The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Kids

Taking care of your own emotional health and well-being is the single most important thing you can do for your kids.  Period.

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Summerhill

I stumbled across this while perusing the vast caverns of the interwebs.  It is a chapter of a book called “Summerhill” written by an educator named A. S. Neill, and the message resonated with me so strongly, I couldn’t help but post it here.  Enjoy.

“I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.

If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? So many insane sex crimes? Why the hate that is racism? Why the need for drugs to enhance life? Why backbiting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why degradation and torture? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaulted state of civilised eminence!

I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one that deals with the young. I ask these questions because those so often asked by teachers are the unimportant ones, the ones about French or ancient history or what not when these subjects don’t matter a jot compared to the larger questions of life’s fulfilment – of man’s inner happiness.

How much of our education is real doing, real self-expression? Handwork is too often the making of a wooden box under the eye of an expert. Even the Montessori system, well known as a system of directed play, is an artificial way of making the child learn by doing. It has nothing creative about it. In the home the child is always being taught. In almost every home there is at least one ungrown-up grown-up who rushes to show Tommy how his new engine works. There is always someone to lift the baby up on a chair when the baby wants to examine something on the wall. Every time we show Tommy how his engine works we are stealing from that child the joy of life – the joy of discovery – the joy of overcoming an obstacle. Worse! We make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.

Parents are slow in realising how unimportant the learning side of school is. Children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. All the prize-giving and marks and exams side-track proper personality development. Only pedants claim that learning from books is education.

Books are the least important apparatus in a school. All that any child needs is the three R’s the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom.

Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play: it puts old heads on young shoulders.

When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot: they shine in dialectics: they can quote the classics – but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking – the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to these of a world they have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning – it goes on separating the head from the heart.

It is time that we were challenging the school’s notion of work. It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics, history, geography, science, a little art and certainly literature. It is time we realised that the average young child is not much interested in any of these subjects.

I prove this with every new pupil. When told that the school is free, every new pupil cries, “Hurrah! You won’t catch me going to lessons!”
I am not decrying learning. But learning should come after play. And learning should not deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable. Learning is important – but not to everyone. Nijinsky could not pass his school exams in St. Petersburg, and he could not enter the State Ballet without passing those exams. He simply could not learn school subjects – his mind was elsewhere. They faked an exam for him, giving him the answers with the papers – so a biography says. What a loss to the world if Nijinsky had really to pass those exams!

Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.

I have seen a girl weep nightly over her geometry. Her mother wanted her to go to university, but the girl’s whole soul was artistic.

The notion that unless a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse – a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most schools inspectors.

Classroom walls and the National Curriculum narrow the teacher’s outlook, and prevent him from seeing the true essentials of education. His work deals with the part of the child that is above the neck and perforce, the emotional, vital part of the child is foreign territory to him.

Indifferent scholars who, under discipline, scrape through college or university and become unimaginative teachers, mediocre doctors and incompetent lawyers would possibly be good mechanics or excellent bricklayers or first rate policemen.

I would rather Summerhill produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.

In all countries, capitalist, socialist or communist, elaborate schools are built to educate the young. But all the wonderful labs and workshops do nothing to help Jane or Peter or Ivan surmount the emotional damage and the social evils bred by the pressure on him from his parents, his schoolteachers and the pressure of the coercive quality of our civilisation.

The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.

We set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. Since 1921 this belief in the goodness of the child has never wavered: it rather has become a final faith.

A. S. Neill MA, Hon MEd, Hon Dr. of Laws, Hon Doc.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Positive negative
Your children will have plenty of people in their lives telling them that they are wrong.  They will have no shortage of voices saying “You can’t,” “You’re not good enough,” “You’ll never make it.”  There will be enough people telling them to sit down, to shut up, and to give up.  To be someone they are not.  There will be no lack of negative opinions about their choices.

But if you never say, “I believe in you,” they may never hear it.
If you never say, “I’ll always love you,” they may never believe it.
If you never say, “Keep trying, I know you can do it,” they might just give up.

You can always count on someone else to break your child down, but there may never be anyone else to build them up.

The words you say to your child become the voice that they hear inside themselves for the rest of their lives.  Choose your words wisely.

There’s More Than One Way To Draw A Person

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A recent piece of artwork from Pterodactyl (4)

On my first day of art class in elementary school, I died a little inside.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal in retrospect, but at the time it was soul-crushing.

I was sitting at the long wooden table with my classmates, filled with excitement.  I already enjoyed drawing, coloring, and creating, so I figured this would be my favorite class.  Our first assignment was to fold a sheet of paper in half and draw a person on it.  No other directives or instructions, just draw a person.  Great.  I got this.  I took my time, paying attention to every detail.  Face.  Clothing.  Appendages.  Hair.  Yes!  What a work of art.  I sat in awe of my creation.

