My Personal Advocates (from a long time ago)

•January 14, 2015 • 1 Comment

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

-Senator Robert F. Kennedy, June 6, 1966

One of the most surprising and wonderful developments in my professional life has been being thrust into the role of an educational advocate for education at my state legislature out of neccessity in 2012 and how that effort turned into a huge (and incredibly satisfying) part of my career. There are so many people with me who have been my partners, mentors, and campions along the way and I certainly didn’t get where I am by myself! When I walk the halls and sit in the hearing rooms of the Colorado State Capitol, I cannot help but notice all of the men who ran our state exclusively for the first 100 years. I also notice that, while the balance isn’t quite perfect yet, there are amazing, smart, powerful women all over that building these days. They are elected officials, state employees, lawyers, lobbyists, judges, and advocates like me. When I think about this rapid change in demographics I find myself wanting to extend gratitude in one direction specifically: the women who made the work that me and all of my fellow females involved in policy and government possible.

Annie_Kenney_and_Christabel_Pankhurst

 

Suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

via Wikipedia

 

I want to thank the Suffragettes. They fought for something that so many thought would be impossible. They endured terrible treatment, beatings, and threats because they wanted rights not only for themselves but for the unborn daughters of the future. While not every decision the remembered leaders of the movement, Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, was appropriate or even moral the tireless work of a full century changed America forever. My work is possible because of the thousands of women who were willing to fight for treatment as equals in this world. They made my work as a respected and included advocate possible.

They also made it possible for my daughter to experience genuine shock and belief when I explain to her the details of the historical patriarchal social order that identified all females as essentially being property of either a father or a husband. She proudly exclaims, “I don’t belong to anybody! We’re all in charge of ourselves!” The women in big hats who rallied, planned and negotiated for tireless decades changed everything for the better. Thank you, ladies.

PS- I love your hats.

Five Essential Questions

•January 4, 2015 • 2 Comments

This is a little exercise that I did this year to help myself be mindful about my approach to the coming year. You can find a list of these questions and more amazing resources at Renee Trudeau‘s website. My 2015 vision board is also included in this post. The top is focused on my family/home vision. Below that on the left is focused on my career. The bottom left is my vision for myself and next to that is my marriage. Tied in with marriage and family are the visions I have for our travel experiences.  Enjoy!

2015 Vision Board

What did I learn about myself in 2014?

I learned that I really can trust myself and listen to the tiny voice inside that tells me what is “right” and what is not. My ability to feel happy and satisfied with my life is in direct proportion to my ability to listen to myself and trust my instincts and values to guide me.

I also learned that all of my hard work getting connected with my community and building a network of professional associates really has been absolutely worth the effort it took to volunteer, show up, and stay involved. Coupled with this lesson was the lesson I learned that it is okay to put myself out there and get rejected because something else that is a better fit is coming.

What do I need to embrace and celebrate from 2014?

Change and uncertainty! I am very used to controlling my environment and feeling assured of what is ahead. This year I had to let go and just trust and make my best effort towards the things I really want and it worked!

I would also like to celebrate and embrace how joyful and fun our family life has become. A focused effort to make our house a more peaceful place has had a very positive effect on all of us and I am so grateful for that.

What do I need to release and let move down the river?

The workplace I called home for so long is no longer a home for me. This causes me great sadness and great relief. It is time to let go.

Not everyone will like me. Not every situation will work out the way I expect. Nobody will see what I do or who I am in the way that I do and that is okay.

What is uniquely mine to do in 2015?

Define myself clearly as a professional. Carve out my niche and make my name. Everything I want is available to me, I just have to go for it.

Continue making my marriage the great love story of my lifetime by being open to what is possible.

What do I need to set myself up to be successful in the New Year?

SHOW UP!!

I can show up fully in my marriage and my relationship with my husband. We will celebrate ten years of marriage this year and it is so critical that we keep supporting and surprising each other. I have decided to finally master the bicycle so that I can spend time riding around our beautiful city with my guy.

I can show up fully in my relationship with my daughter. I can listen to her intently when she tells me stories or talks about what interests her. I can share stories about our family so that she can understand her heritage and the hard and wonderful times her people have experienced. We can learn something new together.

I can show up fully in my work. Now that I am my own boss I have to hold myself accountable in a way that I never have before. This level of discipline is incredibly challenging, especially since I have no actual office in which to concentrate my efforts toward paid work and taking care of the details of my business. If I put my mind to it, I know that I can make big things happen for my career in the next year.

