Jumping Ship or Changing Course? On switching careers

The way that things usually happen for me is shakily, in a very slow waxing and waning cycle that takes place over many months and weeks. It starts with the tiniest of inklings, caused by reading something in a blog post or seeing something in a movie and quietly observing, “maybe that could be for me.”

There’s always those intense jolts in life that make you snap to reality, such as when I had one of my daycare kids run out the front door, leaving me waiting at the door with all the other children in my charge. That definitely was one of the single most stressful moments in my life. It was after that incident that I questioned what I was doing and where I was going, and if it was truly worth it. As a parent, I could understand the high demands when it comes to caring for your children. I completely sympathize with the desire to have the best quality of care possible but not being able to afford the cost. On the other hand, as the care provider, I could most definitely get the reason why child care has a huge turnover rate. The stakes are high, the pay is very low.

With my Rheumatoid arthritis, it seemed that I could not be as hands-on with the children as I needed to be. It hurt to pick up the little ones to change their diapers, I couldn’t run over to stop a fight or, as in the aforementioned scenario, keep a kid from running away. I’ve had multiple parents get upset with me for their kid getting hurt on my watch, and even with an able body, with many children sometimes there’s nothing you can do in the moment. Having worked at child care centers before, I witnessed how the director had to constantly be in the role of substitute teacher when the other subs were not able to come in. I saw how she stayed at the center from 6:30 AM to PM, even 6 days a week at times. I saw her having to deal with kids that had zero respect for authority, with parents that tried to pick their kids up drunk, with staff members that gossiped endlessly about their fellow teachers, their students and their students’ parents.

What took me so long to decide officially to change careers was the fact that I dedicated so much time and education into that career. I read so many books and blogs and watched videos, attended conferences and developed business plans. Everything I did was to one day open up my own child development center. How could I just throw it all away? A lot of personal finance bloggers will have you believe otherwise, but a huge part of saving money can come from simply making more of it. That is something that would be tough to do in the field of child development. There was a big part of me, and still there is today, that does want to open up a center one day, but I’d rather it be when I wasn’t strapped for cash, I’d rather it be when I can afford to pay someone else to be the director and buy all the amenities of a Waldorf school. It would be a wonderful retirement project that I would be so proud to finally accomplish.

When I told my sister I was considering changing careers to web development, she mentioned that she had a friend who owned her own web development business and that she was very happy and successful. I got the nerve up to ask if I could talk to her sometime. At first she was hard to get a hold of, but with some persistence I finally got to speak with her on the phone. She was completely nice, enthusiastic about her profession as CEO of an online marketing company, and patiently answered all my questions and spelled out any definitions of terms she used that I was unfamiliar with.

When she described how she could pick up and go practically anywhere whenever she wanted as long as she brought her laptop along I was sold. I was also pleasantly surprised when she made the suggestion that I could teach myself with all the free resources online these days. She invited me to let her know how I was doing as I progressed in my knowledge and that her company may even be able to give me some work in the future once my skills were up to par. Looking up BLS statistics online about the web development field was greatly reassuring as well, with excellent projected job growth and great pay as the standard of the field.

Changing Careers

About three weeks ago, I finally officially decided silently to myself that I was going to do it wholeheartedly, to dedicate myself to learning web development in order to be at the level where I could freelance or get an entry level junior developer job. Since then, I’ve been working around an hour a day on practicing basic skills such as html and css and trying my hand at building my own website. I’ve also been researching local web development groups in the Austin area and online so that I can connect with others in the same field. I still feel scared sometimes to have left my old career, but I feel like this one has greater potential to make me happy and allow me to follow my goals and values in life.

Though it may seem as scary as jumping ship, it becomes easier to re-frame it in your mind as just charting a new course. We can’t always predict what will really be satisfying or turn out to be exactly what we estimated, whether that is our career, our location, our companions or anything else really. It is a virtue to be faithful and diligent, but the way I see it, your career is not necessarily going to be faithful and diligent to you (though you may find a company with absolutely amazing employers that do hold these values, I haven’t personally come across this in this day and age).

