Novel Experiences Lead to Discovery & Learning

Sometimes we experience a mental jolt, an ‘ah-ha!’ simply by being shaken out of our routine. Novelty and change, whether where we are or in our routines, can make us step back and see things in a new light. This can be fun and provide benefits for adults, and for kids, novel experiences can lead to discovery and leaps of learning. In fact, “intelligence is correlated with openness to novel experience” (Kanazawa, 2010).

Travel: Novel Geographic Experiences

kids novel experiences while traveling

The changes that an adult can handle are different from what children can tolerate. Business travel lets me experience a change in mindset just by taking me out of my normal location. When I visit a different area, I see a different terrain, more/less trees, buildings, people, etc.

Large differences are fascinating and the right level for me as an adult, but if my daughter traveled for a few days to a different state, that may be too exhausting for her. Slight alterations in her routine, reading patterns, or even weekend activities can be useful without being overwhelming.

Try This Yourself

Instead of hanging around the house on the weekend, consider:

  • Go to a nearby zoo or a museum
  • A day trip to the beach/mountains/lake
  • Go on a hike or picnic at a new park or natural area
  • Watch a sports game on Saturday mornings at the park. High school and intramural sports are often free to watch.
  • Take a child/parent class at the YMCA or through the Parks & Rec department
  • Throw a dart at a map of nearby areas and explore wherever you land

These little trips can be great adventures without being too expensive or overwhelming for either parents or kids.

Read Something Odd: Novel Mental Experiences

kids novel experiences while readingMy daughter chooses many of her own library books. She’s three years old, and she often doesn’t understand what she’s picking up in the same way that I do since I can read the title. She grabs books that she can pick up, and this leads to new discoveries that can be really rewarding for us to read together. The content is so different from what we may otherwise read that this novelty lets her experience diverse content without me having to put in effort to find new material.

Being allowed and encouraged to choose her own books grants my daughter freedom over what she reads and over her own destiny. If that sounds dramatic, imagine being a three year-old: Your food, clothes, where you go during the day, and when you even go to the bathroom may be decided for you.

What little moments of power can we grant children to let them wonder and start to make decisions for themselves? This is just a little moment, but there is power in choice. Giving my daughter that power in the reading adventures that she and I share gives her partial ownership over that experience.

Touching by Helen Frost
Touching by Helen Frost

My daughter’s random choices have also led to my checking out more non-fiction books than I would otherwise have selected. This shakes me out of my routine, too. We read Touching by Helen Frost, for example, which has about one sentence and a big photo per page to help children learn about our sense of touch. That certainly wasn’t on my to-read list, but my daughter enjoyed it enough to read several times before we returned it to the library.

Try This Yourself

The non-fiction books that have shaken me and my daughter out of our routine were all ones that she could reach. I’ve learned that I can let my daughter wander the library, and when it’s almost time for us to go, I give her a 5-minute warning to collect any books that she wants to check out to take home. If I time my “5-minute warning” right, she can be in a new area of the book stacks so that we get a wide variety of material.

If a timer of a few minutes doesn’t work, consider having kids find a few books with similar characteristics, like:

  • The same color cover
  • With the same animal on the cover
  • The authors’ last names start with the same letter
  • At least one old book and one new one

These are small ways to turn it into a game that still lets children explore new areas, enjoy independence in choosing their own literature, and takes the burden off parents from having to pick out award-winning literature every time.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Kanazawa, Satoshi. “What Does Novelty Mean?” Psychology Today. 21 Jun 2010.

Toddler Ballet and Other Extracurricular Classes Do Matter

Starting Ballet as a Toddler

toddler ballet

Enrolling a 2.5 year-old in ballet may seem odd when you consider how they’re still struggling to control their bodies. But, having had my daughter in the classes for almost a year, I’ve seen benefits for kids her age, even beyond the benefits of learning to physically dance. Even for a toddler ballet and other extracurricular classes make a difference and encourage learning of important social skills.

