Sunday, August 30, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

The Seeds of Compassion was the title of a week long conference in April of 2008 in Seattle. The conference brought together researchers from all over the country to discuss what research tells us about how children learn to be compassionate human beings. We are all born with innate compassion. We are also born with a set of behaviors and skills that help us learn to trust our families and to be wary of strangers.

As we develop, our awareness of family becomes stronger. Researchers have observed this by setting up experiments with babies: babies between eight months and two year as develop such a strong attachement to their parents that they often will not go with a grandparent or babysitter without howls of protest. This is a biological phenomenon that helps protect children from being carried off by strangers.

Now that we have the technology to study the brain, we know that the continued development of compassion is learned through experience in everyday conflicts and resolution. The innate compassion, present at birth can also be unlearned if the baby watches parents treating each other harshly, without compassion. It is unlearned if the behavior stemming from the baby's developing curiousity is met with punishment rather than redirection.

Here is an example. A crawling baby scoots up to an electrical cord and pullson it. (It does look like an interesting pull toy!) The parent yells, "NO NO! I said NO!" The baby does not know what no means but learns that something interesting happens when he pulls that cord. So he pulls it again and more interesting things happen. By the time he learns to talk he will use the same phrase, "NO NO! I said NO!" when he does not like something with the same loud voice.

A more compassionate approach would be to move the baby to a safer play area and give the baby a safer object to pull. Spending time with baby with the appropriate toys teaches baby that these are the fun and interesting toys for play. (And of course, rearranging the furniture to provide a baby-safe environment will go a long way to helping parent compassionately!)

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

Before I wrote this column I read a few web-based articles sent to me by my friend Mary Joslin. With the magic of internet links, I found a webcast of an event in Seattle, a conversation that took place in April 2008, "Planting the Seeds of Compassion". I continue to be grateful to Mary and others who provide me with seeds of ideas that I can share with you.

The five day event asked the question, "What can parents and caregivers do that will create a child who is compassionate, emotionally connected, and loving. Child development researchers spoke about the plasticity of the developing brains and how a baby's experience actually changes the physical structure of his brain. They shared some of their research with one of the wisest, most compassionate individuals on our planet, the fourteenth Dali Lama from Tibet who responded to their questions.

One researcher spoke of his research that was trying to get to the answer of the question, 'are children born with an innate compassion.' He first talked about how newborns immitate simple facial expressions such as opening the mouth or sticking out the tongue. Then he described three year old children observing a stranger/researcher who was pounding nails in a wall. After the third or fourth nail, the researcher 'accidently' hit his finger with the hammer, and showed by his voice and facial expressions that this hurt greatly. The three-year olds in the study became concerned, to the point of a child walking over to the researcher and offering his own special teddy bear as a comfort. Compassion.

Another researcher spoke of 3 year old who had been expelled from his preschool because of violent behavior: throwing a chair when he became angry and stating, "Don't touch me," and "I'll kill you." The researcher met with the parents and learned that an upsetting event had occurred at home a few days before. The father had lost his job and in his fear became angry with the mother, throwing a telephone at her. In her fear, the mother responded with "Don't touch me or I'll kill you!" In the heat of the moment, neither thought to pay attention to the little boy who now was very much afraid. When the little boy had an upset in preschool, he used the tools he had learned at home to cope with his own fear and anger.

This story had a positive end. When the parents understood how their behavior had put fear into their child the father opened his arms and his child came into his father's arms for a hug. The parents took responsibility for their actions and apologized for making him afraid. Through this act of apology, they rebuilt the bridge of compassion and love with their child.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Everything Man

The Hawkins Library along with all libraries in the country put on a summer program for children called Be Creative @ Your Library. Arlene Mabie, children's librarian invited Mr. Bufo-Bufo and me to do a 'toad event' for the children. After the event I talked to many of the adults and teens who are writing stories. One woman I talked to was Brenda Petkovsek. Brenda was at the library with the children from her day care, the Dis-n-Dat Day Care in Hawkins. Brenda told me about stories she had been writing for the children in her day care revolving around a real life person named Carl Hartman.

The stories started because Brenda believes in providing a social environment for the children where they learn good manners, help each other, and speak appropriately. One day, a little boy was looking out the window and called out, "The garbage man is here!" Brenda wanted the children to know that this man had a name and that he did many things for the community besides picking up the garbage. With a song and a story later, Karl the Everything Man was born. Through Brenda's story, the children learn that Carl, the village maintenance man is more than just a 'Garbage Man".

