one of us has usually been relegated to watching Little L while the other goes into the worship service. The result is that we are not both getting our spiritual needs met every week, and we are also not able to effectively model the importance and value that we place on worshiping God together in the context of community.

Even when Little L has remained in Sunday School (with me accompanying her), I have noted that the quality of her experience and learning varies depending on which volunteers are facilitating the learning. Those who are seasoned teachers or naturally gifted with kids tend to lead really great lessons, but so often it is the well-meaning but utterly unskilled volunteers who are tasked with delivering the curriculum, and the teaching portions of her class end up being really boring and one-sided. The lesson is then lost on my kid, which makes me wonder why we are at church in the first place; at this point, neither one of us is getting spiritually "fed."

For the separation anxiety issue, many have suggested that we simply let Little L "cry it out" in Sunday School or the nursery. Much like the extinction method of sleep training, the rationale here is that eventually she will figure out that we do come back, and she will get comfortable enough with her teachers du jour not to wail like a wounded hyena anymore. Sure, maybe that works...but what if it doesn't? And at what cost?

We know of many who have walked away from God and from the faith of their parents because they have been disillusioned and turned off by how "church" had been imposed on them as children. They resent being forced to go when they've hated it or were afraid. They struggle with the discrepancies they see between the Bible's mandates to love and cherish and not exasperate one's children, with the practices of their parents regularly dishonoring their anxious feelings about going to church and forcing them to attend. These folks so often blame God for the choices that their parents have made, and are wholly turned off to the love of Jesus because they can't see past the negative associations of church that they formed as young kids. I know that my own childhood Sunday School experiences did much to turn me off of organized religion, but for the grace of God!

I think about Jesus, when He called the little children to Himself. He was so inviting, and despite not being particularly handsome or distinguished or notable in form, He attracted kids because He loved them and was gentle with them. He honoured them and regarded them with respect (which was not the norm of His time). While He may not have had any cool tricks or gimmicks to entertain His youngest audiences, He held their attention because He saw them for who they were, and He met them where they were.  

My desire is for Little L to know this Jesus, the gentle Lamb who speaks Truth in love. I want her to thirst for God, to embrace His Word and to know just how big and wide and deep and high His love is for her. I want her to be excited to worship Him with others, and to feel safe and engaged and interested in what her teachers want to show her about Jesus. I want her to willingly go to church, versus feel coerced to attend because we want to attend. I want to be respectful her feelings when she tells me that she is scared or sad about going to church because the volunteers in Sunday School weren't able to maintain control over all of the little kids who were screaming and yelling in the room, or because the teacher tried to make her feel bad (read: guilty) for asking me to stay with her in the classroom when she wasn't quite ready to let me go upstairs yet (and yes, both happened). But I don't want all of this at the expense of Hubbs' and my own spiritual nourishment.

And so we struggle on with our church attendance, because we simply haven't found something that works for all three of us. Every Sunday continues to be a bit of a battle of wills between a preschooler who is alternately loathe to go or apprehensive and scared about attending, and two earnest parents who really want to go to church, but also want to avoid imposing it on their 3.5 year-old, strong-willed and sensitive child.

I feel like we are very alone in this, because so many parents that I've talked to have not even identified this as a problem for them. They attend church every week, with multiple kids sometimes, and their children seem quite willing to spend time apart from them, even at the youngest of ages. It seems odd to me that we would be the only ones wrestling with this, though, so I can only assume that others who have walked this similar road simply don't voice their struggles. Or maybe they stop attending church for a long season, and just don't say anything about it.

How do you church your littles? Do you take them regardless of whether they want to go or not? Do you find Sunday School to be an effective time of Bible learning for your kids? How have you balanced your child's wishes with your own, where faith is concerned?

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September, or Curriculum Celebrations

 September means one thing to a teacher: the beginning of a new academic year. While I may not be returning to the classroom this month, I still get excited (and a little wistful) about the "Back to School" season. Unfortunately, because I don't actually get to set up my classroom, stock up on school supplies and plan out my first week's lessons, there is no natural outlet for my educator's itch. The result is that my urges are manifest in weird ways; I start looking at reading the curriculum for fun, and I end up talking off the ears of my practicing teacher friends. I live vicariously through their accounts of their first days at school, and I hang on their every word about new pedagogical theories and approaches.

