Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ten Things I Love to Hate (or Hate to Love) About Parenting Under 5 Year-Olds


My wife's worst nightmare.

1. Stairs -- My wife and I have had serious fights about kids and stairs. She has an (I'd say "unnatural," she'd say "healthy") fear of children getting their heads stuck in railings, or pitching over the banister, or falling down the stairs. I just think she watched too many 80's TV sitcoms that ran out of ideas.

On the other hand, I love that look of triumph when my child is climbing down, or up, stairs for the first few times. That grin and look of growing confidence gets me every time, and climbing stairs is one of the first times you see it.

2. That moment when your son is falling asleep, and he starts hitting himself in the face to stay awake.  -- "Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself? Oh...right."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Intentional and Unintentional Routines

I spotted Honest Toddler's post on How To Put A Toddler To Bed in 100 Easy Steps on Facebook today and had a good chuckle, especially at number 75. But it also got me thinking about how routines are formed. Our oldest is 4, and does a great job emulating the post linked above. A bedtime show followed by stories in one location followed by three more stories in another location followed by a snack and a drink and brushing teeth and more stories...you get the idea.

http://www.bookworm.com/p/the-going-to-bed-book-big-board-book-219078?site=CA&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc_bw&utm_term=HP-3729&utm_campaign=GoogleAW&CAWELAID=1611668776&utm_content=pla&adtype=pla&cagpspn=plaBut the bedtime routine for our youngest is still forming, as he's only 13 months, and it's interesting to see what things we mean to add, and what things just sort of -- happen.

One part is purely intentional. Both my wife and I love the book by Sandra Boynton titled "The Going to Bed Book." We read it nightly to our oldest when he was learning to sleep, and we continued the tradition with our youngest.

It's a very sweet poem that details a bedtime routine. I love that it has a rather detailed rhyme and meter, as well, which made it fun to memorize:

"The sun has set not long ago
So, everybody goes below
To take a bath in one big tub
With soap all over -- scrub, scrub, scrub!
They hang their towels on the wall
And find pajamas, big and small.
With some on top and  some beneath
They brush and brush and brush their teeth.
And when the moon is on the rise
They all go up to exercise!
And down once more, but not so fast
They're on their way to bed at last.
The day is done, they say 'Goodnight,'
And somebody turns out the light.
The moon is high, the sea is deep,
They rock, and rock, and rock to sleep"

I love the wholesome simplicity of the poem with the clear images and repetitive language. It always seems to calm our boys down (unless they don't want to go to bed, then it can have the opposite effect).

On the other hand, some routines seem to spring from desperation and unintended actions. When our youngest was an infant, he would wake often during the night (he actually still does this now, but we pretend it's different). Once, in desperation to get him calmed down, I started singing to him. The first song that popped into my head was "Kiss Me, Son of God" by They Might be Giants. The lyrics in this case, make quite a contrast to the Boynton poem:

"I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage 
Called the blood of the exploited working class 
But they've overcome their shyness 
Now they're calling me Your Highness 
And a world screams, 'Kiss me, Son of God'
I destroyed a bond of friendship and respect Between the only people left who'd even look me in the eye  Now I laugh and make a fortune Off the same ones that I tortured And a world screams, 'Kiss me, Son of God'
I look like Jesus, so they say But Mr. Jesus is very far away Now you're the only one here who can tell me if it's true That you love me and I love me
I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage Called the blood of the exploited working class But they've overcome their shyness Now they're calling me Your Highness And a world screams, 'Kiss me, Son of God' Yes a world screams, 'Kiss me, Son of God'"
So, of course, my youngest loved it. He drifted off to sleep immediately. I sing it to him almost daily. I like to think that the lyrics don't affect him (or if they do, that he also has a finely tuned sense of irony), but part of me worries my youngest will grow up to become a heartless dictator. One who, at least, knows how to brush his teeth and go to bed.
Thanks, sleep deprivation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kid Review: The Blast Indoor Playground in Eagan

On Tuesday, we decided to check out Blast Indoor Playground in the Eagan Community Center. It was a pretty fun time, so I thought it might be a good idea to start recording our visits to play areas and other kids friendly places around the cities.