Because of this it’s much better to change courses if you’ve carefully considered it, taking into account many factors such as location, job satisfaction, potential for upward mobility, financial reward, family circumstances, time commitment, education expense in both time and money. If you’re seriously considering a career change don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family or even members of your local community to see if they might know someone you could talk to. Not only will you get valuable information about the real state of affairs in that position or career field, you will also gain a valuable contact that you can reach out to in the future once you’re job ready, or even if you just have a simple question. Ultimately if you’re feeling that you’re not as happy as you could be, it’s up to you to change your situation.

I changed course and I’m so happy that I did.

 

 

How to Fix Behavior Problems Fast and For Good

IMG_3359It’s a pill. It’s a drink. It’s a diet. It’s a book. It’s an electronic device! It’s timers, time-outs, charts, bribes and threats.

There are so many “specialists” and “experts” out there peddling their own brand of fix it products and methods to solve the most confounding problem behaviors we see young children exhibiting. As an enthusiast of early childhood education and child development (admittedly a more alternative-bended enthusiast), I can 100% guarantee that that entire first sentence up there is a total load of BS. I can tell you that for sure, because I’ve tried many of them both as a parent and an early childhood educator with poor results. There is no band-aid or magic bullet to quickly fix your child’s issues. There is no one-size fits all way to deal with behavior problems, but there is one simple concept that I promise will transform your child’s life and your life as a parent.IMG_2527

That concept is pretty straitforward: Maintain an authentic relationship with your child based on respect. This idea is so groundbreaking only because in our culture we have sailed so far off the shores of parent-child relationships based on respectful communication and real interactions. I first heard about this idea in my infant development class when my professor was speaking about the research of Dr. Emmi Pickler and showed us videos of the sagely Magda Gerber speaking so clearly about the needs of babies. RIE (pronounced wry as in the bread and stands for Resources for Infant Educarers), is an organization that is all about promoting relationships based on respect. Janet Lansbury is the modern version of a RIE spokeswoman (though this is not her official title) is an amazing blogger and has written many books including No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, which was a joy and a revelation to read.

NBK

Later in my child development education, I would be put in the college’s NAEYC accredited program in order to be disillusioned when I saw toddlers being chastised by a teacher for dumping out bins of fake food (because let’s be real- this is exactly what I would do with fake food too!) So I worked up the courage and asked my professor if there was somewhere I could go that had more reverence for children. Thankfully, that professor allowed me to go to Simone’s Infant Care, a beautiful, play-based in home program for infants and toddlers that used the RIE approach with many principles from Waldorf education.

student teaching at Simone's
student teaching at Simone’s

It was here that the words from the RIE website really came alive for me. It was a priceless opportunity to be able to see Simone work with the children in such a gentle and respectful way. The children were all so happy under her care, and what a privilege it was for them to be able to attend such a happy place.

 

When I relocated to Texas I decided firmly that I would raise Sierra with RIE. At times it was hard to do so, especially with being geographically separated from my community and having a husband that was gone a lot. I sent my mentor plenty of emails and questions as I faced my issues. Even with all my training and education, I got frustrated with lack of sleep and joint pain from Rheumatoid Arthritis. I snapped and said things to my daughter that were far from respectful. I watched TV a lot when she was a little baby, I’m now sad to say. I also had a hard time maintaining a good rhythm in the home, as I was still trying (but failing) to lead the same old life of shopping and socializing with friends that I had before I gave birth. I also used an infant swing quite a bit in the first months.

My step dad Frank is staying with me, and last night he was watching me put her down to sleep. He said, “You’re the best mom.” I answered with something self deprecating, and he affirmed “You really are.”

After a pause, Sierra hugged my arm, looked up at me and said, “You’re my best friend, Mommy. I’ll love you always.”

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This was such a beautiful and precious gift from my daughter, but I also count this as a gift from RIE. Being exposed to, exploring, witnessing and practicing, failing, and practicing again the RIE principles over and over and over again has given me the gift of a relationship with my daughter built on respect. Without that foundation there, we would certainly not share the same level of trust and love that we do right now.

