Tag Archives: learning

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Earn Trust By Never Doing Anything For Your Children

If you’ve already been through the toddler stages with one or more children, then you’re quite familiar with the “All By Myself!!!” obsession tendency of that age. The one thing they want in life is to be able to complete whatever challenge lays before them, and they want to do it independently.

That urge for independence doesn’t just pass away; rather it’s a driving (and necessary) force all throughout life. As parents, we often find that it’s easier to do a task ourselves than to spend time teaching the children how to do it. After all, they’ll learn when they’re older, right?

The problem is, when we take over something and do it ourselves instead of letting the children do it, we’re robbing them of an opportunity for growth. It doesn’t take children long to figure out that asking an adult for help can quickly turn into a lost opportunity, so they stop asking. Then when the parent notices their kid having trouble and steps in to help the child may actually resist. From there it’s very easy to get into a power struggle and ultimately damage the parent-child relationship. Do this long enough and you’ll see a pretty substantial break in the relationship. Not good.

For me personally, efficiency is a big deal, and stopping to wait for a boy to figure out how to open a jar or complete some other task is difficult (verging on frustrating). But I owe it to my children to be a better person, so I’ve been training myself to handle this challenge differently. First, I put my hands behind my back. (This is very important.) Then I ask if they want to learn a trick that would make the job easier, or do they want to keep working alone. It’s even more important to respect their answer to this question. If they say no, I keep my hands where they are and shut. up.

If I’m given the go-ahead to show the trick, I am then allowed to pick up whatever tool they’re using and I always say, “I’m just going to show you, I’m NOT going to actually do this.” Then I demonstrate the task, hand back the tools, and put my hands behind my back again. Once they complete the task, I offer praise. My current favorite phrase is “Good work, man!!”

Last week the younger boys and I were making cookies. Getting the sugar measured out accurately was giving them fits, so I asked permission (with my hands behind my back) to show them a trick. When they said yes, I got out a wide bowl and set the measuring cup in it. Then I showed them how to fill the cup with a large spoon and how to level off the cup by scraping across the mounded sugar with a butter knife. After that, I explained that we could dump any spilled sugar back into the main container without touching it. Then I put all the sugar back, set the tools in place for them and let them actually measure the sugar out themselves. If I had measured the sugar into the bowl for them and assumed they could do the job “next time” I would have lost a lot of trust.

By repeating this strategy over and over and over, I’m seeing them trust me to give them strategies and suggestions without overpowering them or robbing them of any opportunities. I’m seeing them give me more opportunities to teach, and we’re all growing closer as result.

by AmyL


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A New Pet

white fuzzy kittenMy daughters are begging for a new pet. Specifically they want a kitten. My husband does not. We promised them we would get a pet when they turned six. They have been six for two months and my husband has somehow been able to drag his feet and we have yet to get a pet.

I was about my girls’ age when we got a kitten. We had a dog, but he was my brother’s pet (at least until he graduated and moved). The cat, Zeke, was mine. Based on my experience, I think that six is a decent age for a pet. I was able to take care of the cat and treat it nicely.

Last week we read a book about a boy who wanted to get a puppy but his sister wanted a cat. The family was having a meeting to vote on the new pet. The parents both voted for a cat so the boy was conspiring how to convince his dad to change his mind. But fate placed a box of kittens outside the grocery store and his sister got the cat she wanted. The sister was a little too young for the cat as she would squeeze it too hard. My girls and I talked a lot about how to hold and treat a kitten or puppy.

I told my husband that he needs to get on board as it is time for our girls to experience what it is like to have a pet. I decided to wait until after the holidays because a kitten and a Christmas tree are not a good combination. I recommended that we hold a vote. My husband stated his should count for four votes. Sorry Charlie.