For the next half of the assignment, we were told to flip our papers over, and the teacher would now show us the correct way to draw a person.  Circles.  Rectangles.  Ovals.  Measuring.  Erasing.  Re-drawing.  Erasing.  Erasing.  (for some reason I could never get those blasted erasers to work, they just left gray smudges all over my paper).  We then opened up the paper, so we could see both drawings at the same time, and the teacher explained to us why and how our first drawing was rubbish, and the second drawing was phenomenal.

What would possess a person to make a career out of crushing children’s creativity?  And how boring would this planet be if we took these people seriously?  All four of my children love drawing, and each have their own unique style (and yes their own way of drawing a person!).  They also enjoy exploring new techniques, and learning different methods.  But I couldn’t imagine telling them that there is a right and wrong way of creatively expressing themselves.

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My Kids Are Better Teachers Than I Could Ever Hope To Be

10257268_768654803153707_6684229888910505074_oChildren.  Kids.  The next generation.  Progeny.  Offspring.  The genetic mashup of you and your partner.  The little people who completely change your life, who completely change you.  Children.

I am in absolute awe of my children.  For as long as I have known them, they have been teaching me, and helping me grow as a person.  I owe them a debt that I can never repay, and I am deeply grateful to them.

As they were growing inside of their mother, locked away where I couldn’t see, they taught me that there are some things I cannot control.  When they decided to break free, and join us on the outside, they helped me to see what an amazing person my wife is; and what it is like to care for someone who offered you nothing in return.  As I changed diaper, after diaper, after diaper, after diaper, My intestinal fortitude increased dramatically, and as the urine splashed me, an unsuspecting new father, I learned to change those diapers with lighting ninja speed.  When I was waiting anxiously for the next milestone, they taught me to be patient, that life is not a contest, and that everyone learns at their own pace.

Soon they began walking, and talking.  they taught me to watch, and they taught me to listen.  I learned that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.  I learned the number for poison control.  I learned to follow my instincts, and ignore the critics, to do what is best for my family.

And as they grew older, they showed me how to play, sing, dance, and laugh without being ashamed.  They modeled creativity, and originality.  They taught me that its okay to make a mess, and that most things come out in the wash.  I learned to love what they loved, only because they loved it.  They taught me sacrifice, and over and over they taught me unconditional love.  They showed me that I have something to live for, that I matter, and that I am needed.

Every time I hear those little voices saying, “Will you play with me,” or “Can you get me a glass of water.”  When I find a sandwich in the couch.  When I am at my wits end, I try to remember how much they have taught me, and how much they have given me, and what my life would be without them.

Oh, and they taught me to play Minecraft.

Looking back at the person I used to be, I can’t believe I have made it this far.  There is no way I could have done it without them.  Thank you kids.  Thank you.  I love you.

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Video

Replacing Your Unfounded Parenting Fears With Empathy for Your Child

If I had to sum up what is wrong with our society in one sentence it would be this:  “Too much fear, and not enough empathy.”  This is especially true in our dealings with children.  I struggled for far to long (and still do at times) with the misguided and unfounded fears of parenting.

What if someone yells at my child?
What if he turns out to be ungrateful?
What if people think I am a bad parent?

All these concerns are not centered around the well being of my child, but my own personal fears, prejudices, and desire for comfort.

I strive now to replace these with more important questions.

What is best for my child?
How must my child be feeling in this situation?
What might she be thinking?
How would I feel if it was me?

Being empathetic toward your children not only allows you to care for and protect our societies most vulnerable individuals, but also shows your child the importance of being compassionate.  It empowers them, and helps them to realize that it is okay to have feelings and emotions, and they are not something to be afraid of, hidden, bottled up, or dismissed.  It creates a healthy environment where burdens are shared collectively, and conflicts are resolved respectfully.

Conversely, hitting, time-outs, yelling, control, bribery and artificial rewards (which in my experience are almost always rooted in fear) let children know that their feelings are unimportant and insignificant.  Children learn to keep their emotions, desires, and thoughts to themselves.  Either out of fear of being labeled a whiner (or worse), or simply because they don’t think anyone cares.

Daddy, Why Aren’t You Helping Me?