I’m struggling with one of my daycare Kiddos. He is full of energy, very assertive and carries the term “bouncing off the walls” into the literal realm many times a day. When he was smaller it used to be so easy to help him, with certainty to grasp his little hands and reaffirm that he may not hit others. It used to be so easy for me to calmly stop him from running, to acknowledge that he wanted to keep playing but that it was nap time now. Over time he has grown bigger and I have grown weaker and weaker in the joints of my extremities. I have fallen down painfully by trying to catch him running as he was dragging a wooden toy along the wall. As I’ve been desperately trying every method I can think of to gain his compliance, nothing I try with him has seemed to work. When I reach out to my professional community, everyone just agrees that he is a flight risk and it’s too big of a liability for me to take on with my condition. I’m beginning to realize that I cannot get his cooperation without laying that same foundation of a relationship built on respect that I have with my own daughter.

Tomorrow, I will start. I know it most likely won’t be very fast, but it will be For Good: For the Good of his little soul, and for For the Good of mine.

New YouTube Channel for Interactive Songs

Since my husband has been deployed, it’s been really tough to do it all on my own. I have so much respect for single moms that do it 24/7, as well as moms who have husbands that leave continuously over their entire career.

To be honest, with the Rheumatoid Arthritis I’m not handling it very well physically or emotionally. Some days it seems like I might not make it through all of the things that need to get done. So today I decided that SiSi and I should have a project of our own that we could look forward to- a special activity we could do together that doesn’t cost any money and isn’t too hard to do for me with my physical condition. Something both of us love is singing together. I’ve always loved singing but thought I had a terrible voice. The moment I found out I was pregnant, however, I started singing to SiSi when she was but the size of an avocado pit and haven’t stopped since.

Lately, she’s not only been singing with me, but singing little verses of songs on her own, too. So I asked her today if she would like to record a video of us singing together. The recording process was a little rocky, as I had to figure out what I was doing, but I’m actually pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to make. When I asked her what she wanted to sing, she immediately started signing Wheels on the Bus, so that was that. I just recorded us singing as many verses of it as we could think of then edited it down to the best ones using iMovie. She’s napping right now but I can’t wait to show her the finished product when she wakes up.

I hope this will become a fun ritual for us, and maybe even a a fun ritual for our friends and followers of this blog to sing with their little ones. Click here to check it out and let me know what you think!

Edit: As an 8 months follow up, SiSi stopped wanting to make a video every week, but there are almost a dozen archived on the channel for you and your little ones to enjoy!

Chalk Battles & Other Offenses

It was not very long ago when children wore little adult clothes and were expected to act like little adults (or rather act as if they didn’t exist) in an adult world. Cultural expectations obviously play a huge part in the way children are expected to behave. It’s easy to tell when you’re doing something that is a cultural outlier. You can feel eyes on you like you can feel a slow mounting chill in the wintertime, but when you dare to look up and glance around all eyes quickly avert. There is a lot of judgment out there. This little video says it best- without saying anything at all, surprisingly!

chalk

As harshly as parents are judged in this society, children are judged just the same. A well meaning aunt will ask about how far along she is on potty training. Grandparents will ask my daughter to sing the alphabet song on Skype. Strangers will comment on how well behaved she is, or ignore us completely when she isn’t. All of these little innocent and minor realities of toddler life forms the current of social pressure to which most all children begin to feel they must succumb.

As dark a picture as this may paint, I do see those small shimmers of real childhood emerge, moments when a child is acting more like the human mammal that they are than the prettily packaged set of rote skills and “cuteness” of a Huggies model. Today when the kiddos and I were outside on a hot afternoon, there was a bit of a spat over sitting in the wagon. It seemed there wasn’t enough foot room at the floor of the wagon for four toddler feet to occupy simultaneously. As you would expect, many an accusation and a high pitched whine was traded. After a while, my older toddler decided to put his feet up and so that they hung over the sides of the wagon. This idea delighted both children, and they carried on making up stories and entertaining half-conversations with one another. Somehow, as time went on a piece of chalk was acquired by all three toddlers. First they began chalking upon the wagon, but at one point my daughter shoved the chalk into the older toddler’s face.

