Wednesday, January 29, 2014
From Homeless to Hipster... (and Everything in Between): WhyI've[Almost] Always Allowed My Daughter to Pick Out Her Own Clothes...
"Did you dress yourself today?" is a question my daughter gets... a lot! It's always asked in love, and she always answers "yes" with pride. I can't remember exactly how old she was when she began picking her outfits out, but she has loved " dressing up" since she was one. As I was looking through old pictures, I found so many of her dressed up that I can't post them all, so we'll have to settle for a choice few. The question I will attempt to answer is why I have allowed her to dress herself on most days.
I want her to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower...
She has possessed her own sense of style for as long as I can remember, and my husband and I have always enjoyed her outfits (although he's usually the one that tends to get embarrassed to take her into public wearing some of them!) She has rarely embarrassed me, and in a few years I'm sure I will be the one embarrassing her with how I dress. I'm not much of a trend follower, either! I wanted to share my "method to the madness" theory of why I have encouraged and allowed her to express herself through her clothes. Don't get me wrong, there are times when she just can't wear whatever she wants... i.e. picture days, or when we need to look presentable for whatever reason. On those occasions, I help her choose an outfit or coach ( maybe coax) her in what she should wear to the event. Although she has a knack for putting wild patterns together and is certainly not too "matchy matchy," she actually comes up with some cute ensembles!
I am currently reading (re-reading?) The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. Not only because my daughter has a mind of her own, (at least since she turned two!) but because her little brother is now two and is most certainly a strong-willed little boy! Most, if not all, information I have read about strong-willed children is that it is actually a good thing. They are more likely to have the resolve to not give in to peer pressure when they are faced with it, and they tend to grow up to be hard working adults. Now, when they are two years old and would rather spend 15 minutes screaming, flailing, and refusing to sit in their stroller... ignoring your attempts to bribe them to do it with a soft pretzel, and would rather lie on the nasty concrete of a busy city than do what you want them to do, then it doesn't seem like a good thing at the time (yep, true story). However, I would much rather my children to grow up with strong wills as opposed to weak wills, wouldn't you? Charlotte Mason has some fascinating stuff to say about a child's will, which I will be writing about in a later post, but even with its challenges, I'm sure that she would agree that a strong will is to be desired.
Even as a five-year old princess, I want my daughter to be able to confidently put something on, and be able to still feel confident even after someone has shown their distaste for what she is wearing. Being a girl, I know that she will get "looks" from other little girls, and I'm sure she has already. In fact, we were shopping one day and I actually heard another girl who passed by us say to her grandma, "She's not beautiful." She was speaking of my daughter, so it irked me a little bit, and my daughter was distressed by it as well. Believe me, from how this little girl was talking, I could tell she was not a nice little girl. Our daughters are going to face ridicule, rejection, teasing, and just plain meanness... Whether we like it or not. Whether we homeschool them or not. Whether we're overprotective or not. It's our job as mothers to teach our daughters how to handle those comments and the emotions that follow. Trendsetters will have far more ability to bounce back and continue to be themselves no matter what others say or do. Real trendsetters know that real beauty comes from within.
I want her to have enough self-esteem to not strive to be beautiful, but to know that she is.
Girls will be girls. I'm not opposed to trying to look "beautiful," although I'd much rather just be beautiful, as all women are. And if you know me well enough, you know that any beauty that I possess is natural beauty, because I certainly don't work at it! ;) The difference between myself and my daughter is that I was a complete tomboy growing up. She is most certainly not. She can gasp, giggle, squeal, scream, and twirl with the best of them... all things that drive me a little crazy, but I remind myself to just enjoy them while I can...because they're "cute," and they're what differentiate little girls from little boys (although little brothers can do them pretty well sometimes, too!)
I'm not the type of mom who will ever put my daughter into beauty pageants or anything like that. That's just not me. I won't force her to wear a cute outfit or cute shoes that don't look comfortable. I won't force her wild hair to do things it was never meant to do, or force her little body into clothes not appropriate for a five year old to wear. Not gonna happen. The words "beauty hurts" will never leave my lips (because it's not true), nor will I ever tell her she's anything but gorgeous (because it is true). I will always remind her that everyone is unique, and that G-d made everyone beautiful in their own special way. Not because I want her to be delusional, but because I remind myself the same thing every time the thought crosses my mind that someone is less than good-looking. Who am I to judge what G-d has created? Perhaps people can make themselves "ugly," but I don't think G-d makes"ugly" if that makes sense.