That's how I know I must be destined to teach.

Tonight I learned about The Daily 5 (mini-lessons on literacy) and how it can complement the Reading Powers, and I also learned about the Systems of Intellect (SOI) approach to developing intellectual abilities through the use of targeted assessments and training programs. I was also pointed towards BC's new curriculum, which is still in its early inception phase and currently optional in the province as they phase out the old one.

I'm not going to lie; the new curriculum (and the pretty Web 2.0 website) made me squeal just a little. It's so much more inquiry-focused and skills based (vs. content based), and far simpler to read and understand, than the old curriculum. The use of key questions and big ideas reminds me of the Understanding by Design approach to unit planning, and the core competencies offer a more balanced kind of education. In this 21st century world where information ("content") is available to everyone at the touch of a button, the emphasis should no longer be on knowing what, but knowing how. The new curriculum endeavours to build up the competencies of effective communication (how to convey information and be understood), thinking (metacognition and critical evaluation), and personal/social skills that address the issues of identity, community and responsibility. Love, love, love this!!

Of course, I come from a more recent generation of teachers that believes that the 3R's are simply not enough. My opinion is that the traditional ways of doing "school" no longer meet the needs of the 2015 learner, and to continue to plow through ten months of a year doing the same products-based, assessment-heavy, pencil-and-paper tasks is a colossal waste of time and opportunity. It is thrilling to know that the curriculum design team has tried to consider content that engages our students, and designed the curriculum to focus on learning through hands-on, interactive tasks. The play-based approach that many early childhood educators have already adopted is a solid, developmentally-appropriate and well-researched model from which it sounds like this new curriculum has taken some inspiration.

I am excited to work with this curriculum one day, and to see how it will be implemented and refined over the next few years. As Little L enters K (two summers from now), the kinks should be ironed out, and perhaps a scope-and-sequence will have been added. It's an exciting time to be a student in BC, and while I know there are educators and parents out there who look at this new curriculum with some trepidation and skepticism, I am full of hope that we may finally be reforming education in a way that prepares our kids for the future!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Parenting Is Scary - Part 67982, or How We Ended Up at the ER Twice in a Day

Not from yesterday, but look at that cute sleeping girl! She freaks me out way too often.

Yesterday afternoon, while Little L was playing outside with her nanny, she tripped on the uneven cement path beside our house, fell, and hit her head against one of the cement steps. Suddenly, I heard her piercing wail from inside the house. Then I heard the nanny calling for me, flustered and unsure about what to do next. She quickly blurted, "She fell outside. She's bleeding! What should I do?!" By this time, blood was splattered on my daughter's face and t-shirt, and soaking through the paper towels being held against her forehead. The small, deep crater was pooling with blood every time we removed pressure from her head.

It's a miracle that I didn't lose it right there, but despite my inward fear I was able to maintain my outward calm; I rushed over to console Little L and check on her wound while directing my nanny to call 811 or 911. As she spoke with the operator, I checked my daughter's vitals and examined her wound. Thankfully, by this time it was no longer gushing with blood, so I was able to coax her into letting me spray-wash it with saline and apply a Hello Kitty bandage to protect it until we could see a doctor. Praise God that my girl was lucid, not vomiting, and not lethargic; she did not present as having a concussion (which was my biggest fear), and she was pleading to get some nye-nye and have a nap. Of course I denied her request, just in case she *did* have a head injury.

However, to ease the pain, I gave my kid a Jr. Tylenol. To her, it was like candy so she gladly gobbled it up.

Hubbs pulled in shortly after the firefighters and ambulance arrived. The wonderful first-responders all tried to coax my daughter into the ambulance, but she was so distraught that she absolutely refused to go anywhere with them, even if I accompanied her. She also fought them off when they tried to examine her wound, so they had to resign themselves to following our vehicle as we drove her to the ER.