My hubby and I talked about how much work a dog would be. He thinks that I should be responsible for walking the dog and getting the girls ready and to school every day. Ah no. It would be great if my husband would accept that his children want a pet and come to terms with the fact that it is a cat. If not, come January it is possible he may find a kitten running around our house one day when he comes home from work.

by Kelly Damron


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Photo graciously provided by Baroun, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

The Teaching Power Of Stories

Every culture has a tradition of oral storytelling. The 35,000-year-old paintings on the walls of the Lascaux Caves are our earliest recorded evidence of storytelling1, and Aesop, a 6th century BC greek slave, wrote tales which even today are used to teach moral behavior to children. Stories are a means to pass on information, values, and knowledge. They provide the structure and framework through which humans sort, understand, relate and file information.2 In short, through stories people learn about the world and themselves.

Throughout time, narrative has been the most natural and fundamental teaching method and it seems that any lesson begun with the phrase “once upon a time” rivets the attention and interest of students. Simply put, stories are how we learn. The progenitors of the world’s religions understood this, handing down our great myths and legends from generation to generation3. Much research is available today to validate the powerful effect storytelling has as a teaching tool and an instrument to enhance motivation, communication and interpersonal skills.


When writing his book Story Proof: The Science Behind The Startling Power of the Story, Kendall Haven reviewed over 350 research studies and, perhaps unsurprisingly, each study agrees that stories are an effective and efficient vehicle for teaching and motivating, and for the general communication of factual information, concepts and tacit information.4 Specifically, it has been shown that material not learned within the context of a story is less likely to be retained,5, 6 whereas stories “engage us. … and help us to understand by making the abstract concrete and accessible”7. The benefits of the storytelling approach to education have been found to apply in very diverse subject areas. These include teaching literacy8, 9 mathematics,10 science11 and history to children,12 and educating professionals in such field as business13, nursing14 and adult education of foreign languages15 to name just a few.


Massachusetts based historian and folklorist, Merrill Kohlhofer uses storytelling to teach history to elementary children, both in schools across New England and at historic sites including the House of Seven Gables and the Peabody Essex Museums. According to Kohlhofer,  “Stories can help make what might otherwise seem dry facts and boring, irrelevant events come alive for the listeners. Because the events and characters of stories help create an emotional connection with the listener, the ideas the story carries make a greater impact, and seem both more relevant and more easily remembered and understood.  Listening to stories, participating in them, helps develop children’s linguistic skills – well-crafted stories both entice and challenge the listener to love language and its communicative power and serve to model verbal art.”

“I began by asking my listeners [3rd-5th graders] how many liked history – the response     was pretty lukewarm. After the question and answer session with which I conclude these programs, I asked the same question – and the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. …stories appeal to the child’s verbal intelligence, not something that happens that often these days where we appear to be shifting to a more visual culture.


Stephanie Wilkins, a longtime third and fourth grade teacher at Odyssey Day School in Wakefield, MA, relies heavily on story telling in her classroom.  Stephanie describes the power of story as a teaching tool stating, “Sitting and listening doesn’t do it [educate].  If they are just presented with material, it goes in one ear and out the other.  Role  play and drama, with them making up their own skits and acting out the stories, helps the students learn to handle and utilize concepts.  When kids get up and play a part they are going to learn and be more likely to remember.”

Odyssey Day School builds its entire curriculum on the concept of overriding themes and stories.  For example, the school -wide theme last year was Milestones: The path from yesterday to tomorrow.  When Stephanie’s class was studying the ancient Greeks, instead of just talking or reading about them they became part of the story. Each child researched and played a role of one of the Greek gods or goddesses. The theme was worked into all aspects of the curriculum. In science, they studied astronomy. In math, they learned about the algorithm and how the Greeks used stars to tell time, while in Art they were making sculptures and dioramas of ancient Greek Columns.


Stephanie expounds on the fact that storytelling not only enhances academic knowledge, but “fosters interrelationships between the kids. When they don’t even realize it, they are learning to step out of their own comfort zones and recognize similarities and differences in others,  learning from their ideas. They learn to compliment, cooperate, communicate,  plan, organize and they learn to listen. The story is not just about me presenting the material, it is a spring board for discussion for asking questions for probing further.  It brings it [the teaching] full circle.”