I returned to the library for the culminating event of the summer. Karl the Everything Man was read to the children. After each description of what Karl did, hang Christmas lights, plow snow, etc., the children would chant a repeating line from the book, "What else does Karl do?" Following the reading of the story, the real Carl Hartman came forward to share something else that he does. Carl Hartman has taught himself to play the bagpipes. He demonstrated several bagpipes and demonstrated how one can get started playing the bagpipe. As he finished, Arlene handed out kazoos to all the children and we were treated to a kazoo and bagpipe parade down main street.

This little parade was a combination of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the Music Man. It was wonderful! If you might be interested in learning the bagpipes, you can attend the Labor Day Parade in Hawkins and if you are not late, you will see the leader of the parade, the real Carl Hartman playing the bagpipes and leading the parade, the real everything man from Brenda Petkovsek's story, the music man from Hawkins. If you spend some time talking to him after the parade, you might find yourself learning to play the bagpipes!

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Celebrating 20 Years

This week we will celebrate 20 years of continuous operation of Building Blocks Child Care in our community.

Building Blocks Child Care is a family child care center licensed by the state of WI in business since 1989. At that Lisa Bucher was a little girl in elementary school and her mother, Sheila Rudack did child care in her home. Soon Building Blocks outgrew the house and expanded by converting the attached garage into an insulated and fully equipped day care. In 1997 Lisa bought the business from her mother who continued to help, filling in for Lisa when needed. After the tornado, Clint and Lisa Bucher bought a home on Lake Avenue and created a child care center similar to the previous building by finishing the walk-out basement, designing it to be a self-contained child care center with a great fenced in backyard complete with a beautiful view of the river.

Lisa participates in the WI State Food Program. She cooks each meal in her daycare with as little processed food as possible to ensure better nutrition for the children. Besides a healthy menu, Building Blocks offers a small group size, daily art activities, daily learning experiences with children of all ages, and age appropriate toys. It is licensed to care for children 6 weeks-10 years old. Lisa has 12 years of experience and education in the child care field.

When you visit Building Blocks you can see that Lisa focuses on nurturing and developing each child. She reads books to the children every day and creates stimulating activities such as art projects, singing, and group participation games. As well as doing different activities, Lisa emphasizes a structured time frame for each day to keep her children on schedule and to avoid upsets of “tiredness & crabbiness” that happens when children do not know what to expect. Lisa has 12 years of experience and education in the child care field and it shows in the activities, learning experiences, and age appropriate toys that she provides.

At Building Blocks Child Care Center, Lisa understands that some of the most critical and developmental years of a person’s life are spent before the age of 5 and Lisa structures the children's day so that they have a stimulating atmosphere that promotes learning and that is, above everything else, FUN. Congratulations to Building Blocks on 20 years of helping families with bringing up babies!

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Most Amazing Broccoli Experiment

Last week I told you I would share the story, The Most Amazing Broccoli Experiment. It is about the change that occurs before a child’s second birthday in his or her ability to take someone else’s perspective. If you have a child who is a little over a year old you can enjoy seeing this change take place within the next year. Our experiment goes something like this:

Baby is seated in the highchair at the table. You have two bowls on the table. One bowl contains something you know baby loves like Cheerios or animal crackers. The other bowl contains small pieces of raw broccoli. Push the bowls toward your baby and ask, “Want some?” (They never take the broccoli!) After baby takes a piece of his favorite fingerfood, you choose a piece of broccoli and say whatever you might say when you like something, such as “mmm, yummy” as you eat the broccoli. Next try a piece from the other bowl, the one baby liked. This time, make a face as if it is awful and say what you might say when you don’t like something such as “oh yucky”.

Now push the bowls toward your baby, hold out your hand and ask baby to give you some. A baby who is younger than about 18 months will give you the animal cracker because he likes them even though he saw that you didn’t. A baby who is older than 18 months will give you the broccoli because not only could he see that you preferred the broccoli but because he could begin to understand that your perspective is different than his own.

This developmental milestone has many implications for how baby’s learning will now develop. He will still be egocentric and will demand things to go his way, but he will be able to enjoy story books about other characters. You will sometimes be successful in getting him to share a toy with his baby sister when you are there to watch over and encourage him. And on the down side, he will be a little bit sneaky about doing things he would like to do if he perceives it is something that you would not like (such as the other amazing experiment in which plastic cups are flushed down the toilet to see them disappear)! He can understand that his thoughts are different from yours.

You can find this information and other amazing stories in the book, Growing a Reader from Birth by Diane McGuinness. It is at our library. If you have toddler over 18 months old, keep your eyes open and your house childproofed!

Toad House Publishing

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