We had to wait for several hours in the ER before being seen. Little L had calmed down and was actually enjoying her Mommy/Daddy time at the hospital; she was such a patient little trooper despite her injury, which I'm sure must have ached. However, when a nurse finally looked behind the Hello Kitty bandage and saw the depth of her cut, he figured that she would need stitches. This pronouncement sent her into inconsolable tears once more. Thankfully, we were ushered into a room shortly afterwards, so the poor folks in the waiting area didn't have to listen to her loud, dramatic sobs for long.

While we waited for the doctor, we bribed her with Skittles and Corn Nuts. Both proved to be a hit, and she was calm again until the doctor arrived. We all anticipated that she would need stitches, but thankfully the doctor figured that we could just glue her wound shut and bypass the trauma associated with getting sewn up. Little L still wailed and fidgeted throughout the procedure, requiring both Hubbs and I to hold her down while the doctor pinched her wound, applied the glue, and waited for it to set. Once it was all done, we were free to go! We stopped at Dairy Queen to get our brave little warrior princess a chocolate sundae treat.

Then, in the evening, Little L began to complain that her wound was aching. Since it had been more than 6 hours since her last dose of Jr. Tylenol, I agreed to give her another dose. This time, however, I would give her the full 1.5 tablets according to her weight. After I cut her half tablet and closed the cap on the bottle, I went to clean up the shattered remains of the second half of the pill. I was only in the kitchen for maybe a minute or so, when Little L ran up to Hubbs and I and proudly proclaimed, "Look, Mommy! Look what I did!"

In her hands was an empty, uncapped Jr. Tylenol bottle.

She had figured out how to uncap the lid.

Hubbs and I looked at each other, and we freaked. Poor Little L was devastated to see how our expressions changed instantly to worry, and she began to cry as we interrogated her on where the rest of the Jr. Tylenol pills were. She quickly confessed that they were in her tummy, and immediately we grabbed our keys and ran for the door. Little L sobbed as soon as we told her we would need to return to the hospital, and she begged us not to go back. We tried to explain the gravity of the situation, and despite her pleas we loaded her into the vehicle once more. As Hubbs drove, I called 811 and then Poison Control to see if there was anything we could do in the meantime. While 811 proved useless and the 90-year-old nurse who I spoke with should have been fired for senility, the Poison Control nurse was incredibly helpful. Once I answered her questions about the Jr. Tylenol and my girl's weight and age and how many pills she ingested (I'm guessing in total, about 7), the nurse was able to reassure me that a trip to the ER wasn't actually necessary. Of course, by this time we were already parked in front of the ER door and getting ready to unload Little L; we ticked off the ambulance that was pulling in because we were obstructing the entrance and not really moving quickly. The nurse explained that for her weight, Little L would have needed to ingest an entire new bottle of Jr. Tylenol before it was a toxic dosage. While her gobbling up so many tablets might result in some serious pain relief, it would not likely cause nausea or any kind of organ damage. We were instructed not to give her any more Jr. Tylenol for the next 24 hours, and advised against checking back into the ER.

Given our own reluctance to wait for hours in the ER again, we turned the car around to go home. We were cautiously relieved, but still uncertain whether the night might prove the Poison Control nurse wrong. Neither of us slept all that well last night, but Little L? She was out like a light, thanks to her Jr. Tylenol OD.

Yesterday was one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking days we've had as parents, and our girl is only 3.5! I'm not really sure if my heart will survive until she is 18.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

A Calendar Fit For a Child

I'm referring to this gem I scored, made by Melissa & Doug, a while ago. Now that Little L is 3.5, she is really getting into helping change our daily magnetic calendar, and anticipating events while she learns about time.

Of all the calendars out there, this one best resembles the "calendar time" I did daily with my Grade 1's. That's not to say that it's too old for 3.5 year olds, however; my kid is able to do most of it with just a bit of verbal promoting and some guided questions.

