Thursday, September 22, 2016

When a Square is a Frog

Variety is the Spice of Life - Indoor Playgrounds 
In every place we have lived (Montana, Arizona, and Colorado), we have visited the local gymnastics schools. There is always an "Open Gymnastics" time when the schools open their doors for a small fee and allow families to run around, jump on trampolines, hang from bars, and balance on beams. It is essentially an indoor playground.

So on days when the weather isn't right for playing outside (too rainy, snowy, or hot), it is a wonderful option for getting in some big movement. And even when the weather is right sometimes it is nice to work in a new place to spice up life.

Setting the Scene (A Parent's Expectations)
The gyms look a lot like what you might expect. There are balance beams set to various heights. Uneven parallel bars invite hanging. Trampolines are ready for being bounced upon. I know what all those inviting structures are for because I have grown up watching the olympics. I imagine my own children as mini Mary Lou Retton, who was one of my childhood idols, or her modern counterpart Simone Biles. They will run and jump and hang and balance. Or won't they?

When a Square is a Frog
Our children haven't grown up watching the olympics. They are in the middle of growing up and might not have had the chance yet!

Yesterday at open gymnastics my daughter ignored almost all the gymnastics things and grabbed a green beanbag. "Let's play frogs," she said. Surprised but curious, I accepted her invitation and followed her around with a "frog" in hand. Then we proceeded to spend almost the ENTIRE hour in and around the foam pit ("lake") playing "frogs."

The frogs looked for family members (which were in the form of blue foam cubes), hopped around the outside of the lake, jumped into the lake, and flew over the lake with jetpacks (which were different colored beanbags).

The whole time I looked at all the other places we weren't going - the trampoline, the bars, the beams - and shrugged.

Open Gymnastics, Open Minds
It has taken me years to open my mind at open gyms (and other places). I used to want to lead my child around, showing him or her all the awesome things with which we could play. I treated the space as a list of things to do and I would make sure we checked off every single task. In fact, I didn't always let them exhaust their interest, say in the trampoline, before ushering them to the next place.

By now I know that it is better for my child to choose. And I have found a perspective that helps me relax my expectations - my child is learning something in every thing she does. Spending the day at the "lake" playing "frogs" she got to discuss family, make plans for getting around the space (is that preschool cartography?), and use a beanbag as a frog (well, that substitution is just preschool algebra).

Getting the Most at Preschool Open Gymnastics
Before heading into open gymnastics (or a children's museum or ANYTHING for that matter), first grant yourself patience and an open mind. Your child's interest might surprise you (or it might not) and allowing him or her the option to explore and to learn at his or her own pace will be just right.

Monday, September 19, 2016


I wrote a guest post for My Little Poppies...

My Little Poppy, like most poppies, experiences the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In many regards, it is his biggest strength. Because he is intense and persistent he learns and remembers the minutia and nuances of whatever interests him. Because he is perceptive he sees things that everyone else around him misses, including the beauty of small things. Because he is sensitive, he has developed a refined palate for good food, good books, and good times.


In fact, he loves, LOVES, to be happy. (Who doesn’t? Right?) And since giggles come easily to him, people are drawn to him. Children and adults want to experience his joy. They approach him to see what is so funny and join him in laughter. But before too long they start to back away…
It happened yesterday. We had been invited to a new friend’s house. While I sat with the mom, My Little Poppy went off with his new friend. Before too long they had started to play a “bad guy” game, antagonizing the older sister of the house who went along with it for a while. Then she split off and My Little Poppy’s new friend suggested playing with hose water in the back yard.
Talk about unbounded happiness! Hose play is hands-down My Little Poppy’s favorite thing to do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Second-Best Thing about Controlling Screen Time

Finding What Works for Your Family

For every family I meet who limits and/or controls screen time I meet another one who doesn't. We are parenting in uncharted waters and doing what works best for our families. For my family, what works best is setting limits. My children are screen-free until Saturday morning when they watch cartoons for an hour.

The First-Best Thing

It hasn't always been that way. We used to use an iPad and watch TV on a daily basis. But when things began to deteriorate, I made a change that had remarkable and lasting positive effects on our lives.

The best thing: sleep. After three weeks of screen-free living, my son began sleeping long and uninterrupted, which was the first time ever in his five and a half years of life.

The Second-Best Thing

So what is the second-best thing? Binging on free piano lessons. My children and I have found a loophole in the screen-free rule. They can take piano lessons via The Hoffman Academy whenever they want and for as long as they want. And they do.

This is what you should know about The Hoffman Academy:

  • 160 Free Piano Lessons
  • Each lesson is between 10-20 minutes long, presented as a YouTube video. 
  • Mr. Hoffman teaches more than chopsticks. He presents a comprehensive curriculum that includes ear training, rhythm, sight reading, technique, improvisation, and music theory. (Now, I'm no expert but I am a critical consumer and this looks pretty freaking awesome to me.)
  • Each lessons ends with a 30-second comedy sketch that keeps young children coming back.
  • Each lesson has supplemental materials you can buy.

More than a Babysitter

I have to admit that I enjoy the peace and quiet that Saturday morning cartoons bring to the household. While the kids sit watching Octonauts or Pokemon, rapt, I enjoy a slow cup of coffee and conversation with my husband. It is almost as good as hiring a babysitter for date night and it is free.

But piano lessons with Mr. Hoffman is more than free babysitting. While I cook or have a little quiet time in the next room, the kids take turns sitting at the keyboard listening to Mr. Hoffman who is simultaneously entertaining and educating them. I hear them giggling, answering his questions, clapping rhythms, or playing notes. And with that work, I suspect they are experiencing and enjoying the whole-brain workout of playing a musical instrument.

Better than TV

It is the whole-brain work that makes piano lessons with Mr. Hoffman better than TV time or playing an iPad. For our family, the marked difference becomes obvious when my children step away from their piano lessons.

When they play on iPads or watch TV, they come off it like drug addicts, which is apparently not unique to my kids. In fact, the chaos that ensues immediately after watching an episode of Octonauts is not unlike what is described in research: they can't do anything on their own. As part of our Saturday morning routine, my husband and I plan to reconnect with the kids by reading books to them or playing a game with them to help them transition away from being mindlessly entertained by the TV into being independent human beings.

However, when they step away from the piano, they are entirely independent and often elaborating on what they learned. Sometimes they pretend to be Mr. Hoffman, sometimes they pretend to be his finger puppets. Last week, they used a metronome to define the speeds at which they raced around the back yard. And yesterday my son started writing music note "secret codes."

Maybe, Possibly, Perhaps...

Do you think that your children would ever binge on piano lessons? Maybe...with Mr. Hoffman.

Do you think your children could learn to play an instrument? Possibly...from Mr. Hoffman.

Do you think you are ready to accept my invitation to try? Perhaps... It is up to you.