We know that today’s children are suffering a disconnect from the natural world. The lure of screens keeps even the youngest among us inside and inactive. Most playgrounds feature static plastic and metal equipment over rubber surfaces surrounded by chain link fencing. So even when children get outdoors, they still don’t encounter nature or natural materials, let alone experience, the beauty and sustenance of the natural world. We set out to make some dramatic changes - some might even say magical changes - to that story here at First Church Preschool.
God started humanity in a garden environment. It’s no wonder that research demonstrates a myriad of benefits gained from being in nature; it’s all part of God’s perfect design. We used the poetic Genesis Creation Story to provide a framework for the rich habitat we envisioned for the new play yard. We wondered what the Garden would have included had it been set in eastern Tennessee. Upon that beginning, we cleverly utilized landmarks from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to give our story a bit of a local context. Then woven throughout, we embedded opportunities for early childhood development and education.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The creator is poised to begin. It is quiet, but there is palpable anticipation. The materials are at the ready, waiting for the creator’s handiwork to give them form and intention.
3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.
The creator understood the mesmerizing characteristics of light and the mystery of light and dark interacting.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day.
Air and water - two fundamental earth elements, which all creatures and vegetation need to survive.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
The abundance of vegetation and the seeds to reproduce according to its kind.
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day.
The wonder of the sun moving across the sky.
The creator set the stars in the night sky and ever since the creation of man, we have been lured by their distance, their shimmer, their secrets.
20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23 And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day.
Birds flying, swooping, diving, gliding - endlessly fascinating. The great creatures of the sea swimming, darting, filling the water with pulsating activity.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." 29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.
So many creatures upon the earth, such infinite variety. Then the creator finishes his work by creating man and woman in his own image.
He calls his work VERY GOOD. The garden in now given to the man and woman.
OTHER ELEMENTS OF NOTE found in FIRST GARDEN:
The Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway
The charming cloverleaf sidewalk, which winds through the play yard, represents the ‘Appalachian Trail’ where the children can engage with several physically challenging elements such as ‘Mount LeConte’ (a tire climbing mound), Stump Stepper balancing paths, ‘Clingman’s Dome’ (a geodesic climber), and the Cargo Net Climber and Slack Line Challenge element as they hike along. The children may also enjoy stopping by the Dust of the Earth sand-digging pit. The second half of the sidewalk accommodates riding and push toys — the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’ — and travels right through the tunnel under the rock hill and embankment slide.
Elkmont, Cade’s Cove, Look Rock
The existing hill has been made more prominent and features an amazing boulder climbing opportunity. This topographical variation gives the children a new perspective when atop it. Here the children will find the Day and Night house (paying homage to the historically significant Adamless Eden playhouse in the Elkmont community) and represents the first day of creation with its interesting day and night skylights. Custom-created instruments stretch along 'Cades Cove' and include the Knoxville Skyline Chimes and a Fungiphone (mushroom-shaped whale drum).
Look Rock, an observation point, juts out over the Bear Cave. The children can survey all of First Garden by gazing through one of the three Peering Posts - these representing “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
Sweet Gum Point - a deck with seating and a pergola over it, serves as a place for the children to rest, swap stories, read books, sketch in nature journals, or put on puppet shows.
In the center, grounding the design, is the “Tree of Life.” Although the new tree may not be the same species as was found in the Garden of Eden, it will grow lush and beautiful and be seasonally interesting, nonetheless!
*FIRST GARDEN designed by PLAYceMaker.com
*FIRST GARDEN constructed and installed by earthadelic.com
*FIRST GARDEN crafted elements by TheGritShop.com
Session 2 Recap: Understanding and Handling Behavior and Tantrums
Thanks to everyone who came out to our two Let’s Connect meetings this month! We had lots of new faces (and returning ones!) and it was great to connect with you all.
We spent our time talking about behavior and covered three main topics:
We went over two key ways to approach behavior in general:
But the majority of unwanted behavior will dissipate if you take these steps:
every one negative interaction (this is a good rule of thumb for all relationships!)
When Are Tantrums Happening?
