Water Play – Big and Small

We are fortunate to have a friendly neighbor with access to the river that is within a half of a mile walk from the house. The place has a sandy/rocky side with a gradual entrance to the river that is opposite if a cliff (point bar / cut bank). We’ve been just handful of times–looking forward to getting out there more this summer.


This spring, we’ve been making good use of the outdoor kitchen — one day making a water run, and another day we brought out some old kitchen grates and pans.



Beyond these, we have small and medium size wading pools, sprinklers, spray bottles, and even water balloon fights. Hope to post some more pictures soon.



Nurturing Children’s Sense of Missing Others’ Presence

One of the things that has been coming into focus for me is how much work Bethany puts in to nurturing children’s feelings, awareness, and actions that are geared toward helping them to build (and maintain) close and healthy bonds with other people in their life.

There’s so much to say on this, but the specific aspect I have been thinking about is children being helped to learn the following constellation of things:

    Thinking about people you have close bonds with when they are not around.
    Recognizing you have feelings that are related to missing this person’s presence.
    Letting other people who are with know you that you are thinking about this other person and that you miss them.
    Reaching out to persons who are missed and cannot presently be with you in various way such writing notes, sending messages, and making calls.
    Letting people explicitly and implicitly know they were missed when you see them again.
  • I wish I had more useful things to say about this, but for now I’m just writing this down. A lot of the ways that Bethany does this is by modeling — she is the one missing and talking those people with the kids. She recognizes when kids might be missing others and point it out, and gives them options for how to move from feeling to action. She tells the kids how much she missed them, and often does so with specificity. I missed these snuggles. I missed eating breakfast with you. I missed hearing your laugh.
  • What I am most realizing is that close healthy bonds are not just things that happen naturally or randomly. Now I see more so how they are, in fact, more like a set of feelings that need to be nurtured as well as skills and dispositions of how to act on those feelings that need to be taught and practiced.
  • Care-giving Advice: Modeling how I think, not what I would do

    In the past 30 months of running daycare in our home, I have learned so much about being with kids. And a lot of that learning has actually been learning about myself – my values, feelings, boundaries, triggers, blindspots, etc.

    I became especially aware of this a few days ago when a friend of ours asked a seemingly simple question about how to respond to a situation with their children –one that was unfolding in front of us. The question wasn’t asked in desperation, but more with just curiosity.

    The older of the two siblings had come to a moment where they were playing/ toying with / taunting the younger one by holding out something they knew was wanted, asking if they wanted it as an offering, and then running away and saying “then come get it!”. The younger one had been running and chasing previously, but now was upset.

    I could see myself saying so many different things here depending. Here are a few things that quickly came to mind, none of which I am saying are ideal.

    I could say to the younger one:

    That chasing game was a lot of fun at first, but it doesn’t look like your having fun anymore. Why don’t you come over here and we will find something else to do.

    I could say to the older one:

    Jack, if you want Tessa to chase you, you could ask her, ‘Tessa, do you want to chase me?


    Jack, I’m not going to let you taunt your sister with that toy. If you are done playing with it, hand it to Tessa. If you are still playing with it, you can come over here to play with it by me.

    I could also see myself saying to both of them,

    Jack and Tessa, we are going to be getting ready for bed soon. Why don’t each of you grab a book to read and find a seat on the couch?

    This list is not exhaustive or exemplary, but I think it’s illustrative of a range of moves that are, for me, rooted in different ways of seeing / framing the event and are also based in a foregrounding / backgrounding different values I hold.

    In the first response, I am framing the event as something fun that has come to an end. I can help it come to an end graciously. I am also modeling something that is important to me — that of becoming more aware of when something is no longer pleasant to us and to finding ways to use our own agency to opt out.

    In the second response, I am framing the event as something fun that could use some of my help to repair. I’m modeling social / communication skills and giving an opportunity to find out for themselves whether the fun is or isn’t ready to come to an end.

    In the third response, I am framing this as a transgression of sorts, transgression to a person but also to their fun. I am pointing out the transgression, re-establishing a boundary I am comfortable with, and giving options for the two of them moving forward.

    In the last comment, I am leaning on a routine to signal a transition, therefore closing off possibilities for their play. I am probably also acting to preserve my sanity, and signaling to my guests that our evening together is winding down.

