Wednesday 18th June, 2014
At the start of each term, it’s not uncommon to see some children upset when their parents drop them off in the morning. It’s also pretty common to see parents upset… and as a mum I’ve been there, done that, and am still learning how to cope. (Although I admit that saying goodbye is easier now that my children have turned three)
Here’s the thing: this separation anxiety is completely normal. Yes, it may be difficult to deal with, but remember that most children go through this anywhere from 6 months to 4 years old. It tends to start when children realise they are separate individuals from their parents, i.e. instead of always being with their parents, they begin separate routines like going to bed by themselves, being left with a babysitter, and commonly, starting school. They become upset and agitated when they’re separated from their loved (and trusted) ones because they are uncomfortable with being out of their comfort zone.
Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help ease your child through separation anxiety (and stop the waterworks):
1. Communicate with the caregiver (i.e helper or preschool).
2. Never sneak away when it’s time to say goodbye. Letting your child know you’re leaving even when they’re upset builds trust between the both of you.
3. Keep goodbyes short and sweet.
4. Show that you understand their feelings e.g. “I know you would like me to stay.”
5. Let your child know when you’ll be back in a way that they understand e.g. “After lunch” or “Before you go to bed.”
6. Be reliable and return when you say you will.
7. Think baby steps – start with short separations to get your child used to being apart from you before increasing the length of separation gradually.
Of course it’s not just children who have to adjust to being on their own. Us parents often go through a period where we’re constantly worrying about our children’s safety, feeding, sleeping etc., and stress out especially about introducing children to school. From one mum to another, here are some tricks I’ve picked up to help ease the nerves:
1. Acknowledge the anxiety. It’s okay to be nervous about leaving your child in the care of someone else, but trust they are in good hands.
2. Know that everyone does things differently. Other caregivers may not share your approach, but children are remarkably resilient and adaptive. No matter how small they are, they’re not going to fall apart just because someone else is taking care of them! As long as they are secure and well looked after, they will be okay!
3. Understand the importance of separation. Exposing your children to different caretakers instills a sense of belonging and community in them.
4. Have a ritual. Saying goodbye can be tough no matter how many times you’ve done it, so have a ritual that will allow your child (and you) know it’s time to go. You can play a goodbye game or even exchange token so that throughout the day, the both of you will have a memento of each other’s for comfort.
Hope this helps!
Your friendly neighborhood gardener,
Friday, 13th June 2014
I run a preschool where we try to grow our own vegetables and teach children the importance of eating well. But just like any other mother out there, there are days where my toddlers will do nothing but throw their broccoli to the ground, before loudly proclaiming they’re not having any of it.
Yes, you can cajole. You can sit with them for a whole hour if need be. And you can even go to extremes like hiding the veggies in their favourite food – I will be the first to admit that I’ve been there, done that. But here’s my take on trying to get our children to eat vegetables: just because they’ve refused it 10 times does not mean they’re not going to eat it for the rest of their lives.
I could easily reveal ways of getting children to eat vegetables, like “hiding” it in soups and dips, or making vegetable pizza for dinner. But I won’t, because not only am I sure you’re already familiar with these methods, I also think that there’s too much pressure for parents to constantly deliver 24/7. And we all know we need a break.
At The Garden House preschool, we introduce our children to a variety of fruit and vegetables, and I think that’s really the key to getting children eating well. You need to constantly expose and introduce them to the food. They might refuse it the first time or the tenth time, but constant exposure will lead to eventual tasting.
My own children used to hate guava. As someone who can survive on nothing but guava (perhaps I’m taking this too far, but I do love the fruit), I could never understand why they hated it so much. I used to persuade them – even beg them – to just try it, but we all know there’s no talking sense into toddlers sometimes. But one day, after months of them watching me enjoy guava, they asked to try it – on their own accord. And they slowly began to take to it. On the flip side, I don’t fancy berries that much and my children have picked up on this – they too pick at their strawberries when they have them in school.
Children learn so much from us, which is why it’s important to practice what you preach, especially with the younger ones. If you want your children to eat your vegetables, you need to show them you eat them too. And you always need to offer it to them on their plates. There are days where I’m so tired from running after my children I don’t really care whether or not they want their vegetables at dinner. I’m not going to make a fuss just because they refuse a carrot or two. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, always keep it in their line of sight. That will make the difference eventually.