“Owww!” was the natural response. I wanted to immediately intervene and proclaim a positive but limiting phrase from my discipline repertoire (chalk is for using on the sidewalk, not on faces), but something told me to wait. Happily, the waiting did pay off, as the offended toddler began to giggle and chalk my daughter right back. What ensued was about a half an hour of chalking on one another, lots of giggles and exclamations of surprise. The wildness in which they “assaulted” one another reminded me of lion cubs wresting and nipping at one another, getting ready to hunt down prey. It made me think of a time when I was in grade school, probably in 3rd grade, back when I was a complete and utter tomboy. My buddies and I all came up with this nonsensical game in which we stood in a circle and quickly stepped on one another’s feet before hopping back into place. Some kind of silly, quick footed version of wack-a-mole. My father used to come to school to help out once a week (THE BEST Dad!), and when he came I proudly demonstrated our idiotically enthralling made-up game. Immediately I was put in my place. “You’re gonna break your toes!” he protested.

Back to sitting on the bench or waiting in line for tether ball I guess….

Which brings me back to my train of thought. Sometimes we just have to give up on putting on the charade that we are all sophisticated humans, with intelligent tools made for very specific, quantifiable, understandable things and just be the impulsive, creative, social mammals that we are. ALL mammals play amongst themselves when they are young. This play often looks like fighting or aggression, but it is obvious that it is a frisky sport in which the fun is in the play, for no purpose other than the fun itself. The strait-laced, “use toys as they are intended, no talking in the halls, no running indoors” attitude toward children is stifling to them, and it is debilitatingly exhausting to enforce for us. If they cannot have the opportunity to truly play with one another the way nature intended when they are young, then when?

Why Waldorf Works, but Uncschooling Wins

If you look Waldorf up on Pinterest, you will see some Leighton Miester photos from the set of Gossip Girl, but you’ll see bright, maple full sun drenched photos of happy, peaceful playrooms and children playing with wooden toys and many a brightly colored rainbow of play silks can be spotted. These photos will bring about images of organic apple picking and the sounds of acoustic guitars and the giggles of small children.

 

The Waldorf world is much like the Hobbit world of Tolkien, because in Waldorf, early childhood is all about fantasy. There is a strong belief that children are more in tune with the magic realm because their souls are just recently cast onto the planet in their earthly bodies. This is also the reason why free play is at the foundation of a Waldorf early childhood, while academics are saved for when children are older. I can’t begin to list all the facets of Waldorf that are wonderful. So many Waldorf principles could save the future of humanity if all children were given the chance to experience them.

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When the term “real work” comes up in Waldorf, they’re not talking about a salaried job with benefits. They’re talking about old world, back to basics necessities like weaving, carving, cooking, gardening. It seems crazy to me that our society has become so far removed from these basic tasks that make it possible to live. Bringing it back to the origins is such a simple, but vastly important factor in a Waldorf education.

Staying with the same teacher throughout the grade school years is also a great idea. This person becomes a real stand by in your child’s life, not just a passing figure there to fill the bucket with the prescribed body of knowledge and move on to the next group of empty buckets. They build trust, form a bond, and begin to understand one another. Consistency allows a young child to feel secure so that they can mentally and emotionally move on to higher learning. There is also the ever presence of natural materials in a Waldorf school. Natural materials, such as wood, silk, wool and beeswax are so prevalent because Steiner believed that things from nature emitted a higher, more complex vibrational frequency- as if they carried the soul of the living thing from which they came.IMG_0318

There is also the added environmentally friendly factor of having things that last, and also things that are not going to sit there for eons in perfect neon splendor in a landfill. Also, if you have any kind of aesthetic sense, these items are extremely beautiful. No grades, other than a lovingly written report at the end of the year, is a breath of fresh air. Children are seen as whole, individual, unique people, and therefore are not to be measured with the same yardstick.

The spiritual aspect, though one of the things about Waldorf that I absolutely adore, is also what makes me cringe a little. Though Waldorf claims to love and celebrate all religions, Anthroposophy (Steiner’s founded system of religious belief) does play a part in a Waldorf education. I know this first hand, as I once took a job as an after school teacher at a Waldorf school where I was given some books about Waldorf education to prepare me for the position. One of the books spoke extensively about Lucifer the light bearer as a positive figure, among many other Christian constructs.