    All of these choices are made easier, in part, because I am not just responding to the event. I am making actions toward things I hold important — the continuation of play and the learning of skills to do so independently; recognition of one’s feelings and agency in playing with others; firm, calm and clear boundary setting / resetting; and management of our care through clear communication and established routine.

    Part of what makes giving advice so hard is that good advice cannot be five absent an understanding of one’s values are as a care giver / parent, but also an understanding of how the caregiver does and can variably see the event. Learning to see events from multiple perspectives is important, and responding in concert with one’s values helps you to reframe the event.

    Four Stories of Giving at Daycare

    Here are four stories of giving from this week. The last one is especially heart-warming.

    Gifts to Give

    Earlier this week, the kids crafted many snowflake ornaments. Then yesterday at our Christmas party, they wrapped each and decided who they wanted to give it to. Many gifts were wrapped for mommies and daddies, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters. This age seemed to be a good age for engaging them in the whole process in a way the felt connected and meaningful to them– crafting, wrapping, and deciding.

    Festive Treats

    We have a cleaning service come to our house every other Friday for the past two years. Over time, the two ladies have gotten to know the kids and our dogs quite well. They do their best to work around the chaos and lovingly let our dogs in and out (and in and out) the back door. This year, they treated all of us to doughnuts, and the kids made them cards. This year, doting on baby N has been in full effect, a much needed gift for one of the ladies especially, who earlier in the year had a grandchild born in intensive care.

    Families make Daycare

    Karen, our next door neighbor, is both our Tennessee Mom and resident grandma at the Children’s Burrow. She loves the kids here so much and they love her in return. Yesterday, She brought gifts with treats and lovies, which each kid lovingly took to bed with them during nap time. We are so grateful for Karen and the gift of family she has brought to our home and daycare.

    A few weeks ago, while we were decorating around the house for Christmas, Ad was looking at one of Bethany’s snow globes –an owl one that Bethany had been given as a gift years ago. While Ad was shaking the globe, it slipped out of her hands and broke on the floor. Broken glass scattered everywhere, and all the children and dogs had to be quickly ushered out of the room. Ad was very upset–nearly inconsolable that she had broken something that was special to Bethany.

    In the weeks leading up to our Christmas party, Ad and Aa went shopping with their family to buy gifts for Bethany. Ad decided she wanted to get an owl snow globe to replace the one she had broken. Making amends is something we actually talk a lot about in daycare. We don’t give much weight to words of “I’m sorry” and never demand that the children speak them. Instead, we try to balance giving comfort to those who have been harmed (often asking them what they need), and helping the child who has done harm to recognize their own feelings of remorse (and others feelings of hurt) and to think through possibilities for making amends.

    In that spirit, Aa and Ad‘s family ended up buying three snow globes–one owl snow globe to give to Bethany, and a different one each for Ad and Aa that would be special to them. Later, it would turn out that Aa (Ad‘s twin brother) not only broke his own snow globe, but he also ended up breaking the owl snow globe that Ad had chosen for Bethany. Understandably, Ad was very upset and probably feeling angry as well. Out of this, Ad came to decision on her own that she would give to Bethany the snowglobe that she had picked out special for herself.

    Ad‘s mom shared with Bethany the story behind this special gift that was given yesterday. Here are two pictures so telling of the tenderness and love radiating from that moment.

    Tiles and Beads

    Lots of tiling fun the past two days– I didn’t take enough pictures, of course. We made snakes, butterflies, spirals, stars, and lots of patterns.

    Last week the kids were super into making ornaments. They spent hours focused on their work across the week with lots of deliberate pattern-making.

    How Phrases Help us Assume Roles

    One thing I have learned from Bethany is the importance of crafting phrases for use at daycare, phrases that have come into (and some out of) use include:

    • “Move your body.” or “I’m moving my body” (for reminding others or letting it be known that if something is happening to you that you don’t like, an (often good) option is to move somewhere else)
    • “This is special.” (For letting others know to be careful around something you are working on, especially if it is fragile)
    • “Big stick, big space” (mostly for care givers to communicate to someone is engaged in an activity that requires space away from other people and property)
    • “That’s a tool, not a toy.” (mostly for caregivers to communicate that an object was designed for a specific use and that’s it’s not ok to use it in other ways)
    • “I’m not going to let you …” (mostly for care givers to communicate with a child that is acting in way that are harmful others or the environment)
    • “I’m coming right back.” (For letting it be known that while you are walking away from something, it’s actually still in use)
    • “That’s too much.” (A response to someone making loud annoying noises).
    • “What do you need?” (often when a child is upset, often followed up with options)

