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Jen, Kristen, and Patience

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How to Play with Kids

Posted by Jen on October 7, 2009 at 9:00 AM in Jenplay
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Have you seen the caterpillar book? from andrea scher on Vimeo.

My friend Andrea recently posted this adorable video with her son Ben & her husband Matt playing together. I loved it for a hundred reasons--the best being it's such a great example of how to really play with kids. Knowing how to play with kids is one of those things that is supposed to be an obvious skill--I mean, what's to it, right? You sit, you laugh, you play. But as any parent who has wearied of the knock-knock joke will tell you, it's not always automatic, it's not always easy and it's not always fun.

Here are three tricks you can try to fake yourself out if play doesn't come easy to you.

Set the timer. By putting yourself on the timer, you take yourself off the clock and give yourself permission to not get a single thing done. For you list-makers out there, this approach also lets you thinking of your playtime as something on your to-do list that you can check off later.

Do nothing. This is the answer to all that ails you if you are play challenged and feel at a loss when faced with playtime with a three year old. Go where that child is, lie down on the floor and do nothing. Go ahead, close your eyes if you want to. Take a snooze. I promise within ten seconds that three year old figure out exactly what to do with you while you lie there and wait.

Follow his lead.
What's so brilliant about the video above is that Ben (the three year old) is completely in charge of the play. He bangs on the piano and Matt matches both his intensity and his mood. Kids are constantly being asked to follow along, so nothing thrills them more than when during their playtime you as the parent reveal that you're willing to take a turn at not being in charge.

What are your secrets to playtime with your kids that doesn't leave you bored or distracted?


Staying Connected with Your Kids Through Thick and Thin

Posted by Jen on September 30, 2009 at 12:52 AM in Jen
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I'm watching as moms all around me are weathering little squalls with their tween children. It's not anything any of us cannot handle, but still--we ask one another almost daily, "If it's like this now, what will it be like then?"

Well, there's no way to know and no way to guarantee the future, right? The best we can do is pursue connection right now and cultivate our trust that our children can stay close to us in their hearts, even as their developmental tasks ask them to take a little time here or there to be more independent and sometimes pull away.

Here's my stay connected strategy for the in between years:

Follow her lead. Each child has her own way of reaching out; your willingness to take the invitation will carry you both a far way. While it's easy to overlook Madeleine's constant invitations to "come here and see this!" as an annoying interruption, the truth is, she is including me in her interests and world. By saying yes as often as I can, I'm meeting her where she's happy to join me.

Stay on the lookout for new openings. New interests provide new opportunities to connect and discuss what's going on from a slightly different perspective. One of the most delightful things about watching my kids grow up is realizing that each new development challenge always carries with it a new opportunity to reconnect. Carter now enjoys reading to me, for example, where the ritual used to be me reading to him.

Take charge. Kids aren't responsible for staying close to you; it's your job to remain a constant available resource to them. If you're struggling to make a meaningful connection, take the initiative to create the environment where something can happen. Long car rides, new outings, asking for input, trying new foods, inviting kids to help you mastermind logistics or scheduling--all these things can really open doors for easy breezy conversations that can take you somewhere fun and new.

Don't apologize for your desire for connection. All kids go through phases where they want to assert their independence and pull back a little. Don't let this fool you into thinking that they need you any less. By continuing to state your desire to be with them, to spend time together and to hear their thoughts, you keep the door open and release them of the burden of making up the difference during developmentally trying times.

Be affectionate. I'm determined to keep the love flowing over here--even though Madeleine feigns disinterest in my cozy displays of affection. I know her well enough to understand that there's a lot of security for her in knowing I will reach out--even when she's moody and appearing indifferent per her tween age script.

How are you staying connected to your kids during difficult parenting times?


Go, Books, Go!

Posted by Jen on September 23, 2009 at 11:23 AM in Books and ReadingJenbedtime
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Remember me, the mother who was waxing eloquent about the dawning of the conceptual age where children will cherish their Kindles and Zelda just as much as their books?

This diatribe was followed by this episode with Carter who cried buckets during his last bedtime reading session (something that rarely happens now since he discovered Calvin and Hobbes) because he'd unearthed a copy of Go, Dog, Go.

Go, Dog, Go would not be on my top list of books that make children love books or reading, but evidently I am mistaken.

Carter (sobbing): I just love this book so much.
Me (reading on automatic since there is no real plot or narrative arch to this book whatsoever): Buddy, are you okay?
Carter (wiping the snot from his tear-streaked face): I used to read it when I was a kid.
Me (because I can't resist asking kids ludicrous questions like this): Are you missing your childhood?
Carter (still quietly weeping): Mom, don't worry. They're just tears of happiness. Because I love this book sooooo much.