I can show up fully in my body. I can move, stretch, sleep well, moisturize, walk, and take in enough water. I can honor the signals my body sends me and listen to them. When I say “yes” it will be to food and activity that makes my mind and body feel amazing and it will be with people I love who accept me as is.

I can show up fully in my home and with my finances. I can know what is enough and I can commit to saving for the things that matter (like travel) with my husband as my partner. I can take care of my home and my family with love and attention. Grow things. Cook them. Make our home a peaceful place not just in sound but in organization and energy.

I WILL show up in 2015.

 

How will you show up in 2015?

 

 

Everybody Needs a “Tribe”

•December 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

I have often thought that education, while requiring constant contact with humans big and small, can also be extremely isolating work. I know so many teachers and administrators who feel frustrated, exhausted, and lonely. My own work as a teacher and administrator has led me to the same place many times. I have learned that joining up with a professional community is not only a good idea, it is vital to our strength as educators.

I have found community in many places. The Colorado Montessori Association has become a touchpoint of professional connection for me, as has my membership in NAEYC and the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado. Finally, I have found colleagues and people to challenge my perspectives in my graduate school program. Here are the top three reasons why surrounding oneself with a professional community is critical for all educators:

  • Sharing stories of the work you’ve done and hearing the stories of the work of others is a strong reminder that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are part of a “tribe” of warriors that makes the world a better place for children and families. We may work individually day-to-day, but our collective impact is enormous.
  • Somebody always has a new perspective that can challenge you to see the world (and the children and families in it) in a different light. Something that once seemed “right” and “normal” can suddenly seem antiquated or disrespectful. Conversely, a concept or idea that has always appeared downright odd or difficult to understand may become very clear and you may even begin incorporating it into your practice!
  • Finally, our participation in these groups also helps us find like-minded individuals, friends, and mentors who can bolster our individual practice and challenge us to be our best. Surrounding yourself with amazing, smart, creative, powerful people is always a smart move.

I am so grateful for my many professional colleagues who impact my work and support me every day. What are you going to do today to get out there and find your tribe?

Why your toddler doesn’t want to (and shouldn’t have to) sit on Santa’s lap

•December 4, 2014 • 1 Comment

Recently a good friend of mine reached out to me and asked me how she might gently explain to her husband “why it is developmentally inappropriate and generally weird and creepy” for them to take their infant to go sit on Santa’s lap. (Since we have approximately 85 friends with babies right now this couple’s identity is more than safe, it’s raining babies in Vegucationmama land!) I wrote out a response to her and then realized that it actually might make a pretty decent blog post. So, here is my response to my dear mama friend:

Hi honey. I can appreciate the challenge you are having. It is such a cultural norm! Really, it is about two things: developmental appropriateness and sexual abuse prevention.

Children under age three have strong binds to their primary caregivers and loved ones. They have a fundamental chemical need to spend their time in the arms and presence of the people with whom they’ve bonded. They are also very sensitive to unfamiliar sensory stimuli because the world is so new to them and it takes a lot of brain power to process everything. A shopping mall is already a very overstimulating environment. Add to that the child’s ability to sense the stress hormones radiating off of you as you stand, frustrated in a long line full of bored and over-excited children. After all of that stimulation you end the experience by forcing your child into the arms of a giant stranger covered in bright red fur. That is scary for most young ones.

Now let’s talk about sexual abuse prevention. The number one way to ensure our children are protected from sexual abuse is to ensure that they are confident, informed owners of their bodies. This means that they not only know and use the proper names of ALL of their body parts, it also means that they should not ever be physically required to touch any person they don’t want to touch. Yes, that means if they don’t want to kiss grandma or sit on Santa’s lap for a memorable photo, they shouldn’t have to. The message to every child from the beginning should be this, “You are in charge of your body and you should be in charge of when, where, how, and who you touch. Other people are in charge of their own bodies and they should be in charge of when, where, how, and who they touch. Nobody gets to decide about personal touch for others.

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Here is a  poor-quality cell phone picture of the picture hanging on our refrigerator.

At eight-years-old, my daughter just sat on Santa’s lap for a photo for the first time this year. She has seen a Santa at her grandfather’s office Christmas party as well, but she has never been made to sit on his lap, she has chosen it for herself. That is a big difference. In fact, after her grandma brought us the photo of our daughter on Santa’s lap, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the children sit next to Santa on a bench. This was the most respectful arrangement I could have expected.

 

The Political Will to Improve Early Childhood Systems

•November 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

Early childhood systems have developed in a very grassroots, decentralized manner in the twenty-first century.
While there are federal programs such as Head Start and federal grants such as the Child Care Development Block Grant, there is really no pervasive national system for early childhood programming. This is why the work that is done on the state level is so critical.