Many of the holidays celebrated are also Christian in nature. I don’t have anything against Christians per se, but my experience with the religion is not an amazing one. Christianity, however pure people may believe it to be, was responsible for horrendous atrocities throughout time (mind bogglingly, a local Christian university’s sports teams are the Crusaders). There is also a strong belief in angels, and that every child has a guardian angel that watches over them. While this is also not a big deal, my father in law told me a story about his experience with Waldorf school when his son was in Kindergarten. He came to pick him up from school one day, and couldn’t find him. When he asked his teacher where he was, she said nonchalantly that he was on the roof laying shingles. This is where the guardian angel idea can go too far, as there have been many accounts of children left unsupervised, or rather, left supervised by their guardian angels.

Despite all this, I’d still jump at the chance to send my daughter to a Waldorf school, if only it weren’t so expensive and elusive. If you’re lucky enough to have a Waldorf school near you, you still may not be able to send your child there due to the price tag. If you have a job as a professor or a high level administrator, the tuition won’t be a problem, but if you’re a working class family such as we are (try living on lower enlisted military pay for a while and get back to me), the expense would cause a huge strain on the family. There are always Waldorf charter schools, which are free due to their ties with the school system, but they often have waitlists that are more than a mile long.

The next logical conclusion is Waldorf homeschooling, but even with that, why not just graduate to the even more child-centered, child-lead idea of unschooling? While Waldorf has lots of guidelines (no plastic, no commercial toys or clothes, no technology in the early grades, specific sequence of curriculum), with unschooling you can follow your child’s lead and let them blossom using the types of materials and mediums they see fit (Legos, anyone?). That is why, for now, I will take all the wonderful ideas found in Waldorf education and leave behind all of the stuff that doesn’t work for my family.

Parenting Without Fear

I’m a child care provider, but I’m not just a child care provider, I’m a play based child care provider. Which makes me even more fired up about this (as you can tell from the title) than the average progressive-parenting talking head. A big part of that exasperation comes from the fact that if the worries and fears  that parents express to me were a bonus to my paycheck I’d be wealthier than Warren Buffet. Here are a few recent gems:

“If they don’t use flashcards, how will they know their animal sounds?”

“She gets her numbers, but I can’t seem to get her to start at number one.”

“He has no interest in puzzles, and I’m afraid he won’t know how to do puzzles unless I encourage him and show him how.”

These are all well-meaning parents who want their children to succeed. They want to make sure they’re doing all they can for them so that they can develop at the best rate possible. The problem is… the more parents try to control their child’s development, the less able the child is to develop naturally as they were meant to do. The more parents prod and poke toward “mastering a skill”, the more insecure and dependent the child becomes. This goes for all children- newborns to college students.

I know this concept is completely foreign and might seem borderline neglectful to some. Painting outside today, one of my most proactive daycare parents asked me if I’ve worked with my daughter on her colors. When I asked what she meant she said, “you know, like sat down and taught her what they were.”

I don’t want to blame this amazing mom for this naïve idea. Most all of us were indoctrinated with this classroom concept of the heroic teacher summoning the students to their seats so that they could distribute necessary information, as a nurse gives the proper dosage of medication to his patients. Breaking free from this paradigm was the beginning of me finding my calling in life.

So, the truth is I’ve never sat down and “taught” Sierra anything. I’ve never tried to explain anything to her unless she specifically asks me about it.

How did she learn Red, Pink, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Purple?

 

I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Yes, maybe it’s because we sing songs, we read books, I ask her what color shirt she wants to wear that day. We might see a butterfly and I might exclaim, “What a beautiful orange butterfly!” But maybe it’s not. And that’s ok.

Sometimes she will say an orange object is red. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t keep a checklist of all the things she says and does perfectly. There is no such thing as a perfect body of knowledge. She is not a computer that I download software to. She’s a whole being, a universe unto herself. She has her own will and her own soul. The knowledge she gets, she acquires through her own senses, with her own methods, from real life experiences. These rich, real-world experiences are so much more meaning-FULL than flimsy pieces of cardstock with cartoon images and bold print. The truth: If you want your child to “be smart,” you are being simple.

What I want, and what I wish, is for children to be themselves. Let them fall behind. Let them jump ahead. Let them experience you caring for them, caring about them. All a child needs to grow healthy, strong and happy is plenty of fresh air, as much freedom as is practical and safe, good nutritious food, and stable, loving caregivers who are there to take care of them in the ways they cannot themselves.

