This topic is another one requested by multiple parents. It's been a difficult one for me to write because it is so complex. This year we've had to deal with many school shootings as well as a stressful political climate. It's difficult not to let that creep into our home lives. Children are very aware of what is going on even when we don't actively talk with them about it. They hear the buzz from others around them and often overhear adult conversations. It's important to talk to them clearly about your concerns and theirs. However, you don't want to overwhelm them or make them afraid. They want to have information but it's important to give it to them at age-appropriate levels.
I was born in 1953 and grew up in a household that always talked about current events and politics. It was the Cold War, and we practiced "Duck & Cover" in school. My dad was a political reporter for our local newspaper, and our family friends were mostly politicians, lawyers and other professionals. We watched the Viet Nam war on the evening news every night as well as assasinations and riots. We even had a school shooting when I was in high school. It would have been easy to feel terrified, and I did to a certain extent, but we also talked about everything as a family easing the terror quite a bit. Watching those horrific scenes on television made a lasting mark on me and so many others. On one hand, it's good that we don't see that anymore. On the other hand, it might be making us more complacent.
When the Challenger exploded, my first two children were school age. My son was young enough that it didn't seem to make much difference to him,. but it affected my daughter very deeply. We talked about it a lot. When 911 happened, my youngest was school age. Again, we talked and talked. I tried to shield him from the news footage because it was so horrific, but he ended up seeing it anyway. That's an important thing to remember. We can't always protect our children from outside forces. What we can do is help them deal with their feelings and teach them how to be safe. We do this not by scaring them but by helping them find their power. If we are scared, we often attract negative energy and can't think clearly. If we feel powerful, we are in control and can figure out how to stay safe. In the same way that we teach our children internet safety and tell them not to go off with strangers, we can teach them how to stay safe in a school where there may be a shooter. We can teach them to be safe on the streets by being out on the streets with them, not by isolating them in a protective coccon. Some families get their children self-defense lessons. I'm not sure that's always necessary, but it doesn't hurt if it's done in the right spirit.
I think the best way to help our children feel safe is by dealing with our own feelings first. If we are afraid, our children will feel afraid no matter what we tell them. Remember, our children learn from our example. If you're feeling overwhelmed by current events, try to turn off your news sources sometimes. Take a break from the world and focus on your own family. The news will be there when you're ready to come back and take a look. I'm not suggesting putting your head in the sand, just remembering what's important personally and having a little vacation from the news. Even my dad, whose job it was to report the news, took breaks now and then and focused on his family. When we went away on vacation, it was truly a vacation. There's nothing wrong with a mini staycation. You can model feeling safe and secure by enjoying your family, laughing and playing and remembering the really important things.
This was a requested topic that I'm finally writing. This is a tough one for many parents and one I've struggled with myself. We often get so caught up with the mundane necessary tasks of parenting that we forget to enjoy ourselves and take joy in our children. It's mind boggling how fast they grow up. We go into parenthood thinking that we have so much time. Then, we blink, and they're going out into the world. It often leaves us wondering what happened to all of those years. The older we get, the faster time goes racing by. I noticed that with my third child, who came much later than his two siblings and have been noticing it again with my grandchildren. I finally realized that time seemed to go by quicker when I was older because as each year passed, it was a smaller percentage of my whole life. When I was twenty, ten years was half of my life. Now, it's less than a sixth of my life.
I was a stay-at-home mother with my first two then a teacher working in a school where my third child was with me all day. I had lots of time with them, and it still didn't feel like enough. With each of my three children, I lamented the things I didn't do, the things I didn't teach them or the things I didn't say. With the first two, I worried about keeping up with my house. It was never spotless because I did realize how important it was to spend time with them while they were young. I figured I could have a clean house later in my life. But, it did bother me. I would feel embarrassed when people came to visit, so I would yell at everyone about their messes. That was not an enjoyable part of the journey. Because my husband and I had decided to have me stay home instead of getting a job, we were dirt poor. He didn't have a degree or much training in anything. He worked in restaurants which was a thankless and stressful job. I took on odd jobs that I could do at home, babysitting, making and selling crafts, giving music lessons, whatever I could find. Life was stressful, and we fought a lot. We certainly were not enjoying that part of the journey either.
