The Santa Question

This is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually.

The Tooth Fairy

No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware that there’s no good reason for someone in a tutu with wings and a wand to go flitting from bedroom to bedroom gathering up the baby teeth from the world’s first-graders. What could she possibly do with them all?

Then to confirm his suspicions that some hoax is involved, you wake him up in the middle of the night feeling around under his pillow, or you fall asleep before he does and neglect to switch the lost tooth for a silver dollar until he reminds you. But he doesn’t complain; he’s happy for the extra cash and he enjoys the game.

The Easter Bunny

That a rabbit would hop about carrying a basket, hiding eggs and delivering jelly beans is a story so silly that a very small child could see through it. She loves the fantasy of it, however, as well as all that candy that she’s actually allowed to eat before breakfast on Easter morning.

But it wouldn’t ruin her day at all if she were to catch you hiding the eggs. She understands imaginative play full well and would know right away that you’re just pretending.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Children enjoy pretending they are these all-powerful characters, and we adults can easily understand why they would: Children are small and comparatively weak, while these superheroes are neither.

You let them wear bath towels as capes around their shoulders and fly about the house saving captive dolls and rescuing endangered teddy bears. You only intervene if the furniture seems threatened, or if the children appear to actually believe that they could safely leap out of windows.

But they don’t. They understand it’s all fantasy play and so do you.

Hannukah Charlie

For some reason he never did make it to the big time, maybe because he was just thought up as a Santa Claus substitute. Which brings us to …

Santa Claus

On the one hand there are those who, for religious, moral or psychological reasons, want him done away with:

He represents greed, they say, not the true spirit of Christmas; parents who demonstrate their love by making or buying elaborate gifts for their children should not give that overweight, bearded virtual stranger the credit. Parents should not tell lie after lie to their children about how he gets into their house even though they don’t have a fireplace – or why he appears in every store and on every street corner even though there’s only one of him. Or how he can manage to get to the millions of children in the world in only one night, etc. He doesn’t really exist and we should tell our children, so they say – and the earlier the better.

On the other hand are those parents who still half-believe in Santa themselves:

They tell their kids that Santa “sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake” so they’d better behave or Santa won’t leave them any presents. They start decorating the house with red-suited icons shortly after Halloween, insist that their kids visit a department store Santa and sit on his lap even if they scream in protest, and maintain the Santa myth until their kids are well into their teens.

Which way to lean on the issue of Santa is up to the individual family, of course. But our recommendation would be for moderation. The fun about believing in Santa is not lost when the pretend aspect of it is acknowledged. It’s probably a good idea not to frighten your children with Santa – either with his all-knowing ability to know if they ate all their peas or fed them to the dog; or with forcing your little one to sit on the lap of someone she never met and doesn’t care to. But go ahead and play the game.

Pretend along with your child that there really is a sleigh pulled with reindeer and a North Pole where elves create shiny toys. But you needn’t lie and connive to perpetuate the myth. Pretend that Santa brings gifts to your house on Christmas Eve, but if you’ve spent many hours building a dollhouse or saved up for months in order to buy that special bicycle, let your child know that those gifts are from you.

Speculate with your children about how Santa manages to do all those miraculous things, but don’t be afraid to explain that it’s all magical make-believe, pretend. Just like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Wonder Woman and Superman are pretend. Very real, but still pretend. Who knows better than your child about pretending?

And don’t keep all the fun for yourself. Let him pretend to be Santa too.

Image courtesy of Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Keeping holidays focused on the children

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

A simple test to know if a child is ready for Halloween frights

Halloween is right around the corner and houses are decked out with witches, spiders, graves and bats.

Some adults seem to be involved in a strange competition to see who can create the most ghoulish, terrifying images and haunted basements, etc. All of this scariness is appropriate for older, school-age children and teenagers. But it can be very confusing and downright frightening for preschoolers and young children who don’t have good reality testing.