At this stage, children are learning about having a class, what it means to have a regular pattern of actions: in the toddler ballet class, we greet each other, sing and dance similar things week to week, have a new activity, and sing and dance a goodbye song. Children learn to listen to a teacher and give turns to other classmates. In these classes where parents also join, the children also engage with adults other than just their parents in a positive way, which is incredibly useful for their social skills and confidence.

Children could learn a lot of these physical and social skills in other classes, not just toddler ballet classes, and that’s fine. Regardless of whether you choose classes other rather than ballet, just note what essential skills like this may be taught beyond the ‘core’ concept of ‘ballet’ or ‘gymnastics.’


When looking for extracurricular classes, consider these things:

  • Is the class structured? Pattern helps encourage learning and comfort in the new setting.
  • Does the teacher treat both the children and adults with respect? If the teacher talks down to the children and only seems to respect the adults, look elsewhere. Kids don’t if they aren’t being taken seriously.
  • Is your child enjoying the class? If not, try another activity. Even if your heart is set on your daughter becoming a ballerina, her fighting going to every class is going to make her unlikely to enjoy other classes, ballet or otherwise. If the child is able to take a break from the activity and try it again in the future, the child may enjoy it later, like how taking a break between trying foods can finally get a kid to eat broccoli.

Regardless of the activity you choose, consider exploring the topic further through videos or books. Being able to see what professionals can do may help children visualize why they’re going to classes and give them goals to work towards if they’re enjoying the classes. This can also help you figure out if your child is actually enjoying the class and why. Does the child like reading books about the topic? If so, maybe there’s real engagement with the topic. If not, maybe your child is more interested in the class because it’s time to hang out with friends.

Books with a Ballet Theme

See other books “Perfect for Preschoolers (Ages 2-5)” and “Excellent for Early Readers (Ages 6-9)”.

Explore dancing with toddlers by reading as wellDance Tanya by Patricia Lee Gauch

Ages: 2-9

A little girl wants to go to dance classes like her sister. Tanya dances and loves it for how it makes her feel. A sweet exploration of loving dance from a young age.

 

Toddler ballet

Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Ages: 0-4

This picture book shows a toddler going to ballet class with friends. It also helps children learn basic concepts like names of pieces of clothing, so this is a book for learning concepts more than providing a story.

 

Ballet for children. Firebird by Misty Copeland

Firebird by Misty Copeland

Ages: 6-9

A beautiful story of a self-conscious young girl who falls in love with dance. With an empowering message, this book offers beauty and a positive message.

 

toddlers dance classA Dance Like Starlight: one ballerina’s dream by Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper

Ages: 3 – 9

This book is based on a true story of the first African American prima ballerina. As a girl growing up in 1950s Harlem, her dreams seemed out of reach, but that didn’t stop Janet Collins from reaching for the stars.

Creating the Best Support Network and Family

Reflecting on times in my past when I needed help and who actually formed my support network and stood by my side, I’ve realized that there were patterns in who vanished and who tried to give me the help I needed. The best people who supported me and formed my new ‘family’ of loved ones were other broken dolls with imperfect pasts, especially childhoods. These people with imperfect life experiences formed the strongest support network and family I could have asked for, better than the people I was related to by blood.

Lessons I learned

  1. People you are related to by blood may help you. Or, they could turn on and throw you to the dogs. I had the latter outcome occur when I was in college and desperately needed the support of my family.
    Lesson: Forget about blood. Family is what you make.
  2. Marrying into a new family can be great. For a while. But if you get divorced, those people will side with the person they’re related to by blood, leaving you alone. It won’t matter that you had a great relationship with the mother-in-law; she may support her son regardless of the lies that come out of his mouth.
    Lesson: Not being at fault for the rift won’t stop you from being isolated anyway by in-laws.
  3. The “strange” people I hung out with in college helped me through some dark times, just listening, supporting, and cheering me. These individuals had experienced negativity in their own childhoods and knew what it was to be in pain. They helped me find the sunlight again and get myself back on a healthy path.
    Lesson: Friends are valuable and can help regardless of age and immaturity. In some ways, immaturity can yield wisdom and just plain joy.
  4. When I started my divorce, the people who listened to me most and cheered me on were again the broken dolls who had experienced pain, loss, and lots of self-doubt. They understand the importance of just checking in on a regular basis to say hi even if nothing important is discussed. Being remembered bolsters one’s self-esteem incredibly.
    Lesson: Find others who have known pain, even if it wasn’t the same kind you’re going through now.
  5. support network and familyThe people who said that they would support me but didn’t, who even stopped talking to me and being friends, were often so absorbed by themselves that helping me didn’t even cross their minds. They hadn’t experienced the same brokenness in the same way. Or, maybe their personalities were so different that they couldn’t understand my needs, even if I had told them explicitly that just talking to me was important. The people most likely to be in this group included: boys raised by doting mothers who’d never abandoned them or given them cause to doubt their own greatness; bosses who assumed that having a good career was enough that issues in my personal life wouldn’t affect me at work; and friends who meant well but didn’t realize that it wasn’t enough to say ‘let me know if you need anything’ once and never check back in.
    Lesson: Narcissists and certain personality types aren’t going to get it.