Yes, I tell her that she's beautiful. I won't deprive her of that confirmation, because as every mother knows, especially those who have been little girls once themselves... little girls want to be told that, need to be told that. If you've ever read the book Captivating by Stasi Eldridge, then you know that every girl's deepest question is "Am I lovely?" and mothers (and fathers!) need to answer that question with a resounding "YES!" I recently read a great quote by Alvin Price: "Parents need to fill a child's bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can't poke enough holes to drain it dry."
That sums it up well. I didn't grow up with an amazingly high self-image, or high self-esteem. But once I realized that G-d made me beautiful, that was good enough for me. I want my daughter to be able to see that beauty in herself, and be able to point it out (even bring it out) in others. That's what makes a girl pretty. As she will find out, pretty girls (so-called by their peers) can be ugly girls (by their words and actions).
I want her to embrace modesty as the most important factor in choosing what to wear.
As far back as I can remember, my girly girl has been a fan of modesty in clothing. She has always loved my long skirts, and is often disappointed they don't make them in her size! She loves flowing dresses and long-sleeves (seriously). At times, I have had to discourage her from wearing leggings or long-sleeves when it was way too hot for them! I think she understands the importance and the beauty of covering up. Of course, we have talked about modesty many times, usually when she asks about it. In Pre-K, I gave her a big Melissa & Doug sticker pad full of little girls she could choose clothes for. Together, we made sure their short skirts had leggings underneath, and their swimsuits had cover-ups over them. We dubbed them "The Modest Girls" and since I only gave her five or six girls at a time, the pad lasted a long time! We have made (glued together, not sewn) dolls' skirts longer if needed or added fabric to Barbie's shirts, learning about modesty all the while.
Although she has an understanding of what's modest and what isn't, I try to make it a point to not allow her to criticize what other people choose to wear. She usually doesn't hesitate to tell me when she's seen something "not modest." I have a friend (who lives really close now) who will tell you that one of her first experiences with my daughter was being shown a picture of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, and told that Jasmine was not modest! She laughs when she recalls it, and so do I.
My fashionista has put together some wild outfits, usually involving several different patterns that definitely don't belong together... but usually the only times I have her alter it is due to modesty. She knows that's my only "rule" when it comes to dressing... is it modest? My second question is... is it comfortable? (i.e. Are you sure you can still wear those size 8 shoes when you're really a 10?) Third question is... is it appropriate for today? (i.e. Are you sure you're going to be able to run and slide at the park in that long dress? or Won't you be more comfortable running in sneakers, not jelly sandals?) Again, true stories. ;)
I know she's only five, and she wants to be like me and dress like me. Modesty is important to her because it's important to me. We are blessed to have several friends (and their little girls) who embrace and model modesty as well. It also doesn't hurt that we live in a highly orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hey, little girls (and big girls, and women) running around in long skirts is the norm here! I'm glad that she has this early understanding and foundation of modesty, because I certainly didn't. I know that she will get older and want to look like everyone else... but to embrace modesty is half the battle. To value yourself and dignity more than you value what others think and do (and what advertisers force on you) is the other half. She can be as fashionable and stylish as she wants to be, but I want her "rule" to also be... is it modest?
If it was just "my rule," then perhaps she would just reject it as she gets older. Fortunately, it's not "my rule." It's G-d's design and desire for all women (and men) He created, and it goes far beyond the clothes you wear.
I want her to gain confidence in making decisions.
It was my plan to locate two books on discipline (that I own) somewhere in the midst of my husband's hundreds of books, but I was unable to do so (which is pretty bad). The first one was Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson, and I recall him mentioning kids benefiting from being able to make "safe choices" at home in order to learn how to make good choices in the real world. Children need to be able to make choices (whether they be good or bad) because they can learn from them within the safe confines of their family environment. The other book was Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, which I also enjoyed reading. Ironically, the books are kind of opposed to each other (sometimes purposely) on a few subjects, and I remember that making decisions was one of them. Hopefully I recall this correctly when I say that Tedd Tripp seemed to think that children making decisions for themselves (even on simple matters) was to be frowned upon, and that they would learn how to make good decisions by watching their parents make decisions. Both authors pleaded their case here, but I would lean more towards Dr. Dobson's understanding, simply because I have survived one two year old and am in the process of surviving another. Any mom knows that toddlers love to have some say in any (or many) areas of life, in fact, they thrive on that little bit of control. If you were to give them no control whatsoever, they will act out in many ways in the areas where they do have control whether you like it or not. For example, I have never successfully forced a toddler to go to sleep, to eat a particular food, or to use the potty. Perhaps I've tried...with coaxing, bribing, threatening... but let's be honest. It doesn't work.