How do we know they don’t have good reality testing?  Because they believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. Older children with better reality testing will tell you there’s no way Santa can go all over the world in one night and he’s too fat to come down a chimney. But younger children believe he can.

I vividly recall a terrified, 6-year-old coming to her therapy session with tears in her eyes. She just saw a coffin open up in someone’s front yard and a “dead person” popped out. She then proceeded to make scary noises and jump out of the dark at me, so I would know firsthand how frightened she was. Then she asked me if dead people “get out of their graves” at Halloween.

I hope you will keep these thoughts in mind as you decorate and celebrate Halloween. If your school-age children are going to be around little ones, don’t permit them to wear frightening costumes. If you have younger children, serve as a protective barrier from scary Halloween sights, sounds and activities. Keep Halloween fun, as it was meant to be.

Photo courtesy of Victor Habbick/Freedigitalphotos.net

Spring ahead, fall back … just don’t fall apart

It’s time again to change the clocks – and suffer a week or more of family discombobulation. “There’s got to be a better way,” we all think, as the early-waking child seems to wake even earlier; or the cranky-before-dinner child seems to spend even more time in that unpleasant state.

Know two things:

  1. You’re not alone in your clock-changing dread; and
  2. There are ways to make it all go a little smoother.

Here are some tips to get you through the transition:

Change the clock on your own terms. Don’t wait until 2 a.m. Sunday. That barely works for grown-ups; it’s a lousy trick on a kid’s body clock. Change as early in the weekend as you can. This gives you time to reinforce the new timing of things before anyone has to show up to school or work on Monday.

We highly recommend changing the clock as early as Friday night, so you can wake up on Saturday with the “new” time.

This is a great life lesson. Kids need to know how to follow society’s rules (the clock must change) while being true to themselves (we change it this weekend, when it works best for our family).

Change all your clocks/watches at once. This helps you believe the time has changed, so you can be consistent for your young child. If you have somewhere to be on Saturday, try to use the “new” time to keep oriented,

Adjust all meal times to the new clock. Kids like routine; they rely on it. So pace the whole routine as normal; if dinner is usually at 6 , then continue to have it at 6 – even though it may feel like it’s coming earlier or later than usual. The children will adjust. If they react poorly to it on Saturday, you still have Sunday to get things settled before the school/work week begins.

Remember that a child’s wake-up time predicts his or her nap and bed times. If you have a child who is sensitive to change, he or she may have trouble going to sleep at their “regular” time when the clock has just moved. To the internal body clock, it feels like an hour early or late, depending on the time of year and the direction of the time change.

Reinforce weekday wake-up, nap, and bed times to help your child adjust. Be prepared for being a little off-kilter the first few days; naps may be shorter or harder to achieve altogether, but they will come back.

Acknowledge that the weekend feels a little funny, but don’t go into long explanations. Young children take our words literally. They will wonder why you got a different clock, or will argue that the clock hasn’t been “changed” at all.

The concept of time being adjustable may become confusing or distracting. Don’t bog the kids down with this. Your goal is to have a fun family weekend where the new times just blend into your life.

Make lemonade out of lemons. If you are concerned that your young child will have a bumpy adjustment, this is a great weekend to take the big outing you’ve been avoiding because it will mess up the nap schedule.

Sometimes the curveballs of life can actually help. A big outing throws your child’s body clock off, in which case he or she will gladly embrace the post-outing routine that you offer (with the new & improved clock time). Get up and out with a planned outing early Saturday or, better still, Sunday. Then your little one will be more likely to fall asleep at a decent time come Sunday night. And so will you.

Image courtesy of Digital Art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Quietly observing the Winter Honeymoon

For the under-5 set and their families, getting used to the academic calendar comes with growing pains. Just the concept of an academic year “ending” has undone many a young child who thought school would go on forever with this teacher in this room.

From the perspective of young children, summer becomes a time of missing what we used to have, and worrying about what comes next. August is anxious as we ready for new things in September.