The calendar's features include:
- separate boxes for year/month/date and season (lots of number practice and learning the months of the year and seasons)
- a section for yesterday/today/tomorrow (to learn the chronological order of the days of the week and identify the words)
- a thermometer with an arrow to indicate temperature, a weather box to identify the weather pattern (sunny, rainy, windy...)
- a blank "activities" section that you can either add magnets to or write in the day's events with a dry erase marker
- a holiday box to identify if the day is a special occasion
- my favourite: an "I feel" area to aid in identifying and vocalizing emotions.

Each section comes with magnets, and an additional magnetic board attached to the calendar to store and display all of the unused pieces. I've seen other calendars that offer a pouch for the extra pieces, but having them in plain view makes them all the more accessible for my girl.
Some things that I really love about this calendar:

1) Magnets are colourful against a white backdrop. I find too much colour to be visually-overwhelming, and the neutral borders and background of the calendar help balance out the colourful magnets

2) Fonts are simple and easy to read. Some other calendars have very small print or busy pictures on their magnets, but this one has high-contrast, larger fonts that don't overload the eye

3) The focus is equally on the date and time and season and weather, not just the activities and events of the day. We aren't that organized, and our days are pretty spontaneous (child-led, play-based), so a calendar that mostly focuses on a day's activities simply isn't helpful for a family that isn't focused on scheduled activity.

4) Magnetic boards are suspended on a sturdy wooden frame. We could just hang ours up on the wall with one tiny nail; we didn't need to find some magnetic surface to apply the calendar to. This design means that we are able to use the calendar despite having brushed stainless appliances.

5) As mentioned earlier, there is a second magnetic board to hold the numbers and other magnets. Out of sight, out of mind; this addresses that problem, and allows kids to see their options and access the magnets easily. It is a great way to promote independent play, and I'd be lying if I said that Little L didn't often mess around with the calendar (especially the temperature arrow and the "I feel" faces) to play on her own. Sometimes, she will even change the "I feel" face to sad when she's upset, and switch it back after she feels better!

I'm a big fan of Melissa & Doug, who did not sponsor this post (but I wish they did)! The calendar will set you back a few dollars (anywhere from $17.99US+) but it is well worth the investment. Once Little L is too old to do calendar time, she will still be able to use the wooden magnetic board for other things. If you're looking for a kiddie calendar, this teacher-mommy is rating the Melissa & Doug First Daily Calender an A+ (or two thumbs up, or "greatly exceeds expectations")! :)

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Monday, August 3, 2015

On Flights #25 and #26

Blurry selfie while we waited for lift-off

So we recently returned from our short jaunty to E-town, the first time we've been back since our Granny's passing last September. It has also been nine months since Little L last flew, and in kid-time, that is an eternity. A lot of growth happens in nine months (e.g. a baby goes from being a newly conceived embryo of cells to a full-term fetus, etc.), so we were well aware that the little girl that we flew with to Maui last fall was not going to be the same girl we'd be doing the return 1.25h flights with. We weren't quite sure what to expect, despite having flown with her dozens of times before.

Well, let me say that it was a cakewalk. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. A pleasure, even. Here's what worked for us:

- quality kids' headphones with age-appropriate volume limits (we used a Philips brand one)

- a fully charged iPad with preloaded apps, videos, and books that don't need WiFi (we have an Epic books subscription that allows you to mark "favourites" to be read offline, along with an Awesome TV app that stores some of her favourite kid vids)

- pre-cut fruit and veggies in small Tupperware containers (because while junk food is readily available, short flights and airports have a dearth of healthy kid-friendly fruits and veggies)

- a ziploc of other savoury and sweet snacks for in-flight noshing, including lollipops for take-off and landing

- an empty water bottle and a bottle of water to be purchased after clearing security

- one "treat" purchased at the airport on each flight (Little L chose a Miss Piggy Pez on her way there, and Hello Kitty cupcake candies on her way back)

- a comfy umbrella stroller in case your kid can't walk that fast to the gate (we brought our City Mini Zip stroller)

