Hurried Mother Morning

Hosting a children’s class today so my morning is quickly evaporating. Here’s a painting though, from a while ago.

The most glorious fruit of the tree of knowledge is this exalted word: Of one tree are all ye the fruit, and of one bough the leaves. Let not man glory in this that he loveth his country, let him rather glory in this that he loveth his kind.    -Bahá’u’lláh

maples.pngI’m thinking I need a master list of blogging topics to run with for the mornings when I cannot brain.

What would you like to hear about? Leave a comment with a topic or question. Help a scattered mother out?

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A Piece of Quiet

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Some days the present is very loud and seems to take forever to go from dawn to bedtime. Any quiet moment is a sanctuary.

Lift up your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the future! Today the seed is sown, the grain falls upon the earth, but behold the day will come when it shall rise a glorious tree and the branches thereof shall be laden with fruit. Rejoice and be glad that this day has dawned, try to realize its power, for it is indeed wonderful! God has crowned you with honour and in your hearts has He set a radiant star; verily the light thereof shall brighten the whole world!                                                                                          -‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Children’s Classes for Toddlers

TheLanguageofVirtues.JPGAs the parent of a toddler, I was ill prepared to teach children’s classes for an age group this young. I’d taught children ages six and up before – everything from art classes and nature hikes to classes on virtues and the fundamental aspects of the Baha’i Faith. These new humans were a mystery to me.

The learning curve was steep, but here are some of my most useful learnings while teaching a class about using the language of virtues for infants, toddlers, and their parents. I hope you find them useful!

  1. Be genuinely friendly to everyone who comes  – this may seem like an obvious one, but if veritable friendships aren’t formed among the parents, the class tends to languish and be a LOT of work for the teacher.
  2. Sustainability – set a regular schedule you can keep and stick with it for at least three months even if you have multiple weeks where no one comes. I’ve found that weekly classes receive a lot better response ( people keep coming back) than classes held every other week or once a month.
  3. Advertise publicly via local groups on social media or other community/neighborhood news source – find out where the new parents are talking and put yourself out there.
  4. Use music – few things hold the attention of little ones better than music. Live music is best, even if you’re not a “musician” encourage the class to join in and sing with you well-known traditional songs to augment recorded music.
  5. Include motions or signs with the songs – developmentally, little ones who aren’t yet verbal can communicate using basic signs as early as six months of age (Acredolo, L. and S. Goodwyn, Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development, 1988). Adding motions helps with engagement as well.
  6. Keep the stories short – The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle is about the right length for a class of ages infant-2.
  7. Use of small pillows or carpet squares in a circle to designate a space for the class helps little ones stay focused. They also enjoy helping set up the room for class and cleaning up afterwards – this gives them ownership.
  8. Expect roaming – don’t worry, or even hesitate if little ones get up and wander around during class. As their attention returns, so will they.
  9. Be aware of food allergies – I overcame this by not offering food as part of the class. Parents frequently brought their own snacks, and we learned to ask about allergies before sharing.
  10. Ask the parents to assist with the class – once a pattern is established, asking the parents for help can create a strong bond of joyful collaboration in the group. I asked the parents to bring quotes to memorize, songs, or books related to the next week’s virtue theme.
  11. BONUS: ASK FOR HELP. A single teacher does not make a successful children’s class go in isolation. Having a co-teacher is often helpful, but the most valuable help I received with my class was from the retired members of the community who came to help hold babies, redirect toddlers, sing along, and make the parents feel welcome.

For more about Bahá’í Children’s Classes around the world: http://www.bahai.org/action/family-life-children/childrens-classes

For another post about this class and a story of my experience starting out, here’s another post: https://corahaysillustration.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/a-childrens-class-success-story/

A Children’s Class Success Story

childrensclass.pngCreating Genuinely Supportive Social Spaces for Young Families

I inherited a children’s class. You may be thinking that this is an odd thing to put in a will, but in this case, the former teachers had simply moved out of town. The class was already scheduled on a weekly basis at the local Bahá’í center. (For all intensive purposes a community center with a children’s room, as Bahá’ís often gather in each others homes for meetings.) The target age group for the class was children under four years old and their parents or caregivers. It was advertised weekly via a local new-moms Facebook group, email and personal invitations to friends and neighbors. The advertisement encouraged parents to come even if they were running late (stating that we’d hang around for a while to chat after the class and let the kids play.)