Wednesday, 11th June 2014
Breastfeeding, to put it briefly, is a taboo topic that we don’t talk enough about. There’s a lot of research out there on how long you should breastfeed for and why a mother’s milk is always better than formula, but there’s this whole other side of breastfeeding that remains pretty controversial.
Every so often, I see the same type of article or picture that goes viral on social media. The most recent one pictured a mother breastfeeding her toddler – not infant, mind – in public. Now I’m not sure what people were more outraged by – the fact that the mother was breastfeeding in public, or the fact that the child was older than one would expect.
As mothers, we always want what’s best for our children. Sometimes that makes us feel entitled to a certain opinion – I think something is right just because I have children – and that pits us against each other as mothers. I think it’s important to recognize that just because one mother stops breastfeeding her child at six months and another stops at two years old doesn’t make one way of parenting bad and one good.
My personal philosophy about breastfeeding is that mums should do it for as long as they can. But this is my own philosophy and not something I want to impose on everyone else. I am still breastfeeding my three year olds.
Do I get funny looks? Sure. And did I ever feel defensive? Of course. But what I feel is that the provision of a mother’s milk is such a natural thing – our bodies automatically produce it – that it doesn’t make sense to deprive children of it. (That, and the fact that formula is outrageously expensive!)
So mums, whatever you choose – remember there is no right or wrong. Listen to your child, your body, and trust your instincts. And when it doubt – stay away from the Internet.
Monday, 9th of June, 2014
Biting is something that parents always ask us about. The easy answer to why it happens is that biting children are trying to cope with a challenge and fulfill a need e.g. to express a strong feeling. Of course as parents we know there’s no easy answer to parenting (although some day I wish there was!), but don’t panic: biting is a common issue and can be easily resolved once you identify the trigger.
If a biting incident occurs, firmly tell the child “Stop. No biting. It hurts.” It can be trying, but don’t let your frustration get in the way. Children pick up on our cues so your stress and frustration can aggravate the situation. Remember that children under the age of 5 are not aware of their behaviour and are still learning self-control. We know you’ve seen it and we know it can be alarming; sometimes they just cannot seem to stop themselves! (Also let’s be honest – even though we’re all adults self-control is still something we’re working on, so imagine how hard it is for toddlers.)
It’s also important to help children understand that biting is not an ill-intentioned, spiteful act, but a means through which their friend has chosen to express themselves. Encourage them to talk about how they feel; you can also ask them questions like “are you feeling angry? Is there something you want to tell me or your friend?”
If you child is persistently biting, you have to understand why in order to effectively stop them from biting. When a biting incident occurs, take the time to assess the situation so you can anticipate it next time. Ask yourself questions like:
1. what happened right before the bite?
2. who was your child playing with?
3. what was your child doing?
4. where was your child?
They may be over tired, teething, or just experimenting to see what will happen. Some children bite because they feel neglected and want attention, but more often children bite because they lack the language skills to communicate what they want or how they feel. I often find it’s when they are frustrated that they bite. Frustration can occur in many situations: when their personal space is being threatened, when someone has something they want, or even when they’re tired.
Once you’ve identified the trigger, work on diverting your child from biting. The first thing I tell parents who have or know children who bite is to not label them a ‘biter’. Labeling can lead to reinforcement of this identity, which will only result in more frequent and aggressive biting. Instead, suggest how your child can handle the situation by giving them words to communicate better. Words like “you’re in my space” can help a child express his feelings, as does asking for help from a caregiver/ parent. Make sure to show attention to the child who was bitten to avoid giving negative attention to the child who bit. This helps children who bite for attention to understand that biting doesn’t get them extra love. Showing concern to the child who was bitten also shows empathy.
Working through biting can be distressing, but remember that partnership with your preschool or kindergarten is important. It helps to have the same strategies too. Make sure to let the teachers in school know of incidences at home too so they can anticipate situations and help re-direct children away from biting.
Wednesday 7th of May, 2014
In an emergent programme like ours, children are always in charge of their education journey – they decide what they’re interested in, and together with teachers, co-construct their knowledge experiences. Of course, with an unorthodox approach to learning (i.e. without a standard curriculum), parents are always concerned of their children’s progress.