However, I did enjoy my time spent with my kids. I took them on field trips, read to them, played games, cultivated their imaginations, took them swimming throughout the summers, sang and danced and was always available to listen to them. I felt badly that they didn't have things that their friends had, but they insisted it was okay. As adults, they told me that they never felt as though we were poor. That was gratifying and a huge relief. They always had a roof over their heads, food and clothing. I always figured out how to take them to occasional movies, and we went to every free event there was. We had a wide circle of friends and went to and hosted social events with them - potlucks, parties and music jams. We were rich in other ways, and I can see now how valuable that was.
Did I enjoy the journey? Mostly, yes I did. Sometimes I got caught up in what I felt I was supposed to be doing or feeling guilty about our poverty, the condition of my house or my moods. I went through periods of time when I was very stressed out and through periods of depression, though that never lasted long because I always tried to appreciate what I had. I tried not to let those times affect my children, but I know it did. I realize now that every child will go through their trials, and many of those trials will be because of us. It's okay. That's part of what makes them strong. If they never have struggles, they'll never learn to survive them.
I learned that the times I wasn't enjoying the journey were the times that I listened to others and let my feelings of inadequacy take over. Left on my own, I enjoyed every moment of time with my kids. I enjoyed foraging for wild foods and looking for signs of fairies and gnomes. I enjoyed cooking and baking. I even enjoyed the Christmas when we had no money for presents and I decided that we would only give gifts that we made or found. That was one of the best holidays ever. We spent so much time thinking about each family member and appreciating not only the journey but each other.
Where do I even start? There is music all around us. Last night, I was listening to the birds. I live at the edge of wilderness where we often hear owls and lots of songbirds. There are so many birds around, and they all have their own unique sounds. As I was listening last night, I heard one bird whose call started on one tone then added another and finally a third note so that It was singing a triad. It happened very quickly, but was an amazing chord by the end. Soon, the frogs and nighttime bugs started singing their songs as well. It was a beautiful symphony of sounds. Now, at noon, I'm listending to the daytime symphony through my window as I type this post.
I've always encouraged my children and grandchildren to be active listeners, trying to get them to identify the different sounds. This can happen in the city, the suburbs or the country. In the city there are motorized vehicles that have unique sounds. A motorcycle can be distinguished from a car before it comes in sight. There are sirens and people playing music in their cars. Even in the city you can hear lots of bird songs and hear the wind blowing through the trees. Ask your children, "What do you hear?" "How many different sounds do you hear?" Write them down. How many can YOU identify?
In addition to listening to the sounds around us, we can create our own music from things found around the house and yard. I taught at Helderberg Workshop one summer doing a session that focused on making music. We collected acorn tops, poked holes in the center and strung them on wire across a Y-shaped stick. When we shook them back and forth they became percussion instruments. We collected straight sticks, removed the bark and used sharp rocks to gouge horizontal lines in them to make our own rhythm sticks. We hiked in the woods listening to the sounds and wrote songs about what we heard and saw. In schools, I often have kids make their own kazoos out of toilet paper rolls, a rubber band and some waxed paper.
* Poke a small hole in the side of the toilet paper roll, about halfway down. * Decorate it however you'd like.
* Cut a square of waxed paper big enough to cover the top of the roll with enough to fold over generously.
* Secure the waxed paper on the top of the roll with the rubber band, making sure that it doesn't cover the hole in the side.
* Now, hum into the open side of the roll. Remember, don't blow. You have to hum.