    There are different reasons for crafting phrases– some are designed to empower the caregiver with a certain mindset, attitude or perspective. Others are to empower the children similarly, or also to equip them with some skills for navigating the complexities of living and playing around others. Many are crafted to be easily said and understood — like in how “big stick, big space” and “that’s a tool, not a toy” have aesthetics of rhythm and alliteration. Even phrases that wouldn’t read on the page with such aesthetics are often said in a lyrical / poetic manner lend that then quality. Importantly, some phrases are deliberately crafted with flatter affect – often to help keep the speaker calm. (“I’m not going to let you”, is serious, firm, but calm).

    While sometimes phrases occur spontaneously, other times they have been the result of collaboration in trouble shooting something that’s been going on. Some phrases end up being used ubiquitously while others are very specific to a certain kind of activity or time period.

    Recently, I’ve been chatting with a colleague about this both for care-giving (or parenting) and teaching. And so I figured I’d write up a little something. We’ve talked about how with many phrases, it’s not about the effect on the person hearing the phrase, but on how it makes the speaker feel so that they can be a certain way they need to be (calm, assertive, empathetic, patient, detached, clear, vocal about needs, or vocal about boundaries). Sure, the phrases need to do some work for listener too, but I’m fairly convinced that the phrases work mostly by positioning the speaker to assume a certain role, and that this role is what others respond to (with words becoming a cue eventually that listeners attach significance).

    Reflections on Comfort

    One of the approaches to childcare that has had a big impact on how I interact with children (but also students, friends, colleagues) relates to “accepting and being present with big feelings”– empathizing with other’s feelings in a way that allows you to decentralize yourself from the situation.

    I have learned to work hard at not saying phrases like: “you’re fine”, “there’s no reason to be scared”, “there’s nothing to be upset about.” It is not these phrases that are the problem, but the attitude behind them can communicate subtler message:

    • “You are not entitled to your negative feelings. Such feelings can often be ignored.”
    • “Your negative feelings are a burden on others.”
    • “Your bodily reaction to unfolding events is not trustworthy guide”
    • “Negative feelings should be avoided. When they do happen, they should not be shown in public and should be minimized in temporal duration.”

    These messages are often communicated in situations that seem quite caring

    – trying to cheer someone up, but perhaps through distraction

    – offering comfort to someone, but in a manner that is perhaps inappropriate to the actual feelings they are having (often as a means to stop the display)

    – Trying to provide assurance that some situation is safe or not upsetting, but in doing so denying the legitimacy of their feelings.

    Spending a lot of time in our daycare, where we try to accept feelings has made the practice of quickly “comforting” children more obvious to me. And I should emphasize, that it’s not that providing comfort is bad, but the authenticity and appropriateness of the comfort provided needs to be valued over the quickness of the recovery. I would even go so far as to say that the primary goal of providing comfort is not to make things better or to make a person feel better. Rather the goal is something more like providing a sense of support, togetherness, and understanding.

    Here are some examples of how we respond to feelings that arise in daycare:

    Narrating events and giving feelings a name: “You spilled the drink and it felt like everyone was looking. I bet that made you feel embarrassed.”

    Mirroring a feeling: “ouch! You fell off the couch and bumped your head on the floor! I know how much that can hurt.”

    Asking what is needed or providing options: “Would getting a drink of water calm you down? Or do you need to cuddle on the couch for a little bit?”

    Practicing active calming strategies rather than passive distractions: “what do you think might help you feel better? Blowing your breathe out hard? Counting to ten? Screaming into a pillow?”

    Asking for permission to give physical comfort before providing it: “so and so came by because she saw that you were upset. Can she give you some comfort by rubbing your back?”

    Describing and legitimizing feelings, while opening doors for action:

    “Climbing across that seems a bit scary because it is so high up. Yes, you might fall, but you also might not. Do you want to try?”

    “You built your tower tall and we’re so proud. Then the dog’s tail knocked it over , (agh!). So frustrating. Do you want someone to help you rebuild or do you want rebuild alone?

    These sorts of talk moves help, but ultimately it is about retraining yourself to not feel so uncomfortable with others discomfort– to make sure that you are acting in good faith to their feelings and not merely in response to your own sense of discomfort. As with all of this, you are going to mess it up, a lot. But over time, with lots of practice, observation, and reflection, it’s getting a lot easier.

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