Another place where storytelling is still growing strong and aiding the development of self-esteem, creativity, and team cooporation is at Guard Up Family Swordmanship in Burlington, MA.  Guard Up runs summer camps, after-school and weekend programing based on interactive story telling and role-playing with an emphasis on teaching the values of good sportsmanship, teamwork, compassion, honor and courage. Guard Up really brings the story to life through role-playing which is a means of merging the power of stories with the benefits of active learning17. Children of all ages are fully immersed in medieval fantasy stories designed to entertain and educate. The story lines change and adapt based on the behavior of and choices made by the kids. The broad story arcs are planned in advance by a team of counselors, and evolve daily. Campers, as a group, devise strategies, find solutions, and choose their course of action whether defending their city from an invasion of living puppets, or negotiating a peace agreement with a horde of scurvy pirates.


We interviewed four of the Guard Up counselors, Chris, Lauren, Hannah and Joseph, to find out what inspired them, how they utilize the stories as a tool to impart knowledge and some of the surprising paths the stories took based on the actions of the campers, or Heroes, as they are called. They recognize that storytelling is a co-creative process.  Although there is a general story arc the counselors know the importance of letting the plot flow in the direction that the kids take.  As Joseph explains, “We can’t plan the specific details because it depends on the decisions of the kids.  We change the plot based on what the characters are doing.”   Lauren agrees “You want to take it where they take it.  You don’t want to be so stuck to the plot.  You want them to figure it out and feel excited.”  Guard up gives the kids the opportunity to design their own reality or as Joseph putt “the kids get to live their dreams”.  They design their characters and have a chance to be who they want to be and try out new things.  Many of them choose positive attributes and get rewarded for playing them.  On the other hand, if a camper decides to, say, fight her own team mates, she learns consequences within the game which makes her not want to do it in the future.


The motto of Guard Up is “courage, honor and compassion. “ Chris, another Guard Up instructor describes how the heros are given many opportunities to choose to display these attributes, such as the option to help other people without getting anything for themselves.  Once, for example, when a village was attacked by monsters, the campers stayed by the side of a shopkeeper, protecting her and even giving her their own healing potions when she was injured. When recollecting this tale, Hannah reflects that “these are the real teaching moments”.


Whether participating in adventure at the summer camp, after-school programs,  or weekly classes and activities, the children are, as Lauren says, “learning without even knowing they are doing it”.  Some knowledge is applicable in the academic sense, for example they learned basic anatomy during a quest to  reassemble the body of their village’s mayor – including his nervous system – or utilized mathematics and deductive logic to answer riddles, figure out clues and solve puzzles.  Additionally, history is incorporated both through mythology and true historical figures and settings.


Beyond gaining academic knowledge, they are also learning about themselves, social interaction, values and morals. Getting to be the hero they always wanted to be helps them gain confidence.  The emphasis on honor, courage and compassion flows through all of the activities.  For instance, when they were on the quest to “re-assemble the mayor” they needed to prove they were true of heart before they could retrieve the heart.  As Hannah so aptly put it, “We teach kids social skills by letting them explore outlandish possibilities.  They find the boundaries of their personality in a safe environment”.  They learn how to work together, negotiate, treat others with compassion, and attempt to solve issues through analytic skills instead of aggression.  It also gives them a chance to express their emotions, creativity and imagination.


When we first interviewed the campers, many stated that the characters they designed were more creative than they, themselves were.  When shown the paradox that they had designed their characters and that all of the character’s actions were coming from their own minds, one camper, Connor, stated enthusiastically, “If you come here I bet you’ll find out that you’re more creative than you think and that you have more talent than you notice.”

When asked, Connor and his fellow campers, Travis, Casey and Ethan offered many different lessons learned, including:

“Sometimes, you can have the best adventures where you don’t do war – do politeness first”
“Honor the game, be truthful, help others, and always try manners before violence. ”
“Teamwork and thinking about problem-solving can help in the real world.”
“The choices you make can really effect what goes on around you.”