When I was a new father my wife and I lived quite far from our families.  We made a trip to our home town when our first child was about a year old.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were excited to see her.  So when someone reached to take her, I gave her up right away.  She grabbed onto my shirt and started to cry, but was pulled away into the arms of someone who to her was a stranger.  She looked at me, confused at first, then her eyes filled with terror as she continued to cry and reach out to me.  My family assured me that this is just what kids do, and you have to let them cry sometimes.  But she wasn’t “just crying,” She was telling me something.  She was trying to communicate.  “I’m scared, daddy,”  “I don’t know what’s going on,” “I’m not sure who these people are,” “Daddy, why aren’t you helping me?”  But her pleas fell on deaf ears.  I did not want to make waves or upset my family.  What would they think of me or say about me if I wouldn’t allow them to hold my child?  I figured it wouldn’t do much harm, so I did my best to ignore her crying.  My wife, however, did not share this sentiment.  She put our daughters needs before her own fears, and refused to ignore her desperate cries.

The Result?  I severely damaged the relationship I had been building with my daughter, and she learned that she couldn’t trust me.  She didn’t feel safe with me anymore.  For some time after if I was holding her, and something made her feel uncomfortable, she would seek out my wife, someone she knew would listen and understand.  Someone she could trust.

Even though a lot has changed since then, we still don’t live in a perfect house where it’s all daisy chains and unicorns.  We are haunted by the ghosts and scars of fear and control.  But every day we increase the love, the compassion, the respect, and the empathy, and every day we grow a little closer.

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“The Elements” Coloring Pages

(UPDATE:  More element coloring pages can be found here by clicking here)

I am so excited about this!  When I was a kid I loved learning about the elements.  There’s a sort of mystery to it.  A magical world populated by strange and fantastic creatures, too small to see even with a microscope, AND THEY ARE ALL AROUND US!  So, I am really enjoying watching my own children discover the elements, atoms, and everything that goes along with them.  To aid in this process, I decided to prowl the web for element themed coloring pages.  But my search proved to be unfruitful.  Disappointed but determined, I decided to make my own.  One page for each element, and here are the first three:  Hydrogen, Helium, and Lithium.

(Along with the coloring pages, we are also reading an incredibly awesome and beautifully illustrated book called The Elements (By Theodore Gray), and putting four elements a day (one for each kid) on our giant periodic table.)

Enjoy!

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Hydrogoen Coloring PageHelium Coloring Page  Lithium Coloring Page

3 Reasons People Are Complaining About Your Parenting

complain
When our children were younger, we were very conscientious about their care.  They didn’t drink “Kool-Aid.”  We mixed their juice half and half with water.  There was not often candy in our house.  We didn’t have network or cable television, and they would occasionally watch something from our collection of age appropriate DVDs (and by age appropriate, I don’t necessarily mean G rated, Cartoons, or Disney movies, many of which are extremely confusing and traumatic for a very young child)  We weren’t denying them anything they were asking for, but simply not giving them anything that was potentially damaging to their health and happiness when they weren’t even asking for it.

For some reason, this upset people.  A chorus of “You can’t shelter them forever!” was constantly ringing in my ears.  A phrase that never made much sense to me, because all parents “shelter” their children to a certain extent.  You don’t sit your 3 year old down to watch hard core pornography.  You don’t offer your 5 year old a shot of vodka.  You don’t drop your 2 year old off on the outskirts of town and see if they can find their way home.  Oh, and then there was the story of so-and-so.  You remember s0-and-so, don’t you?  Their mother never allowed them to have such-and-such, and when they finally got ahold of it they were obsessed with it and never did anything else!  You don’t want your kid to be like so-and-so, do you?  People were also constantly trying to undermine our parenting decisions.  Thrusting spoonsful of ice cream toward my 8 month old daughter, or putting on movies they knew we wouldn’t want the kids watching.  In short, it was extreme disrespect for my children’s wellness, and extreme disrespect for my wife and I as parents.  Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing, so they had to correct it for us.

Well, some years and a few kids later, things have changed.  The kids are older, candy is inevitable, and we now have a TV with Netflix and a computer with the internet.  But one thing hasn’t changed, we are still upsetting people with the way we raise our children.  The problem now?  Too much freedom.  We don’t force them to dress a certain way, we let them eat when and what they would like, they do not have a fixed bedtime, they decide who they do and don’t want to hug and kiss, and we have no limits on screen time.

Why then, are people still upset?  Isn’t this what they wanted?  For us to stop sheltering our children and to stop being so “controlling”?  But that was never really the issue.  The issue was that we were doing something different.  We were going against the grain, and we still are.  That is a problem for three reasons:

1. By doing something different we must be implying that the way they raised their children was wrong.

2. They are jealous because they wanted to do something different, but gave in to pressure to maintain the status quo.

3.  Society has taught them to fear what they do not understand.

So, to all you different parents out there, I say be yourself, do what’s best for your family, and don’t listen for one second to the jerks who try to bring you down.  Your children will thank you, and you won’t have to ever wonder what would have happened if you had raised them the way you knew was right.