Take a minute to think about what time of day tantrums seem to appear for your kids and plan accordingly. For my kids it’s most often in the hour before dinnertime or before bedtime, which are both big transitions. Everyone is tired and/or hungry and there is a lot going on. Sometimes there is a simple underlying cause – hunger or tiredness. Planning ahead to avoid exhaustion and “hanger” will be your best strategy here.
Why Are Tantrums Happening?
I asked the group to think about what usually leads up to a tantrum/emotional outburst. Based on the responses we concluded that it was almost always a response to children not getting their way or being told “no”. What this boils down to is their need for choice, for autonomy, for a say in their day-to-day life.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine for a second what it must feel like to spend your day being shuffled from point A to point B, being asked to do things that you don’t really feel like doing, and constantly being bombarded with requests and commands. Oh wait, that kind of sounds like adulthood! But as adults, we are able to handle the times when we aren’t in charge by having control and autonomy in other areas. Well, kids have that same need for choice and independence.
And yes, our children need us to provide structure and boundaries and of course, parents usually know what’s best. But kids also need to be respected and listened to. We can do both! We can be calmly confident in the limits that we set while also giving them a say in things that effect their day.
Meet the Need for Autonomy
A proactive step to avoid our children getting to the boiling point when they can’t have their way is to try and give them age appropriate autonomy throughout the day and save our “NO” for when we really need it.
And I want to gently push you beyond the classic “red fork or blue fork” choice here. Get creative!
*Include toddlers in helping set the table or in deciding who sits where. Better yet, ask them to help pick out vegetables at the store for dinner. Toddlers love feeling useful in practical ways around the house.
*Give preschoolers a choice – would you like to take your bath before dinner or after dinner this evening? Let them choose a fun activity – “We have some errands to run today and then we can do something fun when we’re finished. Would you like to go to the park or the library to choose some books?”
Sometimes as parents we get so engrossed in holding it all together that we loose sight of the fact that our children are people with opinions too. They have a deep need to be listened to and valued and giving them a choice when it’s appropriate and doable is a really great way to meet those needs.
Of course, we can do all the things to try and avoid tantrums, but sometimes our child just needs to get their big feelings out (just like adults need to vent every now and again). We make things so much easier for ourselves when we can remove the stigma around tantrums – they are a very normal part of development. Your child has an underdeveloped brain and needs your help to regulate their strong emotions. That’s all!
How Can Understanding Brain Science Help us to Parent More Effectively?
The brain is built up over time and is heavily influenced by the parent/caregiver-child attachment. The experiences that we have over and over in childhood actually wire our brains for connection. In a nutshell, the way you respond to your child has the power to mold their brain!
I shared with the group about the three areas of the brain: Upper, middle, and lower.
I asked the group to picture the last time their child had a tantrum, so I’ll ask you to do the same. What was she doing with her body? What expression was on her face? Was she yelling? Crying? Hitting? Throwing things?
When a child is in that out of control state they are quite literally going out of their mind. They have been hijacked by their reactive lower brain and are no longer thinking or acting rationally.
Stress hormones are flooding her body, she’s incapable of controlling herself or her emotions and unable to tap into any higher-order thinking skills; like considering consequences or others’ feelings. She is stuck in panic mode.
Now, I want you to remember how you felt during that tantrum. When you think back to the noise and how out of control your child was, what emotions/feelings were you experiencing yourself?
We listed things like anger, frustration, the desire to retreat, fear, embarrassment, shame, and inadequacy. These moments are HARD and most of the time we as parents are just plain tired. Even on our best days we only have so much energy to deal with tantrums. That’s why the steps I’m sharing with you are as much about making things easier for you the parent as they are for your child.
Your instinct will be to go into your own reactive (lower) brain to protect yourself or shut down the tantrum. The problem with that is it causes all rational thought to go out the window and only escalates things with your child.
Your number one goal here: get yourself and your child back into the upper brain. You do this by staying calm (or getting calm). Remember: You are the anchor in their storm.
So how do we do that? How can we respond in a way that supports our child, helps them move through the big feeling, but also doesn’t cave to their demands?
*Use non-threatening body language (relaxed and open arms, soft face, eye contact).
*Offer a hug.
*Talk about appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.
*Enforce the limit with compassion. Show them you’re in their corner. Be clear and certain, but not forceful. It’s ok for them to push back and not like the limit.