Storytelling, besides being perhaps the oldest method of teaching, still plays a vital role in child development. When schools are becoming focused on teaching to standardized tests, it is more important than ever that children still have a way of learning through imagination and participation.  If parents are willing to look, there are still great opportunities for children to benefit from this timeless teaching method. Have you spun a story for your kids today?

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Toilet Etiquette And The Visual Learner

a man in a madras shirt with a lightbulb for a headLast week, in grossed-out desperation, I put a sign up above the toilet with “Directions for Use” written upon it in fancy font. I’m not kidding. And, mothers of sons, it’s a breakthrough. All of my ranting, explaining, and pleading have never had the stunning effect of this simple sign. The same things that I have SAID, to unanimous family eye-rolls, have become Serious and Important when put into writing.

Thus, the sign says “Kindly pee into the water there” and LO! There is not a splash anywhere else! “Close lid before flushing” is Law, apparently. And so, an exercise in the sarcastic parenting of pre-teens has reminded me that sometimes, kids just need instructions in different ways.

We already know this, if we really think about it. All kids learn differently. Some need to look at pictures. Some need to DO stuff. Some rare few only need a quick verbal instruction, and they ‘get’ it. For many kids, a visual prompt, like a list, is really helpful. (We’ll disregard the fact that my big boys are tall, smelly adolescents, not kids… the same tactics work.) It’s easy for us as parents to say something like, “Go clean your room.” But most kids need something more specific, and for a child who seems to be having a hard time with the task, written instructions might really help.

How about breaking it down:

  1. Place books on shelf
  2. Put dirty clothes in hamper
  3. Straighten duvet

Short, simple, and completing even such a short list will make a noticeable difference in a messy room. Start small! Perhaps you can set an example by making two lists, one for yourself and one for your child, and see who can complete their room-cleaning tasks first.

A list, or written instructions, gives kids something tangible to work with. It is good practice for later on, when you can look your adolescent in the eye and say, “Take the garbage out, honey. Oh, and while you’re there lock the bikes and turn off the garage light.” Being used to getting clear instructions, they will learn to place those three items in their heads and mentally tick them off as they go. Of course, with some things, you will still need to spell it out!
Lists are good for our communication, too. You have to know what you mean to say, when you write things down. You wouldn’t write “Would somebody just give me a hand around here?” You’d be specific, and that is what families need.

I have learned to write things down everywhere. You can use a sharpie for permanence. I have used dry-erase pens for impermanence on the bathroom mirror, and post-it notes everywhere. I even sent one son to school with a post-it note stuck to his forehead once. I swore that if he forgot to do what the list said, I would use a stapler next time. He laughed merrily, but he did do what had to be done, and amused his teacher in the process. (His teacher said that for Sam, stapling reminders to his head is probably a good idea…) Sam is a visual learner, to the power of a zillion. Next term at his new school, he will have a ‘Diary’ for writing homework down and it fills me with joy to think of all the things I can write there! But most kids can benefit from lists.

They can check back to see what they have forgotten. They can tick things off, if they like. You can draw pictures (for a non-reader). They will never be able to say “You never said to feed the dog”, because you will have WRITTEN PROOF! And the splendid opportunity for adolescent eye-rolling will be much appreciated, I promise you. I get an enthusiastic eye roll every time anyone uses the bathroom, and I don’t have to say a word! Peace, love and pleasant toilets reign in the household; the only woman in this large family is safe to sit on a toilet in the dark without falling in or having an unpleasant surprise… and all thanks to written instructions!

by Nan Sheppard


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Kids And Internet Porn

“The average child sees their first porn by the age of just 11, thanks to the internet” – Psychologies Magazine, UK Edition July 2010

That statistic made me sit up straight. I called my two older boys in and said, “Wow. What do you think of this?” It was the start of a really interesting chat.