Over here at The Garden House Preschool where we adopt a Reggio-inspired teaching methodology, getting our children ready for big school is a priority and as counter-intuitive as it sounds, children don’t need a formal curriculum to learn fundamentals like their alphabets and their numbers! Although these concepts aren’t directly taught in an emergent curriculum, the skills are learnt and encouraged through experiences like water play, garden play, storytelling, and even role play.
The Reggio environment (i.e. our school) is set up in a way that always encourages the natural curiosity of children. We carefully construct our space to resemble a ‘third teacher’ – as a place that will inspire and engage exploration. For instance, we incorporate literacy props like alphabet blocks in all our classrooms. Writing and reading utensils like letter stamps, crayons, and stencils are available for children to use at all times, and we have labels throughout the school (on cubby holes, artwork on walls etc.).
Recently we’ve also implemented some other ways that encourage literacy among children, like signing in and out with their names when they arrive and leave. We have story-telling everyday where children develop an understanding of how phonemes make words. This way they learn their alphabets meaningfully rather than through a sequential approach.
Other ways of using the Reggio approach to literacy include using books to direct experiences, like writing invitations to a pretend party, or providing dramatic play opportunities and props that are literacy-rich. At home you can pretend to go grocery shopping with a shopping list or write and mail letters within the house.
Numeracy is another important concept that we introduce to our children through authentic experiences. Water play allows children to explore measurements by experimenting with different-sized bottles, which they can fill or empty to learn about liquid measurements, or group and arrange by shape and size for their first encounter with geometry. Similarly, gardening can be used to develop an understanding of shapes, sizes, and patterns (with leaves). Children discover length measurements through activities like digging e.g. “how deep does the hole need to be to plant this seed?” Even playing with sand can help with the learning of division when children divide sand equally between different containers.
Our teachers are strong believers in the Reggio approach, so they have experience in documenting the learning progress of children, which helps us understand where a child’s interests lies and how we can use that to further enhance their knowledge experiences. Like all good things, learning isn’t an overnight thing, but learning through these ways will help ensure a lifelong love for learning too. All the better to tackle those teenage years!
Monday 5th May, 2014
I have two children – N, who is my biological daughter, and A, my son whom we adopted from Morocco. Both of them are toddlers and are only a month apart.
My husband and I have always wanted to adopt. People adopt for many reasons – I cannot explain mine except that I genuinely love children. On my first date with my husband, we talked about how many children each of us wanted and I told him that I wanted to adopt. It sounds strange talking about children on our first date but it was love at first sight – which you will soon find is a recurring theme in my life.
We were engaged 11 months later, married a year after, and became pregnant the year after that. My biological daughter N was a premie and – I kid you not – while still in hospital we decided we would adopt our next child. So when N was 9 months old, we started our Home Study Report and embarked on our adoption journey.
Unlike giving birth, going through the adoption process means everyone and every detail in your life will be examined. We were asked to think about things no one asked when we were pregnant – practical questions like “how many fire alarms do you have in your home?” to bigger questions like “what do you think of God?” My helpers, my mother, and my brother were interviewed and we were asked to provide reference letters.
Seven months later, we finally obtained the Home Study Report and planned a trip to Morocco so we could visit an orphanage we had identified. We initially planned a five-day stay so we could travel and help out at the orphanage. We turned up in the morning where the Director told us we would need to wait a year for an infant. We knew this already of course; we just wanted to hand in our Home Study Report personally so she could match us a child with our little family in mind.
But then – and this was a major turning point – she told us about a 16 month old toddler she had in the babies’ room upstairs. I remember her saying, “he’s a little serious. He has a head full of hair, he looks like you, and I think his Mummy (referring to me) just arrived.” She also told us about his medical condition, but wasn’t fully aware of the situation because his medical records were in the care of the hospital that the orphanage was affiliated with.
I remember being seated opposite the director with my husband behind me. I turned around to look at Miles and we had an unspoken understanding that we should meet this boy. So I asked if it was okay to meet him, and in a few minutes, Laela (the head nurse of the orphanage) was holding this gorgeous little boy in front of us.