As I was thinking about how to word this section, I watched (my first ever) webinar on parenting last night. It was free, and I wanted to try it. The topic was "How to get kids to listen without nagging, reminding, or yelling" so I was curious. It was led by Positive Parenting Solutions, and I would recommend it to other moms. While it was designed to get parents to go further and pay for online training courses, etc. I feel like the information I received in the free webinar was enough for me to really move into a more positive way of discipline.The reason I mention it here is because the first thing she said was "Kids have a hard-wired need for attention and power." If they don't feel like they receive enough of either "in age-appropriate positive ways," they'll act out. She wasn't saying that they should do whatever they want (I wouldn't go along with that!) The point was that as parents, instead of trying to control them and fight against that need for power, we should give them the choice to exercise their free will (which they possess because they are human beings!) If they choose to disobey, they choose to reap the consequences.
Therein lies one of my biggest motivations for allowing her to choose her outfits. I want her to make confident decisions when she can. I don't ask her to decide between right and wrong, or decide any "big ticket" items in life, but getting the choice between this shirt or that one, these shoes or those shoes, broccoli or peas.... goes a long way in showing her that I respect and trust her judgment in these areas. Then, in the event that she needs to change or choose something else, I have found it's been easier for her to trust my judgment at those times.
I think as parents we sometimes forget that we are raising people... they have opinions, tendencies, likes, dislikes, style, personalities of their own.
We don't want them to "be like us"... we want them to be better.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
In searching for a kindergarten curriculum, (which I finally...(painstakingly) decided could be a good thing to have!), I was told many good things about My Fathers World. But it wasn't until I looked online at their website that I fell in love. I saw a Butterfly Garden, an Ant Hill set, and other things country folk may take for granted, but hey, we live in Brooklyn!! ;) We can't have pets, we live surrounded by concrete, and my daughter loves butterflies (when we happen to see any!) I, on the other hand, grew up in South Florida...with a back yard full of citrus trees, plants, dirt, reptiles, and bugs. I loved being outside and barefoot. We didn't have much money, but some of my fondest memories are of climbing trees, making leaf and dirt burritos, and spending time with dirty dogs and stray cats.
My two little New Yorkers don't experience this "back yard living" on a daily basis. While there are some "patches of nature" here and there, we have to walk the several blocks to the park to fully experience any natural expanse. And even then, "nature" in Brooklyn is anything but "untouched." Still, we do what we can (and am now inspired to do much more.) We do a lot of "bird-watching" (out the window, beyond the fire escape), we have a few houseplants, we go to the zoo, we have made a bird-feeder and planted seeds, we play with dirt, sand, snow, and I try to encourage as much exploration as possible when we are out for walks, etc. After reading Charlotte Mason's (I will call her "CM" for short) take on the importance of children being outdoors, I dare not make excuses for not exposing them to nature. "Oh, you live in the city?" she says... Get the kids on a train and go to the country once a week! While the suburbs of New Jersey are a far cry from the English countryside she speaks of, we do go there fairly often. Closer to home, Prospect Park is like a mini-Central Park, complete with a lake and a zoo! We definitely need to spend more time there!
To steer myself back to the point I was trying to make here, I fell in love with My Father's World curriculum because it seemed so nature-oriented. A nature lover myself, I've always tried to incorporate it into my lesson plans, as it is my favorite kind of information to convey. Imagine my joy when CM stated outright that learning about nature is the most important thing children can learn about during the first six years of their life. I agree. By nature, we mean the world around us as G-d's Creation. Because G-d created everything with a plan and purpose, children's observation of nature leads to much more than learning certain facts about bugs and leaves, but it sets the foundation for many future subjects of study: science, logic, cause and effect, social relationships, and actions and consequences just to name a few.
CM's suggestions include allowing children to explore nature, (mostly on their own, unless they need a little "push" to get their curiosity involved, or if they ask a question), to run, to be noisy, to get dirty, and just simply spend many hours "out-of-doors." She gives examples of methods a mother can use while they are outside to further their learning. She can send them to a particular area, asking them to return to her ready with a description of everything they observed. This is to strengthen their habit of attention. The younger children will follow (and learn from) the older ones, as they frolic along behind. If a child seems bored or uninterested in the nature around them, perhaps all they need is a small tidbit of information about a tree or plant, or they need that tiny ladybug pointed out to them. CM advises, however, mothers not to lecture or intervene too much in the children's interactions with nature, as the goal is for them to form relationships with what they see and experience. She basically says that mothers talk too much (which is true at times, even for quiet ones like me!) It is a mother's tendency to want to share everything they know about something all at once, but it is better to give the children space and answer their questions as they arise. Then, the children will remember and relate to that information. As CM puts it, children are always fascinated by "things," but sometimes "words" can be a bore. Therefore, it is most beneficial to teach them something about a rock when they are holding it in their hand, or when they have just become interested in that tree over there.