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The Dinosaur Family (Never Lose Your Dinosaur)

You may be surprised to find out that Dadosaurus Rex is more than just a catchy title of a insanely fabulous blog, it is also a lifestyle.  My family is proud to be a dinosaur family.  So, what does that mean exactly?  and why does it matter?  Lets take a look at some dino characteristics.

Dinosaurs are hard to ignore.

No one ever asks, “Hey, did you happen to see the stegosaurus that was standing behind us at the market?”  They don’t have to ask.  They know you saw it, because you were both quivering in awe of its majesty and greatness.  You were filled with a mixture of fear and confusion at the sight of the colossal beast .  When you meet a dinosaur, (should you survive) it is not likely an encounter you will soon forget.

Dinosaurs are big.

They are indeed “terrible lizards”, and you will know it when you see them.  Gargantuan, not always in mass, but in style and panache.  When a dinosaur is near, you can feel the earth shaking with each magnificent step.  But don’t let this intimidate you, they are ferociously friendly, and love meeting new creatures.

Dinosaurs are often misunderstood.

It is a sad fact, and it is painful to admit, but the world isn’t exactly crawling with dinosaurs.  Because of this, there is a lot about dinosaurs that the average citizen may not understand.  This results in rumors, lies, confusion, and fear.  The best thing you can do to avoid all this is go straight to the source, and ask a dino.  Dinosaurs aren’t shy, and they are perfectly willing to patiently answer your questions.  Stay and chat long enough, and you will find that you and the humungous reptile have become fast friends.

Dinosaurs are diverse.

At present over 700 different species of dinosaurs have been identified and named. However palaeontologists believe that there are many more new and different dinosaur species still to be discovered. ~The Dinosaur Museum, Dorchester

Dinosaurs are not cookie cutter creatures.  They don’t break the mold – They pulverize it.  Each one is unique and unashamed.  Why should they be afraid to be themselves?  There is no need to conform, compare, or compete.  (Because of this, it is good to get to know Dinosaurs on an individual basis, what is true of one may not be true of another.)

The Dinosaur lives within you.

Somewhere, deep inside, you can feel it.  There is a roar that is longing to blast through your jowls.  There are times you just can’t resist the urge to stomp.

Pump your massive clawed fists in the air, and let it out.  Let the world know you are a dinosaur, and you are not going to hide it anymore.

“Never lose your dinosaur”

Now please enjoy this video clip  and get on with your bad dinosaur self.  (BE WARNED: There is a small bit of questionable language!)

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My Kids Are Better Teachers Than I Could Ever Hope To Be

10257268_768654803153707_6684229888910505074_oChildren.  Kids.  The next generation.  Progeny.  Offspring.  The genetic mashup of you and your partner.  The little people who completely change your life, who completely change you.  Children.

I am in absolute awe of my children.  For as long as I have known them, they have been teaching me, and helping me grow as a person.  I owe them a debt that I can never repay, and I am deeply grateful to them.

As they were growing inside of their mother, locked away where I couldn’t see, they taught me that there are some things I cannot control.  When they decided to break free, and join us on the outside, they helped me to see what an amazing person my wife is; and what it is like to care for someone who offered you nothing in return.  As I changed diaper, after diaper, after diaper, after diaper, My intestinal fortitude increased dramatically, and as the urine splashed me, an unsuspecting new father, I learned to change those diapers with lighting ninja speed.  When I was waiting anxiously for the next milestone, they taught me to be patient, that life is not a contest, and that everyone learns at their own pace.

Soon they began walking, and talking.  they taught me to watch, and they taught me to listen.  I learned that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.  I learned the number for poison control.  I learned to follow my instincts, and ignore the critics, to do what is best for my family.

And as they grew older, they showed me how to play, sing, dance, and laugh without being ashamed.  They modeled creativity, and originality.  They taught me that its okay to make a mess, and that most things come out in the wash.  I learned to love what they loved, only because they loved it.  They taught me sacrifice, and over and over they taught me unconditional love.  They showed me that I have something to live for, that I matter, and that I am needed.

Every time I hear those little voices saying, “Will you play with me,” or “Can you get me a glass of water.”  When I find a sandwich in the couch.  When I am at my wits end, I try to remember how much they have taught me, and how much they have given me, and what my life would be without them.

Oh, and they taught me to play Minecraft.

Looking back at the person I used to be, I can’t believe I have made it this far.  There is no way I could have done it without them.  Thank you kids.  Thank you.  I love you.