Framed by my bedside is a photograph of a mother lovingly embracing her child. Written over it is the following quote:

“I honor the dignity and integrity of my child with my attention, warmth and regard.”

Lisa A. McCrohan

Remember that at the most basic level- all you need to do to do an AWESOME job as a mom or dad is take care of their basic needs, and acknowledge their feelings. You will make mistakes, and so will they. Learn to let them go. Just feel the weight of expectation lifting off your shoulders, and know that you are lifting it off their shoulders as well.

Creating a Harmonious Routine with Young Children

Are you always behind on everything on your to-do list, but you’re busy all the time? Ever wonder where your peace went? Did you leave your old hobbies and interests back in another year? Let me tell you something right now. Your child wants you to be happy, and they want to contribute to the care they receive. Believe it or not, they even want you to be cared for as well. They certainly don’t want to be a burden, and they actually don’t need to be entertained (though they will want to if that’s what they’re used to!)

The key is to plan ahead, and more specifically to design a sequence of events that occur throughout the day, every day to help the day unfold smoothly and peacefully for the whole family. It seems like a daunting task with huge stumbling blocks (and perhaps even some exasperated excuses) at first, but with forethought this simple step can create an atmosphere of tranquility and inspiration for both you and your children.

First, let me talk about the elephant in the room. The Big Letters T and V. Ours is certainly big enough and uncomfortably (for me at least) prominent in our living room to discuss. The problem with TV is that it is a drug. It just is. For more information about it, please read The Plug-In Drug. It affects the brain in the same way sugar or any other pleasurable substance does, and they more it is consumed the more strong the urge to keep consuming it becomes. The best thing of course would be getting rid of it all together. I’m such a big fan of that. But it’s so strong in our culture that I feel the unfortunate need to say, the second best thing would be to severely limit screen time (i.e. once a week for a very short time). Believe it or not, kids need time to be bored. Boredom is the precursor to creativity (by creativity I really mean child-lead imaginative play.) Just think about how every moment your child is a pacified zombie in front of a screen, is a moment your child could be spending fully engaged in REAL life with their mind, body and soul.

When you take care of the things in your life that need tending to, you’re actually showing your child what it means to be human. Everything you do is a functional model for them to follow as they grow. It’s so important that you do the things that are not only necessary, but the things that are good for you. The things that are good for the world. The things that make you happy and healthy.

At about the age of 2, children become not only able but eager to help you in your endeavors. It may take a bit of practice, but if you let them they can help you fold clothes (or maybe just throw the wet laundry into the drier). They can help you put dishes away (try wooden bowls!) and they can certainly pick up their toys (As long as they don’t have too many!). Involve your child in not only their own care routines, but the care routines of the house and yard. Let them put some of the groceries on the conveyor belt. Let them carry a few items into the house when you’re unloading the car.

sisi baking

The benefit to this is threefold. A child’s feelings of self-confidence is definitely boosted when they are helping to care for themselves, but it is boosted even more when they are helping to care for others. You are going through your day with your child, getting chores done alongside them as they need to be accomplished, instead of waiting for naptime or the end of the night. In this way you’re keeping your house peaceful and free of clutter and uncompleted tasks. You’re also allowing yourself to have the time during nap or night time to do the things you love to do, or simply to relax.

The learning and sensory experiences involved with chores are beautiful. The soil in the garden replaces play dough. Using a safe knife to cut pears replaces the toy knife. The bubbly water in the sink replaces the water table. The fine motor skills practiced to pull weeds, or the large motor skills needed to sweep up. Talking about colors while folding laundry, or letters while writing the shopping list. Another term for this is “Life as the Curriculum” and is also the Lifeways model of child care. Instead of creating a contrived life for your child full of classes and preconceived play scenarios, just allow them to be a part of your life. Give them time to play independently (in this way they will experiment and replay the real life scenarios to further assimilate the learning in their brain!)

It’s most certainly an old way of thinking and doing things, a life wrought of necessity. It’s certainly contradictory to everything we are told we need to provide our children (505 Summer Play Themes to Keep Your Toddler Busy… Pinterest, I’m looking at you…) But what a beautiful, peaceful way of life for you, your child and your family!