- small toys and activities stored in a kid-sized backpack for in-flight entertainment (for us, this was a Teeny Tiny Mini-Farm, some Littlest Pet Shop critters, a book, crayons/paper/stickers, a Daniel Tiger trolley and some DT figurines)

- an in-flight snack item from the flight attendant (in our case, corn chips there and pretzels on our way back, plus I bought Little L a lentil crackers-and-hummous premium snack on each flight)

Maybe it was because the flight was short, or perhaps we flew at a good time (10:30 am there, 4:00 pm back), or maybe it was all the snacks and treats, but we had no issues with whining or complaining during any part of the flights, despite interrupting her nap for one flight and forcing her to wait on our car seat install upon arrival.

Our next flight is in December, and it will be twice as long as this one (3 hours). Little L will also be five months older and wiser, and officially a student (preschooler). I'm sure that the experience will be different yet again, not only for her but for us, but I am looking forward to seeing how we do en route to Palm Springs.

What do you find useful for traveling with a 3-4 year old?
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Simple Prayer

Over our dinner of chow mein noodles, my little girl prayed:

Dear Jesus, please come into my heart, because I need to remember God. Amen.

Unscripted, unrehearsed, unprompted, and from her heart.

Praise the Lord. Amen.
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Monday, July 20, 2015

Seagull Hostages

We are currently on semi-lockdown, at least as far as our top balconies and garage entryway are concerned. Whenever we step out onto the landing on either side (we have both east- and west-facing balconies), we are met with the raging shrieks of a protective momma gull and her bird buddies. They proceed to dive-bomb at our heads, talons outstretched and beaks open menacingly, swooping within two feet of our precious scalps. They then circle back and repeat their offensives, sometimes defecating a load onto our roof as warnings of impending attack. Only when we retreat back inside does their aerial assaults cease.

I'm cripplingly afraid of aggressive birds, so this is very freaky to me. Worse yet, Little L *loves* playing on the balcony, and to be denied this experience every time she asks has been very frustrating. Unfortunately, I would much prefer a frustrated child than an injured one. Even Hubbs, who initially thought the swooping gulls overhead was a cool thing, has come to concede that this is a major issue.

One stands guard on one side, the other stands near its nest on the rectangular structure.
Never one to be passive in a hostage situation, I contacted pest control and my strata manager and my landlord right away. The good news: they are sending someone out tomorrow to move the nests (one on our roof, and at least another one across the way from our west-facing balcony). The bad news: this is a recurrent problem that usually lasts all summer, and even after obtaining a hard-to-get permit to move these federally-protected critters from my rooftop, there is no way to prevent the gulls from nesting there again. The behaviour we are witnessing is the result of mommy gulls trying to teach their fledglings how to fly and find food and do other gull things.

I was informed that these pest control folks have actually been coming out to our complex every other week since March, but their work has been held up by the delay in getting the permit. Also, our location is especially popular with the gulls since we are close to water, and the design of our rooftops makes it difficult to set up effective deterrents to prevent future nests from being constructed. There are talks to up the frequency of pest control visits from bi-weekly to weekly. I sure hope strata passes that motion!

The fledgling is hiding beside the momma and learning to feed.
To top this all off, one of the nests on our roof cannot actually be moved; its contents are addled eggs (eggs that have been shaken) that will never hatch. Sadly, the momma seagull doesn't know this yet, and so she sits patiently waiting for her babies to arrive. It's actually pretty sad, since we know that things will not end well for her. I have been assured that when the seagull does eventually discover her loss, she will thankfully not turn psycho-crazy; she will simply abandon her nest to build a new one elsewhere. To move the addled nest now would mean that it would invite a new nest to be built, so the pest specialists have advised against relocation.

Anyway, until the pest control fellow comes tomorrow, we cannot use our top balconies. In fact, it's probably safest if we don't walk around the back of our home, period, since I did get followed and the gulls swooped by twice to remind me to stay away, when I attempted to walk through the back of our complex towards my home. The crazy territorial behaviour has been less than ideal, and the constant noises from the birds have been unnerving. Tomorrow can't come soon enough! Being a seagull's hostage sucks.

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