6. Retell the story later. This helps them to make sense of their emotions.
When your child is calm and receptive, talk about what happened and how they felt. Try talking to them while you’re both engaged in an activity to take the pressure off (riding in the car, taking a walk, coloring, playing with Legos).
Less is more here so don’t worry about saying the right thing. 90% of this is the calming and connecting. The solution and the boundary setting isn’t as important! When in doubt, offer hugs and validation.
If you’re interested in getting some one-on-one support in your parenting, I’d love to talk with you about my coaching services. Reach out to me at Hannah@insideoutparentcoaching.com for more info. Thanks!
Do you still own one of your childhood books? Did you sign your name in it when you were little? Does it still look appealing, feel nice in your hands, even smell good? Oh, I’m so happy for you! Just think, now you get to create that kind of lifelong love in your children. Don’t worry, this is actually an enjoyable parenthood task that involves not cleaning, getting entertained while doing chores, traveling down memory lane, and napping.
Here’s the not cleaning part. Comfortably surround your children from infancy with words and pictures. This means
You were going to throw out your birthday cards? Please pass them to your preschooler. Read them out loud. They usually have rhymes! Let them cut out the glittery, glossy picture on the front. (Then you can recycle them.)
The getting entertained while doing chores part. Ask your child to help you figure out when you’ve reached Kroger, Walmart, Chik-fil-A, your gas station, your bank, your dry cleaner. Does your toddler already kick their feet and point out the window when they see something familiar? They probably already recognize the green Regions sign, the red bull’s-eye at Target. A preschooler once told me that his mom shopped at the red tomato store (Earth Fare). These observances mean your child’s brain is realizing that shapes and symbols mean something --in other words, their brain is getting ready to read. And once you’re in the grocery store, ask your four or five year old to look up. What number aisle are we in? We need soap, do you see an S up there? In the pet food aisle even small ones can find the brand you usually buy (they’ll probably see it before you do.) And if you really want to be entertained, ask your child how to get back to your house.
The traveling down memory lane part. Do you remember Jack and Jill? Mary Had a Little Lamb? Wee Willie Winkie? Exercise your own brain while you recite or sing nursery rhymes to your children. Do it yourself rather than rely on a recording. Kids are fascinated hearing them said aloud, especially by their grownups. Try it. Say a nursery rhyme and see if your infant, toddler, preschooler pays attentions. They are hearing syllables in singsong, rhyming words, and lots of descriptive language. It’s a wonder they can hold up those brains!
The napping part. You’re too tired to read to your child? Are you kidding? THE READER GETS TO LIE DOWN IN A BED ON A PILLOW! So really, there is no excuse. If you can keep your eyelids open for a mere storybook or two, you will be paid back in years and years of your child not wanting you to read to them! Seriously, read to your kids at every single preschool age. Even a six-week-old baby lying on it’s back will look up and focus on a bright book page during an alert period. Point to the words. Occasionally trace your finger from left to right. Ask your preschooler a question or two about the content. Reading to your child is the same as saying “I love you.” And pretty soon your child will pretend to read a book by themselves and will memorize a favorite story that they will be excited to read to you. Enjoy!
By Hannah Watson Kline
We had a great time together at our first parent group meeting! We opened the meeting introducing ourselves and sharing some things we love about parenting and some things we struggle with.
It’s interesting how much overlap there was; lots of head nodding and agreement as we shared about the constant demands, the potty training struggles, how easy it is to lose control with our kids, and how it can be pretty difficult to navigate each child’s unique needs in the family.
Thanks to all who came and shared openly, it felt really good to connect with other parents and create a safe and non-judgmental space for that. To all those that couldn’t make it, please read below for a summary of what we talked about!
Vision for the Group
It is my hope that this group would be a support to you. Parenting is HARD work. We’re all going through the same types of struggles and joys, whether we talk about it or not. This group is here to be a place where we can share in that with each other and learn some new things along the way.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with the constant needs of parenting young kids? Do you find yourself just trying to survive the day and get everyone fed and to bed at night? Do you find yourself yelling at your kids when you feel out of control and wish you had some better ways of communicating and dealing with those hard moments? Do those feelings of shame creep in and tell you that you “aren’t good enough” or that everyone else is doing it better?
