Friday, October 4, 2013

Operation Toddler

If there is one thing I have learned from Waldorf, it is that our expectations of children are warped.



We expect them to do so much by themselves, such as sleeping alone, cleaning their room alone, or sitting at a desk and doing schoolwork alone. Alone, as in no adult right by their side. Right? Because that would be babying them. Yet we hesitate to buy them real art supplies or let them use real tools. Instead we give them kid versions that never work quite as well (or we decline to allow them into the activity at all... Because, you know, they could shoot their eye out or chop off a finger, right?).



Unfortunately, children feel the irony. They want and need to feel competent, to do real work with real tools, to have purpose. Yet they get scared alone at night, feel impossibly overwhelmed standing in a messy room with orders to 'just clean it up!', and fail to understand the importance of schoolwork. They feel frustration when their art, tools, or instruments will not produce the results they see from adults. We expect so much from them, yet trust so little.



So where am I going with this? Well, my children have been unhappy lately. I've been falling into the trap of thinking that they need me less because they are 6 and 9. I can turn my back, focus on my own chores while sending them to do theirs, order them to be nice to each other and work it out, give them independent schoolwork and piano practice, let them watch Netflix and play iPad games, allow them to hear about the government shutdown and wars abroad, and do with less overall structure and sleep....or can I?


Nope. My children are only 6 and 9. They need me. They need structure, they need protection, and they need purpose. Thus the secret name I gave my new plan: Operation Toddler. Not because they are acting like babies, or are in danger of hurting themselves, but to remind me to ask myself what I would have done if they were still little. Because they are. 6 and 9 are still very young. With toddlers I would never have turned my back, let a bedtime slide, or burdened them with politics. I would have searched for ways to help them feel capable, rather than ordering them to be capable. I would have taught through imitation, sat down with and completed the same task I expected from them. None of this multi-tasking. Focus.



We banned screens, at least for the week. I did the majority of chores and cooking while they were asleep or in quiet time. I gave extra effort to being truly present. We did real art, real baking, and lots of games and stories. They still did their chores, but it was a family effort. Because I was right there, focused on the children, I was able to redirect and guide situations that before would have gotten out of hand. I found heaps of teachable moments that before would have passed un-noticed. The pace of our days slowed significantly.


Wet-felting soap is always a favorite!

We finished Charlotte's Web, so E and e decided to build a web.


Yesterday I let my focus fade. I spent a bit of time on Facebook, I googled tree-trimmers, and I did a whole lot of laundry without making space for them to help. I still played games, held the daily rhythm, and was there... mostly. But they felt the change. e asked over and over and over for screen time. They bickered and yelled and complained. They were mad at each other and at me. When I tucked E into bed, he told me that today had been nothing but yelling and boredom.


This parenting thing is hard. Homeschooling is hard. No way around it. They don't grow out of needing us as fast as we might think....and I'm okay with that. Maybe I have extra clingy children. I'm also okay with that. They will not need me in this way forever. The day will come when they grow up and move on, and I will have more than enough time for whatever I want to do.


So onward with Operation Toddler. Today we are picking out E's building project and locating tools. Sanding E's spinning wheel to ready it for watercolors. Designing a simple doll house for e to build. Making a rope out of raffia. Piano practice, multiplication table jump rope, weather-watching. Or some variation of the above. Maybe I'll teach E to cut up a chicken, and e wants to try her hand at brownies by herself. It's going to be a good day.


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