In the past six months a few people had come, but not many had returned multiple times. Often, no one came.

Essentially it was the structure and skeleton of a children’s class, without the people.

Week 1:

Friday rolled around and off I went to the Bahá’í center, guitar, drum, story books, virtues cards, rhythm instruments, and toddler all squashed neatly in our little car.

It took me three trips to get everything in the door of the center. The door locks took a good five minutes of juggling, jiggling, and key dropping to open. The toddler melted down… …and no one came. But this is a success story, right?

Week 2:

I made a banner image with the class name on it to use for the weekly invitations. Gems of VirtuesThen, I posted the usual Facebook invitation with an added clause: This week’s virtue: KINDNESS!

I planed a lesson around the virtue. It consisted of two books (a couple of my personal favorites):

  • The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
  • Shh, We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

And five songs:

  • Virtues In You by Martin Kerr and Kate Millie
  • K-I-N-D-N-E-S-S by Alessandro Giua
  • Say Hi by Red Grammer
  • Lean on Me by ‎Bill Withers
  • The More We Get Together, a traditional folk song (Raffi has an excellent cover)

And that was it.

In the event that someone actually came, at the end of the lesson I planned to ask one of the older children or parents to choose a virtue for the following week from my deck of Virtues Cards. (If you haven’t heard of them, take a minute to check them out, they have many useful resources for parents and teachers alike – Virtues Cards through the Virtues Project online: https://virtuesshop.com )

After my usual weekly, pre-children’s class melt down (my husband is a five-star encourager and can attest to this regular occurrence), a quick prayer and a hug, off the toddler and I went to the Bahá’í center!

This time two one families came. Both new to the class, both a little hesitant but friendly and encouraging. I greeted them enthusiastically and settled right in to start the class. We sang one song and then took a minute to talk about how we practice kindness (e.g. smiling, helping each other, giving hugs, listening to each other, playing together, sharing, etc.) Then more songs and books. They got into it – sharing rhythm instruments with their little ones, clapping along, and (with a little encouragement) making funny animal noises along with the books. The little ones wandered a bit, engaged as they wanted to, and enjoyed the music. At the end of class we picked a card for next week: LOVE. I agreed to tag the parents when I posted the announcement for the next class to Facebook.

Week 3, Challenge Round:

I was encouraged by the positive response to the virtues theme, and set out for the center the next week armed with books and songs about love.

One of the parents from the previous week returned! Then in walked another new mother. This was great! She courageously introduced herself… in sign language. Awesome! I know a little sign and can finger spell, so I introduced myself and fumbled my way through introductions to the others in the room. Then I panicked. The reality finally dawned that here I was, standing with a guitar in hand, knowing a handful of words in sign, wondering how I could possibly make this class engaging and welcoming to a mother who was deaf.

It turned out she was the key to the success of the class. This courageous, contagiously positive, Australian mother jumped in with both feet and made it work. As the weeks went by she taught us signs for many of the songs which provided a key aspect of developmental growth for the little ones and got the parents laughing as they struggled to remember what to do with their hands. The challenge of in-depth communication became a collaborative, unifying effort and as our numbers grew, some parents started bringing laptops or tablets to converse more efficiently. Some downloaded sign apps on their phones and began to practice on their own. Collectively, the result was a shared context of learning and friendship among all the families involved.

As time went on we added a memorization element to the class. Each week we would choose a quote from one of the world’s religions related to the virtue theme and work together to memorize it. Often we used sign. Sometimes we made up our own motions. Either way, the element of movement assisted our efforts to learn and retain the words.