September is a time of newness, separation and adjustment. There is a tiny window in October when the routine has been mastered and teachers feel familiar. Then comes Halloween – which absorbs a good five weeks between anticipation, doing or avoiding, and debriefing.

Then, we’re in the midst of the winter holidays, which pretty much disrupt all mastered things. Throw in the long winter break (let’s admit that it does feel too long in many young families), an optional polar vortex and Martin Luther King day, and January is a long, drawn-out return to routine. For the under-5 child, that actually feels like a new routine because four months is such a statistically significant percentage of his or her lifespan.

So somewhere in late January or early February, the sweet spot begins – the Winter Honeymoon. It’s one of those hidden gems that most adults don’t notice.

Routines feel familiar. The only major holiday that causes disruption – Valentine’s Day – celebrates friendship, kindness and shapes. Spring break is far enough away that we’re actually living in the moment.

This is the tiny window of time each year that has fewer excitements and dramatic changes. Young children make developmental leaps because the world around them has become a little quieter.

Teachers know this; you can tell because this is when they roll out favorite stations and projects – confident they can rely on the continuity of the season. This is that moment. No major changes on the immediate horizon. Excitements lulled. It’s a special time.

As a parent, how do you use this time?

Soak it up. Share with your child how nice it feels to have the calm of routine; how good it must feel to know where everything is in her classroom; how comfortable she now seems with her teacher.

Savor the mastery. Notice out loud all the things your child can do that were new, intimidating or unfamiliar in September. Stand by and admire how your child needs you a little bit less than when school started. The act of standing by and admiring mastery is a critical part of parenting – a job and also a pleasure.

Look at your little one hanging his coat on his hook, knowing where to find supplies when he wants to draw you a picture, getting started at a favorite place in the classroom where he previously stayed close to you.

Enjoy the trust. Take pleasure in the relationship with your child’s teacher. Once new to your family, this person is now a safe and trusted grown-up, the template for your child’s future learning and personal relationships. Enjoying a trusting relationship is something that you get to teach your child too. It is enriching for you and your child together.

Notice the special (not always perfect, but special) connections you have, and show your child that you value and are grateful for the three-way partnership of parent-child-teacher. This step is important; in just a few more months, the cycle of changing teachers will begin again. Having a memory of this good feeling will help everyone in the transition.

Take a deep breath. This is just for you. Notice how time has been moving fast or slow for you and your family. Breathe in the feeling of being in the moment. Keep life simple; don’t overfill your time just because the holiday craziness is over and you got used to massive to-do lists. Do the comforting things that make you feel grateful and refreshed – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Find satisfaction in simple things; as with our kids, this the sweet spot where creativity and growth take seed.

Notice how good this can feel. Time moves fast. Raising children is taxing, and the stress-to-reward ratio often feels like it’s not in the caregiving parent’s favor. Noticing the good feelings helps to buoy us through the tough patches.

Is your child excited to return to school to see a friend? Does your child enjoy giving you art from school and look forward to you putting it on display at home? Is your child trying new things every once in awhile? Is something, anything, going easier than it was in September?

See these gems and hold them in your mind as best you can. They are your anchor for the many strenuous parenting moments, April through January. You get to keep this calm and confident time in your back pocket as an amulet for all the other taxing, crazy and extraordinarily special months of the year.

Image courtesy of freeimages.com/Iain Nisbet

Handling holiday disappointments

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it.

Grumpy Ballerina

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes it.

His favorite TV shows, his nursery school teachers, the Santa on whose lap he sat last week at the shopping mall, his older siblings and playmates have all convinced him of it. Everyone is as happy as happy can be during holiday time because they’re all going to be given exactly what they want, and a few things they never even imagined, besides.

And then the crash comes. Maybe it’s because her divorced mom and dad didn’t get back together as she had hoped they would after all.  In fact, dad didn’t even show up;  he just left a gift under the tree. Maybe it’s because she got the flu and spent most of Christmas throwing up.

