I can tend to get caught in the competitive parenting trap. I don't intend it to be competitive parenting when I'm in the moment, but if I step back and really think about what I am doing there is no other definition for it.
What am I defining as competitive parenting? Well, any pressure we place on ourselves, especially when our children are young to learn the right things, at the right time, in the right way. I mean, for heaven's sake, if our children don't know all of their colors and can't count to 10 by the time they are 11 months old, well, then not only are we in big trouble with that little trouble maker but really, you have utterly failed as a parent. I'm serious. (Hands on hips, stern teacher look).
Alright, seriously though, there are parents that get really crazy about all of this stuff. I saw a posting on an online mothers bulletin board recently where a woman asked the following questions, "My daughter is 3 1/2 and while she can sing her ABC's, she can't identify all of the letters in the alphabet individually and she is having a hard time writing them?"
I seriously must have missed something if that is where a 3 1/2 year old should be because I thought Ava was pretty smart and she can't do all of that either...I'm calling early intervention first thing Monday morning. I'm serious. (the look...)
That said, while I thought this woman was a little OC for asking the question, there was a tiny weeny little part of me thinking, 'uh-oh, should Ava be doing more? She's not in pre-school this year, is she missing out? Should I hire a reading tutor for her?'
I didn't really ask myself that last question...about the tutor...but you do start to feel a little crazy sometimes!
All that said, for the most part I feel like I'm pretty comfortable about where I am with the girls. I think my approach is a little 'old-school' because I'm pretty laid back about it all. I mean, I learned the alphabet when I went to kindergarten and I'm not illiterate!
So, in the spirit of being more casual about our teaching, using the time we have with our children at home to have fun and create bonds, not get all crazy with workbooks, and tutors and computer programs, I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for teaching from the world around you.
1. Practice Letters and Numbers While you Walk
We went for a walk today and suddenly it dawned on me that there were learning opportunities for Ava all around us. It started with a little game of "I-spy" (which she loves to play and which always cracks me up because when she is 'spying' she concentrates really, really hard, stares at whatever the thing is for like 5 minutes and says with furrowed brow...'I spy with my little eye, something red and white and blue that looks like a flag'....and I'm always like...'um, could it be the flag up there?' and she gets all excited, "YES. YES. YOU Got it mom!" And I just smile).
Anyway, we turned our game of color I -Spy into a number and letter I-Spy with house numbers, and license plate numbers and letters written on street signs. It was a lot of fun. Once we were done with that I'd point to a house and ask her to tell me what numbers she saw on the house. She'd get all excited and tell me what they were and then we talked about how the mailman uses the numbers to give us our mail...she was so darned excited to figure all of this out!
2. Make Cards for Those You Love
I was writing a card for my friend Sara who lives (sadly) 425 miles away, and thought I'd seize the opportunity to have the girls do an art project with purpose...Sara has 3 little kiddos so I gave the girls blank cards and had them color pictures, decorate with stickers, and then had Ava practice writing her name. Ava loved the idea of sending someone mail, she practiced writing her name (which is only 3 letters, two of which are the same, so I guess I'm lucky on that front!), then I showed her how to address an envelope (which I did while she watched) and had her put the stamps and return labels on. She then went out to the mail box all by herself, put the mail in and raised the little red flag. She was quite proud.
3. Bake With Your Kids
Most of you probably do this already, but it is one of our favorite past times when we are bored. We print a recipe (Ava gets it off the printer), we pull out all of the ingredients, the girls get on their little chairs and I let them take turns helping to measure and dump ingredients, put cupcake liners in the pan, or drop cookies onto the sheet. Is it messier with kids? Of course! But they love to feel included, watch things baking and I often show Ava how to measure correctly, let her smell thing ingredients (spices especially) and help clean up.
4.Teach at the Grocery Store
I won't lie, this is kind of hard with two kids...if I have both of them with me I usually shove lollipops in their hands to keep them quiet and occupied...BUT, I do try to teach them things, especially if I only have one. Ava will help to count out produce. I tell her to grab 5 oranges (very carefully!) and she counts them out...Ella often repeats the counting which is great. We practice colors of fruit, I teach them names of things (asparagus, kale, ginger...sometimes I try to find more unique items, even if we don't buy them). We ALWAYS stop to see the lobsters...sometimes the store workers will take them out and show Ava how their arms move around (which always grosses me out! ewww!).
We also talk about money sometimes, especially when Ava starts asking to buy this, that and the other thingamajig. I'll tell her how much things cost and sometimes explain how I compare prices.
5. In Season Plant a Garden!
If you have kids and you've never done this you SOOOO need to plant something with them this year. Even if it is just a couple of tomato plants in a pot. The girls had SO much fun with me last year digging holes, weeding, and obviously and eventually picking the fruits and vegetables. They are SO proud when they pick green beans and tomatoes and then bring them inside and help wash and cook them. I think it is important to teach them, eventually, that food doesn't just magically appear like it does when we go through the drive-thru (AND, the food that DOES just magically appear is probably not the best option for one's body!). That it takes work, and patience, but also how cool God is to have created all of this stuff!
That's all I've got for today. Not rocket science I know...but after all, Ava is not going to MIT to be a rocket scientist anyway...that's already been proven by the fact that she can't recite the Declaration of Independence word for word or write, legibly 72 vocabulary words on paper already. So, we're on a path of a different sort, but we're happy there. Hopefully you'll try some of these things and find some happiness in your casual teaching as well.