Other essential supporting factors:

Another Bahá’í parent (one of the previous teachers, now commuting a half hour with his two children) attended as regularly as possible, occasionally assisting with songs and being my back-up if I needed to step out of the room for a moment. My confidence was bolstered infinitely by his steadfast presence.

Added support for the class from elders in the community proved useful as parents with multiple children and infants joined our ranks. Two of the semi-retired friends from the neighborhood offered to help. One by opening the center each week so that if I ran late in my scramble to get out of the house, the other parents could get into the center.  The other by attending the class to help hold a baby or two, manage my toddler, or just make a new friend and lend an ear to a conversation-starved parent.

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Photo credit: Elissa Suhr

Making Games, Building Friendships

My husband and I design board games together. It’s our primary form of recreational collaboration at this point in our lives. He’s a wiz at developing game mechanics, story (or theme), and rules. I’m the art department (although we definitely collaborate on design). So, on the weekends, we go out for pancakes and toss around game ideas.

Chimeric_Games_CollageWe’ve prototyped multiple games together, play-tested, and entered contests. We now have two award-winning games (and several others in final revision) ready to be produced and marketed.

We are working on a new chapter of our game design company and considering re-branding.

We could use some input from you!

  • Which logo/name do you like better?
  • What kind of board games do you play?

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Find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/chimericcreations/ to learn more about our creative process, get updates on games in development, and keep abreast of publication and availability!

Training of Children

Sometimes the answer is not what you expect. Toddler - cuddling.pngChildren are even as a branch that is fresh and green; they will grow up in whatever way ye train them. Take the utmost care to give them high ideals and goals, so that once they come of age, they will cast their beams like brilliant candles on the world, and will not be defiled by lusts and passions in the way of animals, heedless and unaware, but instead will set their hearts on achieving everlasting honour and acquiring all the excellences of humankind.

-‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Truthfulness

The honest truth: This is what happens when you ask the toddler to give you colors to use on your butterfly. beautify your tongues

TRUTHFULNESS. Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.

-‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 

Sleep (The Myth of Parenthood)

sleepless.pngA friend recently asked me what time it was. I told him, “fine thank you.” This is a normal state of affairs, as most parents will attest.

Yep. I’m tired. Chronically. Undeniably. Irrevocably. Tired.

Sleep was not a thing our child has ever done well. In utero he kicked 24/7 in all directions. As a baby he slept in half-hour to two-hour intervals. As a toddler, he sleeps longer, but still not as much as I would like… GETTING him to a slumberous state is primarily what I’ve been doing with my life for the past 2.5 years. (I find the duration of the process a bit frustrating as you might have guessed.)

However, here are a few strategies that have worked for us and might work for you and your child, who of course, is unique in the world and will never adhere to any textbook or blog description of “how children fall asleep.” Just bear that in mind…

As a newborn and an infant:

The Five S’s from The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp were distinctly useful. They are as follows:

  • Swaddling
  • Side
  • Shush
  • Swing
  • Suck

I’d elaborate here, but his website does such a good job, I recommend you read it for yourself: https://www.happiestbaby.com

In addition to Dr. Karp’s ideas, some of the following proved useful as well:

  • Being outside, day or night, all weather, was infinitely better than being inside. We should have just lived in a tent for that first year. Well, a tent with running water… phew, diapers.
  • Singing for hours and hours and hours – same song – forever.
  • Having a side sleeper attached to the bed (even if I spent half the night laying in it, too, at least I was horizontal.

As a toddler:

  • Bedtime. Setting a time of night at (or near) which you begin to get ready for bed every night.*
  • Routine. Having a bedtime routine was life-altering. Once we began getting ready for bed by going through a series of familiar activities in the same order every night (brush teeth, change diaper, say prayers, read and nurse), sleeping came more easily. Some nights are still a battle, but most are better.
  • Talking about the day. Laying in bed after the routine is done, we will talk about the day. The things we enjoyed, the good choices we made, the friends we saw, etc.
  • Listening. We listen to the crickets and frogs in the summer when the windows are open. Just the practice of being still enough to hear their calls often put the toddler to sleep.
  • Stargazing. We can just barely see a star or two out the bedroom window on a clear night. We sometimes watch those distant points of light and talk quietly about brightly burning balls of gas a hundred light years away. The toddler is in love, and I mean enamored, with the moon, so moonlit nights he will watch it and talk about it until be exhausts himself and our patience.
  • Humming. I used to sing songs with words, but now the words prove too exciting to encourage sleep, so I hum instead. The same songs, over, and over, and over.
  • His job. On difficult nights when sleep seems impossible, gently reminding the toddler every few minutes that his job is to go to sleep actually seems to help. He calms himself a bit and takes responsibility for it. Sometimes additional reminders of “keep your body still,” “take deep breaths” or “keep your voice quiet” are also useful.
  • A big rock. For when all else fails.  (I’m kidding, folks, I’m kidding… )

*Breaking the bedtime routine from time to time is actually REALLY important. Occasionally – as in once or twice a month – we will keep the toddler up and out of the house late. well past his bedtime by a couple hours. This does two things:

  • Maintains our sanity as older human beings who like doing things with other older human beings.
  • Helps the toddler learn to adapt to change in his routine (which will inevitably occur at some point in his life). Also, a seriously tired toddler often goes to sleep very abruptly (after climbing the walls like a crazed squirrel).

What strategies have worked for you and your little ones? Leave a comment! Help out a fellow parent with a sleepless child.

 

 

Bedtime Routines in a Bahá’í Home

Dinner is cleaned up. The dishes are (mostly) washed… there’s always that one pan that has to soak. The toys are put away and the toddler is running through the house half naked.

We aim him at the bathroom and the teeth get brushed. The diaper is changed. Bedtime, at last.

We all sit together in the main room. The toddler between us. Together we practice some of the quotes we’ve been memorizing each night. The toddler’s current favorite is “Let your heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross your path.” from the Bahá’í Writings. Often we sing some of them, too.

We discovered early on that the toddler has an incredible capacity for memorization and loves the exercise. We start the process by saying a single word and having him repeat it. Let… let, your… your, heart… etc. The next night we use larger chunks, a couple words in a phrase: Let your heart… let your heart… and so on. Eventually, and we’ve determined it takes only about a week, he takes the lead and starts saying the entire passage on his own. Now, at two-and-a-half, he’s able to *almost* sit still while he says the quotes he’s memorized. Part of his memorization process is movement (he is a toddler after all), so it’s a challenge to sit quietly while engaging the memory recall. We don’t insist on stillness, but gently help him rein in the wilder limb flailing. Some quotes he learns accompanied by sign language, which has also proved highly effective.

Once we’ve practiced a few quotes, it’s time for prayers.We practice reverence by sitting cross-legged and folding our hands in our laps (there’s nothing particularly Bahá’í about assuming this posture for prayer, it just happens to be what we prefer and what works for the toddler). I remind the toddler to take a deep breath before saying a prayer. This helps him relax and sit quietly. Also, he forgets to breathe in the middle of something he’s memorized and if I don’t remind him, he gets all squeaky and turns a little blue by the middle of the prayer.

We all say a short prayer or two. This is an obligation for Bahá’ís over the age of 15: to pray daily, in the morning and evening. Often we will say one for healing and another for the education of children. The Bahá’í Writings contain a wide variety of beautiful prayers relevant to a multitude of topics. (Check out http://www.bahai.org/library to read some for yourself).

Then the toddler gives hugs and gets them – if he wants to. We nurse briefly while my husband reads from one of the books we are working through together. This fulfills one more of the daily obligations of Bahá’ís – to read or recite from the verses of God. We almost always discuss some aspect of the meaning or import of the passage we’ve read. This, for me, is the most valuable part of our evening routine because it offers the opportunity to explore and discuss our individual interpretations of the Writings that are central to our lives as individuals and key to the foundation of our marriage.

Finally it’s off to bed with the toddler. My husband has been doing this for several months now and it’s working well. (I am immensely grateful!) They talk and snuggle and eventually both end up asleep.

And I sit down to draw…

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