Stand for Play

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Tracking PixelThis post is sponsored by Toca Boca.

There’s a little play kitchen in Nella’s classroom, tucked next to the crate of baby dolls, on the other side of the shelf with the cars and the train tracks and the bristle blocks that interlock when pushed together. Labels on neatly organized bins identify where the puzzles go–right next to the Lincoln logs and two bins down from the Barbies. And while, yes, bulletin boards show off the latest projects that illustrate learning goals like counting and letter recognition, one of my favorite things about Nella’s school is its celebration of the colorful art of PLAY, a vital subject matter that often fades when little preschool bags switch to kindergarten backpacks. For all the structured learning and educational standards that will accompany the many years ahead for my children, please let there be complementing creative cushions of open-ended play.

When Toca Boca asked if I’d help them spread their simple message of “Take a Stand for Play” by talking about the importance of playtime to our family, I thought, “This will be eeeaaaaazy!” I could march on the White House steps, picketing for play, no problem. I value a childhood that celebrated it and parents that gave us plenty of time to give our brains opportunities to balance school and extracurricular responsibilities with no-rules play. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have so many memories of riding Big Wheels in my grandparents’ driveway; or playing Olympics with my cousins in our back yard; or hiding under the bed–heart pounding–waiting for my brother, “the robber”, to find us; or my favorite–hour upon hour of rocking baby dolls, calling them “Honey” and packing doll clothes in “diaper bag” purses while we played House. Talk about life preparation.

It is alarming to see how much more pressure kids face today and not surprising to learn that kids have lost 12 hours of playtime a week since their parents (that’s us!) were kids. With testing goals and school standards and college entrance requirements, we–without even realizing it–often pressure ourselves to make sure every game our kids play, every show they watch, every snack they eat, every encounter they experience is tied to reading and math goals, or else we think it doesn’t count. I love finding new ways where we can incorporate educational goals into real world experience for our kids, but unstructured play is a learning experience in itself (it counts!), and I want my kids to always know the joy of play, no strings attached.

Use your imagination, play as you wish, be creative, have fun!

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Some of our favorite play time activities at home that work for all three of my kids’s ages:

1) Play Store
Go to your pantry and pull out a bunch of canned goods, some cereal boxes, those little seasoning packets you forgot were tucked in that basket on the back of the shelf. Line them up on the coffee table and end tables and shelves in the living room. This is your store. Dig out some play Monopoly money (I’d tell you to play that too, but maybe you don’t have the next 9 hours free). Stuff the money in an old wallet for the “shopper.” Set up a calculator for the “cashier” and some paper bags for bagging groceries. Use a basket to go shopping and take turns with your kids playing the “shopper” and the “cashier.” Every time we play this, my kids never want to stop. They love it.

2) Lava Stones
An oldie but a goodie. Gather all the pillows and couch cushions in the house–don’t worry, you’ll put them back later. Spread them out like stepping stones, making a long winding path throughout the house. The floor is lava. Now hop to your destination without falling in the volcano. Include itty bitty pillows that make balancing on them difficult for more fun.

3) Bus Driver
Line up rows of chairs to make a bus. One person gets to drive it (plastic plates make great steering wheels), and everybody else hands over their change to ride it. The fun comes when the bus driver asks where he can take you. Grandma’s house! Chuckee Cheese, please! Hawaii! Target to buy some Shopkins! So many options.

This February, Toca Boca is asking parents to take a stand for play. Parents can visit to learn about the state of play in America, spread the word and sign up to receive a free poster. The back of each poster is a blank canvas–we had fun decorating ours…

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The first 2,000 parents to visit the site have the chance to exchange a Facebook share for a FREE “Take a Stand for Play” poster that will be shipped to them. Posters will come in a tube, along with stickers and more info. Share your poster on your social media feeds with #standforplay to be featured on Toca Boca’s site.

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Everybody knows what happens to Jack when it’s all work and no play, and we don’t do dull here. Add interest, color, creativity, happiness, potential…stand for play.