Pain yields empathy and understanding

Why have these people been so good at helping me when I needed it? They’ve experienced the kind of damage that gave them humanity. They may have broken, but in healing, they were stronger. I hear about their pasts and their experiences, and I am in awe and regain my own strength. There are incredible people around us.

Family is created, not born

Being related by blood does not make you family. I tell my daughter this often. I want her to understand why I think it’s important for her to join me when I videochat with friends. These friends are her family, too. Her godparents are great people, and I consider them family, better family than the blood family and family I married into have treated me so far. One must create family, whether with friends, children (blood relations, adoption, fostering, even mentoring), etc. Sometimes we get lucky and have great people we’re related to. I’m jealous if that’s you, so count yourself lucky. Who we choose as our family, though, affects our happiness and ultimately our support network in profound ways. We need support networks. We will fall, cry, and need someone to hold us, even if it’s just a virtual hug conveyed in a phone call.

Next time a friend is going through a rough time…

If you’re looking to help someone you know, just have a conversation with the person. You don’t have to ask me about the bad stuff going on in my life. I may not even want to talk about it. But, having a positive interaction with another adult is a powerful, healing thing that may help me get through the day, a day in which I may be fighting with the ex, compiling documentation for an attorney, and generally just stressing out. Talk with me. Really. I like physical hugs as well as the warmth that just your friendship gives me.

Practicing Mindfulness Has Benefits for Adults and Children

In a stressful world, meditation and meditative moments can offer us a shield to protect us mentally as well as physically. Practicing mindfulness can benefit us whether we’re adults or children.

I was reading the Time issue on mindfulness, and it mentioned the effect that meditation can have on students. Those who practiced mindfulness exercises had higher math scores.

There is a lot of evidence that meditation or mindfulness exercises also have positive benefits for adults, too.

I’ve heard about the evidence before, but it always seemed like something that was for people who had time for it. Then I read an article that stated that the people who feel like they don’t have time for it, are jumping up to try to go do other, more “productive” things, are likely the ones most in need. That’s me.

I already have meditative moments when I attend services on Sundays at my Unitarian Universalist congregation. Maybe my appreciation of those reflective, calming times primed me, helped me realize that I need more of those calm moments of reflection, not just a few minutes on Sunday.

meditation can benefit adults and childrenSo, I’m starting to try the meditation thing on a regular basis. I downloaded Headspace and gave that a try for the first time tonight. It was only 3 minutes, and I think I can manage that just fine. Half an hour would seem like more of a commitment.

Engaging Kids in Practicing Mindfulness

I signed up my daughter for yoga classes at the YMCA one session, and she loved it. The class wasn’t the calm sort of yoga that you may envision for adults; these were 2-4 year old kids, and getting them to sit still for a long time was not going to happen. But, they did learn movements, and after a few weeks, they all had most of them down. It was lovely to watch. If you have a local organization offering kids yoga or meditation classes, consider it. It may sound funny, but it can be an easy way to start having kids sit still.

My daughter liked the yoga from the classes enough that I looked online for additional ways for her to engage with yoga, and that’s how I found Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. I highly recommend it. The yoga adventures (yes, adventures) may be about 20 minutes long. They aren’t super calm but get kids in the habit of learning poses while being active participants in a story that the instructor narrates. After watching one of these videos and following along, my daughter does seem to be a bit calmer, and it teaches her to follow instructions as well. It may be worth just trying even if it doesn’t click for your kid.