So books aren't dead after all. Who knew? What books are your kids loving at bedtime at your house these days?


The Story We Find Ourselves In: Why Literacy is Alive and Well

Posted by Jen on September 11, 2009 at 9:11 AM in Jen
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Last week I asked my good friend and Common Sense Media critic Sandie Angulo Chen to share her thoughts on the end of Reading Rainbow, one of the longest running shows in the history of PBS. Sandie shared her disappointment about the show ending, but more importantly her concern that in letting shows like this go, PBS (and other media outlets) are losing their focus on literacy and the love of reading.

Since then there's been a deluge of requests for the show to be brought back with hundreds of people writing letters, posting to fan pages on Facebook and otherwise demanding that PBS reverse their decision. PBS is standing firm, citing the fact that Reading Rainbow hasn't had a new episode in five years and that its current fan base has not been vast or strong enough to prop up even the most minimal ratings. Case closed, and with PBS's serious commitment to children's literacy in other venues (programming first and foremost), it makes perfect sense.

The conversation still on the table, however, is this notion that love of literacy is losing its foothold in today's culture and that the current media climate contributes to this potential deterioration. This, I suspect, as evidenced by the furor surrounding Reading Rainbow at the moment, speaks to our nostalgia for a simpler time, and while we lament our lost childhoods where the best way to learn to read was to tag along with your mother to the library, our children race through their paces, mastering (and adoring) their march to literacy with the likes of Super Why and Word Girl.

Let's face it. Times are changing. Books will always be our creature comforts when it comes to connecting to our children, but the real bonding time to be had over literacy today is to pull up a chair while your kids dazzle you with what they can read and understand while whizzing through this or that educational website. It's also, to be perfectly honest, being willing to sit and listen while they read through this or that incredibly intricate story unfolding on their favorite video game.

While my children still love books, they do so, not because of what this or that TV show or public service campaign says that they should. They love books because they love reading and the written word for them lives in all forms--online, on TV, even on the text messages Madeleine gets on her cell phone. Their love of story is driven, not exactly like mine was (from immersion in the full length novel) but from the open-ended narratives they encounter online, where they themselves are the producers of content, where the choices they make with a click of a button, give them the power to create a whole new world.

This will be bad news to those of you with preschoolers or those of you who like me once wished that they'd read quietly in their rooms, musing on the classics for hours. But it's very good news for those of us who want to be part of the new wave of literacy (and parental bonding about literacy) with our children. Because of the changing landscape in programming and digital media, we have the opportunity right now to be connected to our kids in a brand new way. By asking questions, being curious and modeling our own passion for literacy in the chair right next to them, we make ourselves a part of not only the stories they read wherever they read them right now, but also the story of their lives that digital media helps them to create.


Happy Labor Day

Posted by Jen on September 5, 2009 at 9:00 AM in Jen
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You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford

May your last weekend of summer with your kids be labor free and full of the happiest sorts of curiosity.


In Memoriam: Common Sense Media Movie Critic Sandie Angulo Chen Laments the End of Reading Rainbow

Posted by Jen on September 2, 2009 at 7:09 AM in Jen
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reading rainbow big.JPG

My good friend and PBS fan Sandie Angulo Chen and I were sitting at my kitchen table the other night mourning the loss of Reading Rainbow--a television show as dear to us as Mister Rogers neighborhood itself. While I saw the show's end as a natural turn of events--when was the last time your kid read a book because they essentially saw a review on TV?--my friend Sandie (who also happens to be a career journalist and very savvy media critic for Common Sense Media) pointed to the end of an era and a particular relationship we as parents have with the media when it comes to books and the love of reading.

I invited her to share her full opinion here, and I invite you to respond. Do you think our culture is falling short in teaching the love of reading to children by creating shows that focus specifically on the mechanics?

I'll give you my two cents in a separate post, but I wanted you to hear Sandie's take on it:

It was with a surprising sadness that I read that PBS' third-longest-running series, Reading Rainbow, would be airing its final episode on Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 -- after 26 years on television. I couldn't stop singing the theme song -- "Take a look, it's in a book, Reading Raaainbow" -- for days, and I felt like it was the end of an era.

To me, the show's end signals a fundamental shift in the way we view educational television -- and possibly childhood literacy as a whole. The emphasis, as PBS' Vice President for Children's Programming Linda Simensky told NPR last week, is no longer on teaching a love of books or an introduction to great children's literature, but on teaching young kids how to read. Full stop.