I like to remind people about the music in the natural world, but it's important to go out and hear live music this summer, too. There are so many opportunities for this. It seems as though every town has their own little music series. You can find free music in the parks, libraries, town squares, gazebos, just about everywhere. Go listen to a wide variety of music. Your children may not necessarily love the music you love. They need to be given lots of choices. I knew a boy who discovered classical music and would sing or hum the themes to this complex, instrumental music, and he couldn't get enough of it. Who knows what your child will like. And in the summer, it doesn't need to break the bank. We are very rich in our area. Go out and enjoy the richness.
Weather is so fascinating, especially in these changing times. It's fun to look at the sky and determine whether or not it will rain or how hot we think it will be that day, based on the amount of sunshine. Do you have an outdoor thermometer? How about a rain gauge? Do you actively look for rainbows when there's rain and sun? Do you notice the sunsets or sunrises, the night sky? Many of us have become so dependent on our computers or phones to tell us what the weather will be, we've forgotten to look around us, but it's important for our children to learn that skill. Remember that old adage, "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight."
Rain gauges are easy to make.
You will need:
* an empty 2-liter plastic bottle
* scissors or exacto knife
* paper clips
* some clean pebbles, marbles or glass beads
* masking tape
* a ruler
* permanent marker
How to make it:
Carefully cut the bottle as straight as possible just below where it widens so that you have a consistent width all the way down. Fill the bottom of the bottle with enough pebbles or marbles to fill in the bottom and give it enough weight so that it doesn't blow over. Remove the cap and place the top upside-down inside the wide opening and fasten with paper clips or tape, lining up the two cut edges. The spout will now act as a funnel. Use the tape to make a straight long verticle strip down one side of the bottle. With your marker, make a line a little above the top of the pebbles. This will be the bottom of your gauge or the "0" mark. Now, with a ruler, carefully mark every quarter (or eighth) inch above that 0 mark on the tape. Set the bottle on a level surface and fill with water until it reaches your 0 mark. Now find the perfect spot to put your new rain guage. It needs to be a level spot that's not too windy where it won't get disturbed by animals or playing children. You will need to check it once in a while, especially if you think it will rain, to make sure the water hasn't evaporated. Check it after a rainfall to see how much rain actually fell. You can keep track in a notebook. Older kids can figure out average rainfall and so much more.
When I was a kid, I loved learning about clouds. There are so many different shapes and sizes. There are Cirrus, Stratus, Cumulus and combinations of each of those. Here is a great website that shows how to make your own barometer, how to make a cloud in a bottle, how to make fog and how to suck an egg into a bottle. You can also build a tornado machine out of just a few supplies.
You will need:
* 2 1-liter plastic bottles
* a metal washer that will fit flush over the bottle opening
* duct tape
* glitter or very small "debris" (optional)
How to make it:
Remove the caps off of the two bottles and fill one with water up to an inch from the top. Put whatever debris you'd like into the water. This is optional. Place the metal washer on top of the filled bottle. Place the second bottle upside-down on top and duct tape securely. To make your volcano, turn the bottles over and swirl the top water-filled one in one direction. The direction doesn't matter. Soon, a whirlpool will form, just like the whirlpool in a bathtub when it's draining. Try swirly slowly and quickly to see what difference it makes. Try flipping the bottles over without swirling. You can learn 10 fun facts about tornadoes at this National Geographic Kids website.
There are so many simple things to do at home. You can teach your children about evaporation and rain by putting boiling water into a mason jar and put the lid on tightly. Make sure they don't touch the hot bottle and burn themselves. As the hot water starts to cool, it will condense on the sides and top of the jar. The drops of water on the top will get heavy and "rain" into the jar. You can have rainbows in your home by hanging crystals in a sunny window or find them in glasses of water. As always, if your kids are interested, use your imaginations to find more things to do or look online. There are tons of great science sites out there. And, don't forget to have fun!
More than a year and a half after this was written, I received a lovely email from the mom of a young girl who used this site to help with her science project. She asked that I include this site with safety tips and information on how to prepare for a tornado. Thak-you Michelle and Hannah for sending me this. https://www.austinrealestate.com/tornado-home-safety.php