Enjoying: Monday


I thought I was acing it this morning when I lit my candle for my morning intentions and started the coffee pot, my Monday off on the right foot. But then I went to make lunches and realized my “I can stretch the groceries one more day” assumption yesterday was a poor choice. My mom can do it–transform flour, water and a spoonful of leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner into a gourmet chicken pot pie that feeds 20. I never inherited the Domestic Jesus gene though and haven’t quite figured out how to turn our “loaves and fishes” into school lunches. Stretching it one more day for me means I’m smearing dried-out cream cheese on random things I find in my pantry and calling it a sandwich. Or plucking as many half-withered grapes I can find off a dried-up cluster and willing them to perk up with some rinsing. Quite likely, this all ends up with opening the kids’ lunchboxes at the end of the day to find everything I packed still in place, untouched. “I didn’t like the hard roll,” Lainey will report, which I’m guessing she’s referring to the old clementine I found at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. Here’s the thing about “stretched it one more day” lunches. The day after always reaps the best lunches in the history of motherhood. Because the second after I drop the kids off at school on sad lunch days, I’m at the grocery store, filling my cart with Best Lunch Ever treats, promising to get a more consistent grocery shopping routine and become a better mother.

All that to say, it’s amazing how quickly you can go from having everything together to feeling like everything’s falling apart. In a matter of minutes, candles and intentions to shoddy lunches and sarcastic snap-backs: “I’m not the only one who’s in charge of grocery shopping, you know. You could pick up a few things too.” There is no limit to our do-overs in parenting though, and so far at 1:00 p.m. today, we’ve started our Monday six times. Outlook: Sunny. Pantry: Stocked.

Cushioning all our start-agains are the sweet small things. Lately, we’ve been enjoying…

Florida’s finest weather…
Lots of happy Florida snowbirds right now, basking in the best this state has to offer. When we’re missing family in the Midwest, these days are our bargaining power for getting them down for visits.

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Salty dogs with my dad…
who’s officially retired and lives ten minutes away now.

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Pajama donut breakfast at the park, post sleepover.
Five kids, all who were up at 6 on a Sunday morning.

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Finding Nella wearing one of Lainey’s long dresses. Every day.

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A little space freshen-up, thanks to a can of yellow paint and some picture rearranging.
(Also I’m wondering how many days of quote switch-outs I have before I use up all my favorite You’ve Got Mail and Dead Poet’s Society quotes on our new letter board.)

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Snout Love.

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Some afternoon yoga.

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Duck Duck Goose

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These #$&*ing skates.
He wants to wear them all the time–thinks they’re so funny. As if skates weren’t dangerous enough, try wearing them 5 sizes too big.

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Anyone else’s kid think it’s so funny to lick your face when you ask for a kiss?

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A little pre-Valentine creative expression.

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Happy New Week, friends. Feel free to start over when needed.

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(several asked on Instagram: Moon Phase garland found here.)


Help! These Moms Won’t Stop Bragging About How Smart Their Kid Is!

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My faraway friend sent me a text the other night:

Do you ever get caught up in the rat race of comparison when it comes to kids and learning? I’m just struggling/stressing with the humble brags by other moms at pick-up or in passing. The moms in my daughter’s class are meeting up this weekend to basically brag about how smart their kid is, and I just can’t go through it again. They’re constantly talking about reading levels–asking each other what their kid’s level is, talking about how stressed they are that their kid might not get to a certain level before June. I’ve always tried to see the bigger picture and focus on the real success–kindness, happiness, etc. but SHIT these moms and their white noise, man. Help!

Let me guess. Do they sound like this? “Oh my God, I HATE that Chelsea’s in the gifted program. I totally wish we weren’t in it because it’s, like, so stressful. Be glad your kid’s not gifted.” Or maybe this? “I can’t sleep at night because I’m so stressed about my kid not being challenged. She’s getting all A’s, complaining that she’s bored, and no matter what we give her, she’s acing it and asking for more work. How’s your kid doing?” Or how about this? “What’s your kid reading these days? Charlie just finished War and Peace and Dr. Zhivago, and we’re having trouble finding harder books for him because he’s just such a voracious little reader!”

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I quickly texted back. YES! Yes, yes, yes, I do get caught up in that race sometimes. You’re not alone. You’re never the only one who feels a certain way, promise.

We texted back a few fake sarcastic responses we’d love to get off our chest: “Ugghh. That’s so weird because I’ve been losing sleep too. Our DVR will only record two shows at a time, and I can’t figure out whether to dump Paw Patrol or Curious George. I’m just sick about it.” Or how about, “How’s my kid doing? He ate glue today and wiped six boogers on his math book. How’s that for a harder book?”

The truth is, we forget a lot in parenting that our kid’s journey, personality, learning style, reading level, talents and interests are incredibly unique–just like our own. And when raising our kids is the most important job we possess, it’s easy to see another child doing really well in an area that our child is still working on and take it personally. “I must be doing something wrong” or “my kid must not be working hard enough.” And when those insecurities are scratched, it’s even easier to take out our feelings on the moms of those other kids. They’re bragging. They’re annoying. They care too much. They’re ruining their kids with pressure.