The Community Center is located at 1501 Central Parkway, right off the intersection of Pilot Knob Road and Yankee Doodle Lane. The Blast is in the basement of the Community Center, and is across the hallway from a gym. Admission is inexpensive: $3 for 18-months to 12 years, free for everyone else. From 9:00-11:30 AM every weekday, there is an open toddler gym available, and that was our first stop. My oldest (4 years old) loved the twisty scooters, and so did my youngest (1), with some help and close supervision. There were also a variety of balls, hoops, and play mats as well in the gym, along with a couple hockey nets.

The oldest on a scooter

The youngest enjoying a play mat

Two of the taller towers

The play area itself is actually pretty expansive for the cost. The structures go quite high indeed, around 30 feet tall, with slides, sky lights and tunnels. There is a pretty good sized open area as well, which gives kids quite a bit of room to run. There is plenty of seating for adults around the edges of the area, although some sight lines are a little tricky.
The theme of The Blast is space exploration, which can inspire some fun play. There are large murals on all walls, and many of the structures are rocket and spaceship shaped.

There is a small toddler area near the front of the structure consisting of a small slide and a few kinetic activities, but sight lines are definitely an issue, as there is no seat that can view the whole structure. The toddler area can only accommodate a few children in any case, but if you are supervising a child there, you can quickly get in the way of other children playing. Some of the tunnels are also pretty poorly lit in spots, which  makes it hard for nervous tykes to climb and explore. There are a small number of rooms on the ground level, but they are filled with swinging foam pylons, and children might tire of them early.

Plenty of room to run!

The large open area can fill up quickly if there is a birthday party scheduled, but on a weekday morning, The Blast had more than enough room to accommodate about 20+ kids. There is also a concession stand and vending machines available between the gym and play area, with plenty of dining tables. The prices were a little bit excessive (a bottle of water, a juice box and a box lunch cost $8), but there was a nice variety of choices.

Overall, The Blast was well worth the cost of admission, and both children were able to find plenty to do in the 3+ hours we were there. I think we'll definitely put this area on our short list.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

In which I start this blog

I turned 34 last Monday. This in itself is not significant, but I want to view it as a turning point. Thirty-three was not kind to me: I discovered a slipped disc in my back, we had multiple expensive car and home repairs, and other minor injustices. Even the biggest blessing of the past year, the birth of my second son, happened in February last year, when I was still 32. Thirty-three was the year of sleepless nights, of countless medical bills, and of stress, stress and more stress.

But most of all, I will remember the age of 33 as the year I walked away from teaching. I type "walked away" but really, that door has been closed for me. I went into teaching seven years ago because I enjoyed seeing that "spark" of learning. I loved the idea of introducing concepts and topics to students that would expand their worldview, that would cause them to question and examine the world around them. I wanted to be a curator to the literate world.

For a few short years, I was able to be that curator. In multiple situations at multiple schools, I was asked to enter, create my own curriculum, and teach. It was hard, and I was only working with one or two others, but I was doing what I wanted to do. And I was rewarded for it. Students learned from me, I created some great relationships that I still treasure, I was asked to write recommendations, I spoke at graduation and was voted "Best Activities" by students.

My Speech at Graduation

But, as much as students loved me, administrators took a different view. Classroom management was a weak point in my repertoire, as it is for many beginning teachers, and it was the Achilles' heel I was hit with again and again. My students didn't spend enough time on task. I would tolerate any questions from my students, even ones not relevant to the lesson I planned that day. I wouldn't stop side conversations. I needed to get a handle on this classroom management thing, I was told, or I should find another line of work.

In my time as a teacher, I worked very hard at improving my classroom management. I took multiple Professional Development courses. I talked with my colleagues. I worked at establishing classroom rules and procedures. I took on AVID, an voluntary Advanced placement class, and implemented their learning strategies in my classes. But it was not enough. The year I was voted "Best Activities" and spoke at graduation? I was not hired back at that school. I've worked in 4 different schools the past 5 years, and there comes a time when you have to realize that, as much as you enjoy your work, and as rewarding as it is, if you can't get anyone to hire you long term, maybe you should do something else.

So, this blog is the start of that something else. I am officially a stay-at-home dad. I have two kids under 5, and they are a delightful bunch, but they take up a lot of my time and energy. In the reserves I have left, I want to write, share and edit. I want to still be that curator to the literate world, although the audience may have changed a bit. I may write about education, or home improvements, or being a stay-at-home dad, or maybe just the latest video game that has taken up my or my son's time. Whatever it is, I hope you will join me.