To clarify, it is more in the child's mind that they are out in the open to simply play and have fun, but to the mother, the day outside is never one spent without purpose. As CM puts it, "there is much to be done and much to be prevented" during this time. The children will have periods of releasing their energy, practicing their skills of observation, narrating to their mother, learning countless new things, taking mental pictures of landscapes until it becomes a habit, getting to know all the trees, plants, and living creatures in the environment, collecting things, and even stopping to draw a flower or other object as they see it. The children must, however, remain engaged in these "lessons" and negativity must not be tolerated, but turned into a "joyous temper" so that all benefit from the fresh air. The mother will have a method, and the children will enjoy learning without even realizing it! It is a day well spent. In fact, CM states that for the first six years, the majority of a child's days should be spent like this, "a quiet growing time" in their "passive receptive life." Hey, I'm all for it! I definitely have to work on my time management, so that we are able to spend these hours outside. But I agree with CM when she says that mothers will "work wonders" in this area when they realize that it is what's best for their children. If you are beginning to think she is sounding eccentric or strange, google "nature-deficit disorder" like I just did, and realize that there is a growing concern for children who don't spend enough time outdoors. Depression, obesity, and behavior problems were just a few issues I noticed. There are also movements I have seen that try to counteract this, like "outdoor preschools" or "forest kindergartens." By the way, they look pretty amazing! But CM knew what she was talking about way back in the early 1900s, and you don't have to send your kids to an expensive nature preschool to do what's best... just turn off the TV and take them outside!
For the next week, my family and I are in New Jersey, and we have discovered an amazing park nearby called Duke Island Park. I definitely have plans to go there as often as possible this week, as there is a great trail that winds through the woods and alongside a river! Our first trip was a short one, being in the heat of the afternoon and with one child under the weather, but even then we saw a caterpillar, worms, butterflies, dragonflies, and countless trees and plants we don't see close to home. I am excited to go again for some time well spent in nature.
Stop trying to be a Teacher. Be a Mother who teaches.
Given the fact that I have always wanted to be a teacher, I think I was trying too hard to act like a teacher. I frequent teacher blogs, teacher websites, teacher's pins on Pinterest... And while they can be useful at times, and there are great ideas to be found, I came to the realization that I am not a teacher, but a mother. Granted, teaching is woven into the very fabric of being a mother, among other things, but all the cute classroom and "teacher stuff" doesn't always apply to homeschooling. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it doesn't matter if my daughter has a cute classroom or cool school supplies... what I most want most for her is to love learning. All children have a passion for knowledge, but we adults have the power to either extinguish or excite it. I don't want my dreams and desires to get in the way of her education. So, in the Charlotte Mason method, less is more, and quality is more valuable than quantity. Short lessons that capture their full attention is the way to go. And mothers are the best teachers, because they have full access to their children, know them best, and have the constant dedication and attention required to nurture their education. Education here encompasses every aspect of life: habits, dispositions, tendencies, their will, and their relationships with people and with G-d. CM not only has me excited about homeschooling, but she really forces me to consider my interactions with my kids, and how I can be a better mom for them. In addition, she has re-ignited my own desire for learning, because in order to teach passionately, you need to know something about it!
One of the first (and most powerful) thoughts I read of Charlotte Mason's was her striving to teach like Yeshua (Jesus) did, and using three quotes from the Gospels to advise mothers. In teaching our children, we should not "hinder" them, "offend" them, or "despise" them. She goes on to explain these three in further detail (you should really read it yourself!) Suffice it here to say that by offending them, an example given is not teaching them obedience or a sense of "duty," literally putting a "stumbling-block" before them for the rest of their lives. To despise them is to have a "low opinion" of them, which CM believes far too many adults do. Here she insists that children are persons, fully capable of understanding just about anything, and to treat them (and their wrongdoings) as trivial is very detrimental. Correct them on their first offense, and don't allow bad habits to be formed. Lastly, to hinder them is to "overlook" or "make light of" their "natural relationship with Almighty G-d." Children will turn to G-d if not discouraged from doing so just as naturally as the "flowers turn to the sun." There is a whole portion about gently presenting G-d to the soul of your children, and makes the wise point that simply sharing with them about some things that G-d has done in your life (those aspects of G-d that you have truly experienced and can speak about with passion and conviction) is worth more than all the Bible stories and rote memorization you can teach without emotion. I'm sure I will devote another post to this section,it is so beautifully written, you really must read it for yourself. While CM begins with these "commandments" of what not to do, she goes on to offer so many wonderful ideas of what to do. In fact, she paints mothers in such a magnificent light, I often find myself completely lost in her marveling, and I keep going back to read sections again and again.