I like to remind myself of a few things when I feel these comparisons creeping up or when I’m about to snap back with “Oh yeah, well my kid drew a butt today! And colored it IN THE LINES! And labeled it with “b-u-t-t” IN CURSIVE. Talk about gifted!”

1) Share the Celebration
Underneath a mom’s seemingly braggadocious comment is just a mom, like you, feeling really proud of her kid. We’ve all felt that, and it feels really good. She wants to share that love and pride but doesn’t really know how to get it out, so it’s coming out it in the form of a comment that feels competitive or fake humble or whatever (and that could be our insecurities, not their intent). I’m going to keep my kid out of it and make it a point to be happy for this mom whose child is accomplishing something that’s really important to her. It feels good to celebrate other people without comparing their celebrations to my own family’s successes, and the more I practice celebrating others, the more natural it comes.

2) Calm Your Reaction
Whatever the case, I am not going to go home and book a tutor, send an e-mail to the teacher requesting a conference, order the Harry Potter series and casually drop to my kid, “You know Madisyn just finished reading a 400-page book. Wouldn’t it be cool to read big books like that?” I repeat, I am not going to do that. Because Madisyn’s 400-page book accomplishment has NOTHING to do with me or my kid.

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3) There Are So Many Ways to Be Smart!
I will remember the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In conversations about learning or smartness or school, we talk a lot about reading, math and science and their respective test scores, but did you know there are at least 9 types of intelligence–all equally valuable? Did you know interpersonal intelligence–your child’s ability to recognize and respond to other people feeling sad or scared or in need of a friend–is a recognized form of intelligence in childhood psychology? I wish every classroom in the country displayed Multiple Intelligence posters and made as big a deal about kinesthetic intelligence (my kid can dance!) and intrapersonal intelligence (my kid’s so aware of her feelings!) as they do about state-tested smarts. It’s much easier to hear about another child soaring in reading if my child is struggling when I remember that the dance she performed last night with the music and the moves and all the feels was indicative of learning and growth and her unique intelligence GIFTEDNESS.

4) Welcome to the Garden
My sister recently told me something her daughter’s kindergarten teacher said years ago when she expressed some worries that her youngest wasn’t reading as quickly as her older two had. “I look at my class like a garden,” the teacher said, “Everybody blooms at a different time.” Turns out, years later, her latest reader now spends the most time in her room with her nose in a book and does very well in school. I was a teacher and I still ask silly questions that I know better to ask. Last year, I asked my friend if I should be worried that Lainey still preferred picture books over chapter books. “She’ll read them when she’s ready,” my friend reminded me. “If she’s doing well in school and her teacher’s not worried, don’t you dare push her.”

4) Remember Your Childhood
The example I know best is always my own. My mom cared more about what kind of cookies she was going to bake for us after school than what our reading test scores were, and I’m happy today and doing what I love. My kindergarten class did a lot more playing than reading, I secretly switched the Trigonometry videos I was supposed to be watching to Saved By the Bell far too many times when I was homeschooled, and we did way more plays, art projects and learning field trips than rigorously preparing for a test. And hey–I’m not living in a van down by the river. I’ve learned to foster the areas of intelligence I know are my gifts, and that’s what makes me fulfilled and successful. That’s what I want for my kids too. More than making it to Level Z by June. But if another mom doesn’t feel the same way, that’s okay too. We can be different, and that’s cool.

5) Honesty and Curiosity
Even if another mom is truly bragging and provoking comparison, it often feels good to just respond with honesty and genuine curiosity. “That’s so great Josh is doing so well in math. We’re not quite there yet, but I’d love to know if you’ve found something specific that’s worked for you guys. Have any tips?” With that kind of connection, most likely any fronts that were put up will be immediately torn down, and that mom will love the opportunity to share something with you. And with your honesty, she might feel less inclined to keep bringing up how great her kid is doing.

6) Remove Yourself from Negativity
If I’ve tried all the above and I’ve attempted to steer conversations elsewhere, and I’m still feeling icky with someone who continuously makes child comparison remarks or brags about reading levels, maybe it’s not the best relationship to be investing in. I certainly would never want my child to be picking up on those feelings, and one of the most valuable things we possess is control over who we spend our time with and what we talk about.

And if all else fails, go ahead. Grab a pen. Write all those sarcastic things you’d love to say in a notebook that won’t be shared. It might feel good to get them out before you move on in the most mature and graceful way.

Ever felt this way? Have a tried and true response that works for you? Please share!