I looked at his hair, the dimple on his chin, and his amazingly long lashes. Again I was hit by love at first sight – and so was my husband. Laela handed this boy to Miles and the little boy had such a look of awe on his face. The children in the orphanage are looked after by female caregivers so I think that was the first time he had been held by a man.
After spending some time with this boy, we requested for his medical records so we could understand his condition. We also met his orthopaedic surgeon who explained that he has a missing fibular amongst other things in his right leg. We sought the advice of my brother-in-law and a friend’s husband, as well as a second opinion from N’s paediatrician and a surgeon in Florida. After a couple of sleepless nights and heartfelt discussions later, we returned to the orphanage to tell them he’s our son. Smiles, tears, and praises to Allah later, we met with the social worker to get the adoption petition in Morocco started. This process would take 2.5 months to formalise as Morocco does not allow for adoption according to Muslim law but formalises Kafala (legal guardianship).
Our little family made plans to stay in Morocco for 3 months – once you know someone is your son, there is no way you can leave. We walked to the orphanage every morning and after a few weeks, he started to cry when we left him after his lunch for naptime. It was torture for me to leave when we had to leave for the UK for a few days during those 3 months. I remember walking out of the baby room crying and the other parents visiting from Spain saying (what I assumed they had said in Spanish), “imagine us having to wait almost a year.” Moroccan law at the time required a child to be be ‘abandoned’ for 6 months before the orphanage was allowed to apply for an abandonment order; only after the courts pass the order can a child be adopted.
We met so many children at the orphanage. We were there every day, helping to feed other babies and playing with other children. We were resolved in spirit to advocate adoption. The Kafala order was finalised on 8 August 2012 and from that day on, he became ours for the rest of his life.
We often think of the children we left behind and my heart aches for them. We remain in contact with the orphanage and our friends in Tangier but it’s not the same. I advocate adoption because every time I think of the children’s faces, I feel it’ll be selfish for me to get pregnant as there are many children who would love a forever family – a sister, a mummy, and a daddy. We hope to adopt again but Moroccan adoptions are now closed and we’re still researching.
We chose not to use an agent as being personally involved in the process was important to us. It was also important that N was part of it – she made friends and fell in love with her brother. I am third generation adopted while Miles was adopted by his stepfather, and I hope our children will continue this tradition.
Introducing children to preschool is like getting our vegetable patch harvest-ready (i.e. very tricky business!), but the secret lies in that extra bit of dedication. Because we see our preschool as an extension of your home, we think it’s super important that our gardeners work hand in hand with parents (that’s you!) to create the best environment for young seedlings.
Remember that children are complex, dynamic individuals and it’s often difficult to get a full read on who they are just on the first day. Our team of teachers have all the right know-how, but we have to give the child time to show us who they are, what they like or don’t like, how they learn etc.
The biggest tip we tell parents at The Garden House Preschool is this: tell us everything, and we mean EVERYTHING! Our golden rule is that there’s never too much information. A simple checklist will include the following:
What languages are spoken at home, and what does your child best understand? (Our teachers are a multilingual bunch since they’re required to know keywords in a smattering of languages.)
Who are their favourite people?
Do they have other caregivers?
What are their favourite toys?
What is their favourite food?
What’s their sleep schedule like and do they have regular naps?
Have there been any changes at home lately?
Most preschools (like us) will also ask for medical history, so make sure to have information on allergies, illnesses, and vaccinations at the ready.
Some preschools encourage home visits as it’s a great opportunity to observe and interact in an environment that’s familiar and safe for both the parent and child. Parents are more open to sharing when they’re in a comfortable setting, and this helps teachers develop a better understanding of the family, especially on a cultural level – in one of our Chinese families, popo always has the last word!
You may not be attending class, but make no mistake: there is background work to do! Make time to attend parent-accompanied sessions that preschools organise – you get to meet teachers and other staff members, as well as get cozy with the school setting and curriculum. We offer a teaser programme for children (15 months – 3 years) for parents who want to get a feel of our school and what we offer.
We’re not going to say preschool integration is easy peasy, but give your child (and yourself) some time to adapt. Consistency is the key. Remember – you’re our biggest cheerleader!