Maybe it’s because she got in a fight with her brother over a toy they both wanted and got put in “time out” by an unusually crabby mother. Maybe she didn’t get that puppy she had asked Santa to bring her. Maybe it looked to her like her sister got way more presents than she did.

Whatever the cause, if she knew the words, she would tell us that she is terribly disappointed. And if she did, we her parents would be terribly disappointed.

Feelings on the fridge

Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions.

We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled surprised has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing furious has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated exhausted has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the fly 

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling angry that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it?  But you see, Mommy is feeling worried that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to grips with feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or Christmas not turning into the golden day it was supposed to be.

And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, a candy cane, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is.

Even worse is when something we have done – or haven’t done – is the cause of her unhappiness. Or when after all our efforts and accumulation of bills she isn’t appreciative of what we have bought and wrapped and put under the tree. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to joyful and proud and excited, not to mention grateful.

And then there’s the matter of her missing the daddy we sent away without consulting her.

Words won’t make the feelings disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours.

As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First we need to realize two things:

  1. Expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them.
  2. If we encourage our children to express their feelings, we’d better be prepared to listen to some feelings that we didn’t really want to hear.

Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him – nor should we try.

The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise.

Preparation helps

This holiday season we don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but we can at least prepare our children for the inevitable disappointments.  One way to do this would be to ask our son or daughter what they are anticipating, and then explain, if necessary, that some of their more extravagant expectations just aren’t likely to be realized.

Then we need to work on our own unrealistic expectations for the holiday season and be prepared for not only our own disappointments, but our children’s.  We’ll be able to listen and empathize, and offer our understanding along with a consoling hug – then return to the family celebration as if disappointments were a natural part of life. Because they are.

Even at holiday time.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Helping children really appreciate the season

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before. A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who, in danger of having her shoulder dislocated, is half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are here. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and shelves overburdened with things to buy. We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how one dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as, “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children, particularly the preschoolers, in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind as we rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts and won’t be disappointed if they don’t get what the TV is urging them to ask for. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. What more do you want us to do?”

We Grandmothers got together and after admitting that we, too, get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

Take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we all insist that these holidays are for the children. Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone. Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching preschooler after preschooler scream when lifted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the malls trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not much fun either. It’s even possible that a mound of toys that one is required to open in a few hours’ time is quite overwhelming.

So decide whether a picture with Santa or a trip to the mall is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes our young children. Take a second look at that shopping list and consider shortening the part that’s devoted to gifts for your kids and think about how, at this busy time, your child can actually be helpful taking on some of the holiday tasks with an enthusiasm you lost several Decembers ago.

Consider setting up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts. Kids love to help make cookies or decorate butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper. Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child and the inner pleasure she feels as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation far outweighs the time it takes to “clean up.”

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one grandmother’s grandchild did, that they won’t be returning home. Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions often not voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear. “Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Muffy? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?”

Or maybe you are going to be the hosts, and household members will be shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler, be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection. A discussion ahead of time about the change, about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep, often helps alleviate any upset. Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays.

Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Starting seeds indoors; kids and gardening just go together

Hanna Perkins Garden Cabbage ImageThere are already early signs of spring all around us. The days are lengthening. Tiny Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Skunk Cabbages (Symplocarpus) are blooming. The maple sugaring season is in full swing, which means sap is flowing.

Your young children might be noticing the changes, as they are keen observers of the natural world around them. This time of year provides you and your children a great opportunity to start seeds indoors for later transplanting to outdoor spaces. Once outdoors, the whole life cycle of plants can be enjoyed as seedlings sprout, grow, produce flowers and fruits, then eventually produce more seeds.

Working with your children to observe and help with this cycle is a great learning opportunity. It has many parallels to how people grow and develop from tiny to little – and someday to big. It’s a helpful analog for some of the most important lessons that are part of a child’s vital development.