Sources & Further Reading

Jabr, Ferris. “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.” Scientific American. 15 Oct. 2013.

Oaklander, Mandy. “Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores.” Time. 26 Jan 2015.

Google ‘benefits of mindfulness’ and you’ll find plenty more. Just be sure that the source is legit. When in doubt, ask a librarian or shoot me an email – I’m happy to help.

Rejecting Myths about What Life “Should” Be

An Idea Is Spread…

Growing up, there was one path of living as an adult that was acceptable: you marry, have kids, and then become a doting grandparent. All of this means that you are expected to stay married and at least try to have kids. Those couples who are unable to conceive are pitied and whispered about, but at least they are expected to try. And, if you deviate from this lifestyle, by getting divorced, realizing you’re gay, deciding not to have a family, or even doing things that seem like you aren’t ‘living right’, like going out as a couple on the weekends or vacationing without your kids, people wonder about you, whisper about you, pray for your soul and all of that religious, social nonsense.

Having only one kind of lifestyle as acceptable doesn’t leave much room for acceptance if people deviate, does it? Instead of keeping to these ideas, though, what if indeed we were rejecting the myths we grew up with?

…and Discovered to Be a Myth…

There are many paths in life, and I am grateful to be continuing to learn that there are more acceptable, happy paths than I had imagined. What a blessing to continue to learn.

…A Myth That Hurts People…

rejecting myths we grew up with can take away the fear

The lifestyle I was as the only acceptable one growing up made me think that once I was a parent, my life should focus on work and family, and while those are certainly big components of my life, they aren’t everything I can or even should do. It’s important to bring happiness to myself for the sake of my own pleasure and individuality, too. Whether it’s having dinner with a friend or hiring a babysitter so that I can go on a date at a rooftime movie showing, these experiences are good. Back in the small town I grew up in, I may be judged terribly if I chose to spend an evening on myself or even take my daughter with me to a fancy dinner. “Why is she spending so much?” “Why isn’t she setting a good example?”

So I Reject The Myth…

But, I would be setting a good example if these things are done in moderation. I’m not advocating partying all night or being needlessly extravagant. Letting my daughter see that I care about my own happiness lets her understand that her own happiness is important, too. There are so many news stories about moms helping their children develop positive body images. It’s also important to help children develop healthy lifestyle images as well.

…Because We ALL Should Reject It…

A healthy lifestyle includes the choices we make as well as ones that are made for us, too. For some people, the choices we as a society make have very negative consequences.

…And Realize Other Myths Surrounding Us and the Pain They Cause…

We are stronger with our differencesWhile June is celebrated as LGBT Pride month, all is not a celebration even after years of cultural improvement. Individuals who choose to love in any way other than heterosexual, married ways can still be persecuted and judged, even if just in the nasty social ways that small town life can be viperous.

There are also differences we encounter in life just through our skin. I grew up in a deeply racist home and town. I remember my mother telling me to get out of a swimming pool when a group of black kids arrived. She didn’t want me in the same pool water as them. I can’t imagine what it might have felt like as a black child overhearing that kind of blind hatred. I truly hope that they did not hear the cruelty my mother espoused. But, even if they didn’t hear that, I know that they lived with racism in other ways in that small town. That breaks my heart.  The Daily Show has a heart-wrenching video discussing the verdict in the Philando Castile case .

 

Watch that, and then listen to Audre Lorde reading her poem “Power”. The text of the poem is here if you’d like to read along. That recording was made in 1977, 40 years ago, and unfortunately it could have been written today.

I Choose Love

There are more ways to live that lead to happiness than may be initially visible. There is more love in this world than appears on the surface sometimes, and I hope that by loving and accepting others regardless of their skin color, accent, sexual orientation, personal history, etc. that I help to make this world and this society a better place for our children to live. That continues to be my hope, and sometimes I encounter sparks of humanity that fan the flame of hope for more and yet more love in this world.