Why can't there be room for both in children's television? Of course shows like Super WHY! and WordGirl should be commended for providing preschoolers with the tools to unlock words. As studies have shown, kids who aren't necessarily read to at home benefit most from these types of early literacy programs. In fact, educational television is preschool for some children.

But what about kids who are read to on a daily basis, who do take trips to the library with their parents? Reading Rainbow spoke to them, reinforcing their love of books by stressing literary themes and the out-and-out wonder of storytelling. It provided the tools for examining a book -- thinking about its plot, its themes, its life applications. That's just as vital, in my opinion, as learning to break down a word phonetically or how "cat" and "hat" rhyme.

Like many adults in their twenties and thirties, I have fond memories watching LeVar Burton introduce new books (at age 6 or 7, I desperately wanted to be chosen as one of the kids who gave book reviews on the show). As a mother, I've often referred to the show's Web site for book recommendations, many of which are among my children's favorites.

It's a shame that there won't be any additional Reading Rainbow picks for my children to enjoy. It's a shame that a show about the joy of reading can't co-exist with programs stressing how to read.

What do you think? Give it to us straight Supersisters--in the comments below.


Back-to-School Bedtime Blues

Posted by Jen on August 26, 2009 at 7:00 AM in Jenbedtime
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carter on the couch

If you are like me, you're looking at the calendar and thinking Oh dear Lord, how will I ever get these children back to a normal bedtime before they start school on Monday? The answer is: You won't. But. You can get headed in the right direction which is what we're doing right now.

Here's where you can start:

Wake everyone up bright and early. It doesn't matter if they get dressed, speak to you or are coherent in anyway. The point is that they wake up and get moving. By the time bedtime rolls around, they'll at least be a little bit more tired (and ready to sleep) then usual.

Cut way back on screen time, especially in the evening.
No more watching a movie together before you go to bed. The part of the brain that needs to wind down, winds up in the presence of visual media, so cutting that out of your child's evening diet will definitely help move things along in the nighttime hours.

Do some family research online about how much sleep is required. If you have a blossoming logician at your house (like we do) this kind of fact checking makes a strong argument for a reasonable bedtime. This also cuts down on sibling issues because the research shows which ages need the most sleep--ironically, that number goes up and down depending on where your child is in development.

Get those rooms in order. Now is the time to break out the comfy sheets, buy a new pillow and make that room a crib any child TV star would be proud of. In the same way your kids needed convincing sleep space when they were babies, they need a good place to snooze now. Reinforce as many positive associations with their sleep space as possible.

Nudge bedtime a little earlier each night. Ideally, you would have started this two weeks ago (where did the time go?) but it's never too late to start. By gently moving your kids to an earlier sleep time, you'll be giving them the support they need to wake up naturally on their own come a school day morning. I know I've succeeded when no one needs a morning call to wake up and everyone comes down on their own accord--yes, it can happen!

What's your best tip for getting kids back on schedule? Do you ease them in gradually or go cold turkey on a school schedule bedtime? Or (perish the thought) do you actually put them to bed on time all summer long?? Tell the truth in the comments below.


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on August 22, 2009 at 10:45 AM in Jen
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flower heart.jpg

Thinking this summer got away from you before anything exciting happened. Let this video from a round-the-world traveling family inspire you to dream big for next summer. You have a whole year to plan!

Miss the assignment of writing about what you learned on your summer vacation? Read this lovely essay from Supersisters favorite Meg Casey. There's no one mama more soulful than Meg who knows how to be playful, too.

Are you gearing up for the first day of school? We want to remind you to get your sidewalk chalk and get ready to spread some good cheer to chase away the back-to-school jitters.


How to Love an Eleven Year Old Girl

Posted by Jen on August 19, 2009 at 1:24 AM in Jen
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mad in the window

1. Give her something to be in charge of.
2. Let her have a pet.
3. Laugh every single time she cracks you up.
4. Delight in her fierceness.
5. Make space for her crabbiness.
6. Speak of her positive character qualities in public.
7. Spend alone time with her, even if she acts like she doesn't need it.
8. Be the one to introduce her to all the best things about being a woman.
9. Let her bring along a friend.
10. Give her a chance to make a difference in the world.

Happy Birthday, my sweet Madeleine! May this year surprise and delight you and let you know in new ways you are deeply loved and never alone.


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on August 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM in Jen
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pretty pink flower

Are you shocked and amazed when your kids are more resilient than you realize? Here's a great post about how tough (and tender) our kids really are.

Need a little sibling bliss to help you remember your kids too do get along every now and then? Here's a lovely photo essay with some helpful links from the everyday life of a sweet family.

And we still have wonderful book recommendations for you. Listen to this nice interview from Lindsay Lebrasco.

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