In an article titled Plant a Potato-Learn About Life (and Death), Hanna Perkins’ foremother Erna Furman wrote:

“The focus is on the whole life cycle, and whenever possible, on its generational sequence, allowing youngsters to understand better life and death and the connection between them… in a situation of minimal emotional significance.”

In the Hanna Perkins Kindergarten, we’ve started onion seeds for later transplanting to the Hanna Perkins School Garden. Next week we’ll be starting parsley, cabbage, broccoli, brussels’ sprouts and cauliflower.

We’re using seed-starting instructions and planting calendars from the Ohio State University Extension/Cuyahoga County to know exactly how to tend to and time our seedlings for proper transplanting to the garden. Our kindergarteners enjoy using data and guidance as they get their seedlings underway.

Thinking about starting your own seeds? Here are a few links to their resources to get you started:

Ohio State University Extension on Horticulture: How to start plants indoors

Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County 

In our experience at Hanna Perkins, we’ve found that the most important part of this process is to have fun and expect to learn together with your children. You don’t have to be an expert at it; just your investment and wonderment about planting seeds will be enough to foster your young child’s curiosity.

After all, curiosity is where all learning begins.

Like any skill, gardening takes practice. Also keep in mind, you’ll learn from your mistakes. Here are a few simple suggestions that might be helpful.

  • Seeds need the right combination of warmth, moisture and air to germinate. Too much of any one of these might kill the seeds. For example, overwatering may eliminate the air in the soil and cause the seeds to rot.
  • Seeds should be kept evenly moist, at about room temperature. You can teach your young children how to observe if the seeds need water, by allowing them to gently feel the surface of the soil to notice if it feels moist. We’ve observed that it’s sometimes difficult for children to feel slight moisture in the soil and it helps to keep a “comparison” container of dry soil nearby to allow children to see and feel the difference between the two.
  • We’ve also noticed that young children love to water the seeds, which can lead to over-watering and subsequent disappointment. A simple explanation about why too much water is not good for the seeds (it “crowds out the air”) is also helpful. Children want the seeds to grow just as much as we do.
  • Once the seeds have sprouted, continue to keep them moist, but not wet, and provide them with plenty of light and ventilation, while also being careful not to expose them to extremely hot or cold drafts.
  • If seedlings are too crowded in their containers, you may need to replant them into larger containers, giving them plenty of space to grow. Children enjoy caring for plants in this way; it’s a great time to notice how we all outgrow things sometimes – and how the world accommodates our growth.
  • Grow your plants until it is time to transplant them outside – typically after May 15 depending on the season and the plant you’re growing. Give your plants a slow transition to the outdoor environment, described as “hardening off” in the Extension Service literature.

Best of luck on your adventures into starting seeds indoors with your young children.

Laura Cyrocki manages Hanna Perkins’ kitchen and Hanna Perkins Butterfly Garden gift of the Hershey FoundationIn addition to her experience as a preschool teacher, she has a bachelor of science degree in botany.

 

Cabin fever: 2-way feelings about winter

Cabin fever: How do you manage your kids’ needs when school is canceled or the weather isn’t conducive to being outside?

A lot of parents use snow days to have some cozy time with fewer rules – stay in pajamas, watch DVDs, lose track of meal times.

Other families – especially those with younger children – find their kids need the structure even when it’s not provided by the outside world. In that case, parents need to use the clock to pattern the day similarly to weekday routines.

Neither solution is right or wrong; do what’s right for your child.

To help keep your long winter days moving, think about your home as a classroom with stations; rotate through activities the way teachers do. And don’t forget how satisfying it can be to cook or bake. It warms up your house, paces a large chunk of time and everyone gets a treat afterwards.

When working with small children, the prep work for a baking project is just as important as the actual mixing-bowl moment. And it becomes an activity, in itself.