The aspect of CM's teaching philosophy that really captivated my attention was her treatment of mothers. Although I haven't read anything that says she had any children of her own, her descriptions of motherhood are just beautiful to me. Gently guiding and goading in the right direction, tenderly taking advantage of every teachable moment, being the child's loving ally to remind them to do their best and do what they must do... All without harshness, impatience, or nagging. Let's be clear, I am certainly not there yet (and if CM indeed did not have any children, perhaps that's why she puts it so matter-of-factly and makes it sound so easy!) but I am in love with her view of motherhood. My goal is certainly to be that loving ally, tender teacher, gentle guide, and patient parent, and I do believe it to be attainable. Granted, the English gentlewomen CM speaks of (with their nurses and maids and cooks) had more "free time" to frolic in the grass than most of us modern-day "stay-at-home-moms" ever will, but so much of what she says still resonates loudly today.
If you are unfamiliar with her writings, this will give you an idea of what a Mother is, in Charlotte's eyes...(and I'm sure I'm leaving some out)...
She will do everything in her power to make her children's lives easier...not by spoiling them, but by instilling in them good habits and useful talents that will be helpful, and not harmful. By getting to know her children fully, she will be able to either encourage and develop, or misdirect and eradicate their tendencies. She will "work wonders" to get them outdoors and into nature for as many hours as possible each day, even if she lives in the city. :) While outside, she will leave them free to run and roam, observe and investigate...as she remains watchful and attentive to answer their questions (or to commit to finding the answer together), or to simply spark their curiosity. To practice the habit of attention, she will ask them to describe a natural setting or narrate a story she has just read to them. She will understand how they learn, and will place before them countless opportunities to learn.
She will patiently teach her children to read, however long it happens to take... unrushed. And she will read to them, not what CM calls childish "twaddle" about nothing, but classic stories of adventure that will fuel their imaginative power, and that are not "dumbed down" in order to stretch their minds. She will also read them Bible narratives, as much as they are ready for, which will introduce them to G-d and morality. She will not keep her faith in G-d to herself, often praying aloud or praising Him in front of her children, so that they too will understand what it means to live in His presence.
~Now, who wouldn't want a mom like that...~
To download free e-books based on the teachings of Charlotte Mason, visit
"A Thinking Love" is a condensed version of all CM says about mothers, "The Way of the Will" is about character training and raising your children with a strong (as opposed to weak) will, and "Education is..." is another great introduction to CM's views on education.
Meet my new BFF! ;) No, but seriously, since I began reading Charlotte Mason's six volumes on homeschooling a few weeks ago, I have been enthralled, encouraged, and challenged.
I am very grateful to be reading it now, the summer before my daughter begins Kindergarten at home. I have been "playing school" with her since she was probably two years old, and trying to nurture her love for learning. We just completed a (partial) year of Pre-K and are super excited to go forward!
While I was never really intimidated by the thought of homeschooling my own children, I really didn't know how I was going to go about doing it. My tendency in Pre-K was to come up with an over- complicated lesson plan for each week, and just try to get through as much as possible, so I felt like we were accomplishing something. No doubt, my daughter learned something, but Charlotte Mason was just who I needed to tell me to slow down, simplify, and allow my daughter to absorb what she is learning. This is how she will truly love to learn, and indeed, learning should be fun and effortless for a child. They were born to learn! My job is to give her opportunities to learn, to inspire, and to guide her learning.
If you are interested in an introduction to homeschooling and Charlotte's methods, go to www.simplycharlottemason.com and download the free e-book "Getting Started in Homeschooling." I am reading it now, and love the way it starts by giving five different approaches to homeschooling, Charlotte's being the fifth. I was unaware of all of these approaches until I read this. I was basically "winging it" before I discovered Charlotte Mason's writings, and I love her because she fills me with joy, encouragement, and the conviction that I am the best teacher suited for the job of educating my children. Many of her methods were in my mind and heart already, but I couldn't fully express them, and wasn't sure if they would be sufficient. Thankfully, she has given me renewed confidence.
As I read more and more of her writing, I am more and more excited to try her methods! This summer provides our family a unique opportunity, as we are embarking on an eight-week long road trip... Leaving the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York, and heading south as far as the panhandle of Florida. We look forward to learning all kinds of things along the way, especially geography and nature study, and no textbooks allowed! :)
Please join me on this journey. I will be continuing this series, and also posting pictures and stories from our adventures on the road. As my children are only ages four and one, your prayers are appreciated as well!