We have mentioned porn at home before. In Trinidad, where we lived until last year, swimming distance from the South American coastline, bikini babes work hard to stay sexy and we know ladies – wives and mothers – who’ve had boob jobs. Somehow, when the boys asked me “What IS a boob job?” the conversation meandered and twisted until we were talking about sex actresses. Not that I’m saying boob job = sex actress! That’s just the way our talk evolved, see? (That’s a necessary disclaimer. I think my friends who have had boob jobs are mad, because if *I* had a couple grand to spend on myself, I’d be off touring the Louvre, not having surgery.)

So to me, chatting vaguely about how some actors and actresses do weird things with their fake boobs and bodies, and pretend to be seriously enjoying themselves, meant that I could tick my ‘We Have Talked About Porn’ Box.

But apparently that was just ‘Porn, Module 1’.

My older son is twelve. He says that EVERYONE has internet on their phones nowadays, you know? This is scary. A thousand or so teenagers, often unsupervised, and with completely unlimited internet access sounds like a bad thing to me. And yes, some do swap sex sites at break time. “But not me and my friends, Mum.”

“Why not?”

And here, readers, is why (HE SAYS!) not:

  • “Well, we’ve talked about it, haven’t we? I know it’s not real.” Ahhh, music to my ears.

  • “Me and my friends have other things to do.” They hang out in the music studio, banging on drums and making a racket.
  • “I have no internet on MY phone, neither do most of my friends.” When I bought my son’s phone, right in the store I asked the salesman to UNINSTALL the internet connection. It took him thirty seconds, and has not affected the phone’s capability to call or text. The clock and alarm work, and so does the camera. Most of my son’s friends have old phones with no online access, or newer very basic models. They think their parents are just cheap, but I know better.

Experts say that we are right to be concerned about children’s exposure to internet porn. While there is nothing new about pornography, and all of the boys I grew up with oohed and aahed at someone’s dad’s Playboy Magazine at some stage, this is the first generation to grow up with seriously warped behaviour, rape and sexual violence just a few clicks away… And the largest group of internet porn consumers is reported to be the 12 to 17 age group. (So much for porn being for grownups!)

What we’ve got, then, is a generation of kids who are learning about sex, not by having it with another person, but by studying the guidelines online at excrement-covered babes who want it all the time dot com. The internet is being used as a free, easily-accessible sex manual for thousands of children who don’t realise that what they are looking at is fake.

These sites teach nothing about love, respect, self-respect, AIDS, pregnancy, communication or any of the other truly important things kids need to know about sex. For girls, it must be a difficult time. If the online norm is Girls Who Want Sex All Day Long, living up to that must be exhausting. Terrifying. Saying “No” must make you feel like such a weirdo, and imagine what the boys will think of you! And what about their body image?

Boys are more easily addicted to visual media, and find it more difficult, in general, to turn off a violent video game. Porn is similar. Boys tend to create an idea of what is normal depending on what they have seen. If they have been exposed to hardcore porn before they have even seen, cuddled, touched, and kissed a real girl, then I think we have a problem.

For boys and girls, matching up to porn-fuelled expectations will be a huge disappointment.

So what should we, as parents, do?

  • We had better assume that our kids will be exposed to internet porn, no matter how we try to protect them. We need to forewarn them and arm them with tools to understand and (hopefully) resist the temptation to go further.

  • Talk, talk, talk. If you read an article, or hear something, discuss it with your kids. Just be careful not to give your child unnecessary information! Too much information is not a good thing.
  • Be open about sex. Hopefully, your child will think “Oh, I already know all that stuff”, and not follow the kids who think they’re seeing something totally amazing.
  • Model decent behaviour. With your spouse, and in all your relationships.
  • Use Google for internet searches. Apparently, Google is safer than other web browsers.

    And most importantly:

  • Use security settings on your computer, but know that there are ways around this and keep watch on your child.
  • Uninstall the internet connection on your child’s phone.

My son recently transferred to a new and ‘better’ school, (and middle son will go there too from September) where he says he hasn’t noticed any porn-site trading at break time. Yet. If the statistics are true, though, it’s only a matter of time.

by Nan Sheppard