If so, you aren’t alone. We all struggle with these same types of feelings when it comes to parenting. There is not nearly enough support for parents and add to that the overwhelming amount of judgment and competition and you’re bound to deal with self-doubt every now and again.
In my coaching, I come alongside parents to support and guide them towards connection and growth, both personally and in their parenting role. I provide connected parenting tools that build the parent-child relationship and help families thrive, rather than just survive. We work on self-regulation and self-awareness so that you can better model that for your kids and create a supportive and more peaceful home environment for parents and kids.
My approach is based around Conscious Parenting (also known as connected parenting). See below for how conscious parenting differs from more traditional approaches.
A key aspect of connected parenting is viewing behavior as the communication of a need. It’s helpful to pay attention to what’s underneath the behavior – what’s driving it? Behavior is like an iceberg where all we can see is what is above the surface, but there are numerous other factors influencing our child’s behavior at any given time. This image depicts some examples of factors driving behavior, but there are many, many more.
When we take into account the numerous variables affecting our child at any given time, we are recognizing them as a whole person, not just a behavior.
Why Parent This Way? What are the benefits?
1. A legacy of love. Attachment research tells us that meeting your child’s core need for love and connection in the early years will positively impact the rest of their relationships for their entire lives. The effects don’t stop there, however. When you model empathy and connection in your parenting, you influence how your own children will parent your grandchildren (and so on). You’re leaving a legacy for future generations!
2. Children do better when they feel better! When you parent with connection and empathy, making your child feel loved, accepted, and truly heard, the level of cooperation increases significantly.
3. Greater emotional intelligence. Parenting with connection encourages you to pay attention to your own emotions in order to model mindfulness and self-regulation for your child. Studies show that social/emotional intelligence in children is a key predictor of success in later life. You are laying the foundation here!
We had a great discussion around this and people asked some really thoughtful questions that I want to mention here because I think many parents wonder the same thing.
“Where is the line? Can being too empathetic be counter-productive? Don't kids need to understand that they can’t always get their way and that other people have different points of view? Isn’t it our job to teach them that it isn’t all about them?”
These are totally valid and important questions. But I just want to emphasize that we are not talking about being permissive. We are not giving children free reign and letting them “walk all over us”. That’s not healthy for anyone!
We are empowering you, the parent, to implement clear boundaries with calm confidence. When these boundaries are explained and consistently held, the child knows what is expected of him/her.
We are pausing to thoughtfully respond, rather than react.
We are seeing the child as a whole person, not just a behavior to be corrected.
My other answer is that it isn’t an either/or issue. You can be both empathetic in your responses to your child (validating their point of view and their feelings), while also guiding them towards the behavior you’d like to see instead. In fact, a child who feels heard and senses you are in their corner will be much more likely to cooperate with what you’re asking them to do. Remember, children DO better when they FEEL better.
In addition, what do you think is the most effective way to teach our children to be empathetic and kind? Guess how they learn to be less egocentric in their thinking and able to take other points of view into mind? By seeing their parent model empathy and kindness towards them and others. You are the model for the behavior you want to see in your child.
Zooming Out and Thinking Big Picture
Finally, we talked about the overwhelming messages we receive on a daily basis about parenting. That information overload can easily lead to self-doubt and a lack of clarity about the kind of parent you “should” be.
I help parents ask the question: What does it mean for ME to be a mom, what does it mean for me to be a dad? What do I bring to the role? What do I want to bring to the role?
We’re usually pretty clear about what we don’t want to do as a parent – things from our childhood that may have been damaging to us, but unless we have a clear vision for what we do want to do we will fall back into the patterns of how we were parented.
Without that clear vision we either parent just like we were parented OR we swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and parent as a way to rebel against our own childhood. Either way we are parenting out of reaction to something, not deliberately.
So, then we ask: how do I parent deliberately? How do I parent “on purpose”?
Zoom out and think about the big picture. Specifically, ask yourself:
In our group people mentioned things like confidence, compassion, kindness, empathy, and perseverance. All great goals to have for your kids!
Then ask yourself; is what I’m doing now consistent with these values and long-term goals? Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow into the kind of adults I’d like them to?
This is something to always come back to. It provides a framework for the way you interact with your children and the way you treat yourself. It also provides clarity and self-assurance in those moments of self-doubt that we ALL experience in parenting.
If this is encouraging to you and you’d like more support in implementing connected parenting tools, I’d love to chat with you about my coaching services!
You can sign up for a free discovery call by emailing me at Hannah@insideoutparentcoaching.com
By Leigh Gannon Feld
Rules. We spend a lot of time talking about rules in Early Childhood Circles. Ask parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators… they all have a different take on rules. They’re important… without them, we fear mass chaos (and let’s be honest… even a perfectly managed preschool classroom can border on chaos!), but too many rules can be confusing to kids and teachers alike and they can create a restrictive learning environment. At the CDC, we understand the delicate balance between “good” rules and “bad” rules. A bad rule focuses on negative behavior and often starts with “don’t” or “no.” Even gently issued, a rule that focuses on the negative often misses the target, but a “good” rule – one that focuses on reinforcing positive behavior has the power to effect real change and build a classroom and school community.
I’m coming up on my one year anniversary as director at the CDC and I’ve been able to spend time in every classroom, learning and playing with your kiddos and developing more and more respect for your children’s teachers. I’ve said it from the beginning… the staff at the CDC is dedicated, smart, funny and determined to give their students the very best. As I’ve spent time in classrooms, I’ve seen teachers employ positive reinforcement and I’ve witnessed tough teacher/student conversations. Those conversations are always delivered with love, but they can still leave an icky feeling if the focus is on what a child shouldn’t do or can’t do or won’t do. Also, I’ve noticed that we all have the same goals for the kiddos -- we want them to be independent, caring, kind, curious, conscientious, hard-working and we want them to be good friends to others – but every teacher has a different way of explaining and reinforcing those rules and goals to their students.
Last week, I asked the teachers at the CDC to embrace three rules… just three rules that will always focus on the positive, rules that can, in their simplicity, address any infraction or situation that might arise in a classroom, and rules that we can use to create a common language throughout our school. Without further ado, here are THE CDC BIG THREE:
I wish I could take credit for these brilliant rules, but I learned about them from my friend, Molly, who teaches at a Reggio-inspired preschool in Vermont. These rules have been a part of the fabric at her preschool for years. I brought them to my old classroom in Nashville and shared them with our staff. In very short order, using these “rules” changed the way our students and staff interacted with each other. I’m excited to watch these “rules” work their magic at the CDC, too.
Here’s how a sample conversation might go…
Joey: Ms. T… Billy pushed me!
Ms. T: Billy… are you taking care of Joey when you push? We take care of our friends at the CDC. How can you take better care of Joey?
Ms. T: Joey, it’s time to clean up so we can go to the playground.
Joey: I don’t want to!
Ms. T: We take care of our school, Joey. One of the ways we do that is by cleaning up. Which part of the classroom would you like to take care of before we go to the playground?
I’m not a Pollyanna (okay, I kind of am!) and I know that these oversimplifications won’t always get the desired results the first time around. But the more we use this common language and the more we focus on what we do do and not on what we don’t do, the more we empower kids to, you guessed it… take care of themselves!
When I taught Pre-K, we always spent part of our first week together talking about the “Big Three.” At the end of that week, I’d ask the kids if they had any other rules we should add to our rule chart and they would start spouting specifics… “We don’t hit.” “We listen to our teachers.” “We share toys.” “We don’t throw things in the classroom.” “Running feet, inside voices…” You get the picture. As the kids shared these rules, I asked which “big three” rule they belonged to. “We don’t hit” falls under taking care of friends. “Running feet, inside voices” falls under taking care of the classroom. But wait, maybe it also falls under taking care of ourselves. The point is this… these “rules” are really best practices, used gently and consistently with kiddos who are our most important “customers.” By arming them with positive rules, we’re arming them for a future of kindness, compassion, empathy, independence, curiosity and so much more.
I invite our families to join us on our “big three” journey. How might you employ these rules at home? Is there one rule that you think will be harder to instill than the others? How long does it take before your children start talking about the “rules” at home? Let us know how they’re working for you and your family.