In Colorado there are a handful or organizations dedicated to the service of children and families through early childhood systems. Some of these organizations are independent and function only in our state and some rely heavily on partnerships with national organizations. They employ a variety of effective strategies to communicate the current status of early childhood systems in Colorado as well as goals for improvement.

Here are a few of my favorite strategies:

1.) The Colorado Children’s Campaign Annual Kid’s Count Report

This report highlights a variety of information regarding how early childhood education programming, funding, health, and enrollment is performing in all 64 of Colorado’s counties. “This year’s report, “The Big Picture: Taking the Whole Child Approach to Child Well-Being” highlights issues impacting kids that overlap policy areas. The report makes connections between the Children’s Campaign’s longstanding issues areas – early childhood, health and K-12 education – with the hope that in these areas lie solutions to some of our state’s most troubling and stubborn trends.”

2.) Qualistar Colorado’s Cost of Child Care Project

This project, developed in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Colorado Children’s Campaign, funded research and reporting on income, cost of living, and cost of child care for two parent and single parent households across Colorado. A selection of brief, easy-to-read, graphics help make the data clear.

3.) The Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference

Put on by the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, the Colorado AEYC, and the Denver Preschool Program, this annual conference in Denver not only offers a plethora of professional development opportunities for teachers, administrators, and owners, it is also an incubator for conversations about policy initiatives and the perspectives of the workforce.

 

 

The Meaning of “Enough”: Part 2

•November 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In the last blog post we touched on the blessing of teaching your child the meaning of enough. The second part in this series is designed to give you practical tools for the everyday implementation of this most critical life lesson. Together we will explore three specific scenarios that you can use as teachable moments regarding the meaning of enough.

 

Scenario #1: Birthdays

I know that this is a BIG one for a lot of you. It is so easy to get caught up in celebrating your child’s birth that you end up overextending yourself (and your finances) to the point of exhaustion. The sad part about it is, your child will not remember his 2nd birthday party no matter how fantastic it is. Birthdays are an opportunity to teach your child about the balance between giving and receiving.

Consider encouraging party guests to bring a book, toy, or clothing item to donate to a local shelter and have gifts for the child come from immediate family only. This really allows you to exercise some control regarding the quality and quantity of toys coming into your home. Talk to your child before the party about children that don’t have toys and clothes and how she can help them out. Be sure to bring your child with you at donation time as well so that she can see the act of giving occur.

Another major source of spoiling and stress has to do with the actual party itself. If your child had a meltdown at her last party, that is a strong indication that the party was too much. Choose one special activity for the party such as a craft project, a magician, or a jumping castle. All three is more than a child under the age of six can really handle. Teach your child how to choose special people to invite, it really isn’t necessary to invite the whole class and everybody in the neighborhood. The lesson of what is “enough” relates to how we socialize as well. A birthday is a time to celebrate one special person by surrounding him with the people who are truly special to him. Allow it to be intimate and calm so that both you and your child associate his birthday with positive emotions.

 

Scenario #2: Holidays

We all know that this time of year can bring out both the best and the worst in people. It is up to you to model the “best” part for your child. Holidays abound with opportunities to teach your child how to set limits for herself and be kind to others. Set a maximum gift limit for your family such as three gifts per person. Although setting a limit like this may seem difficult, it is truly a gift to your child. It is an opportunity to get them a few special things that they can explore and appreciate. It is very hard for a child who has a mountain of gifts and gets everything she asks for to have a true sense of gratitude, respect, and appreciation for the belongings that she has.

If you celebrate holidays, fill them with special activities that are more about being together and less about having more things. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to incorporate this into your holidays is to make handmade gifts for everybody on your list with your child. Montessori children are quite practiced in baking, gluing, sewing, and other activities. These are the gifts that aunts, uncles, and grandparents treasure most.

 

Scenario #3: Meals

Mealtimes are one of the most important times in a Montessori classroom. This is an opportunity to strengthen bonds, enrich language, learn about healthy eating habits, and practice grace and courtesy. The first step towards teaching your child the meaning of enough when it comes to food is sitting together at the table with appropriately sized portions on everyone’s plates. Research has shown that there are strong connections between children that snack all day and eat in front of the TV and Type Two Diabetes, and childhood obesity. It is hard to set limits for yourself when your mind is focused on something outside of your meal.

Take a moment to also consider the quality and quantity of food you send in your child’s lunch. Give them sensible portions of nutritious food. No three-year-old needs a sandwich, and yogurt, and applesauce, and string cheese, and cookies, and a juice box. This is overwhelming for a child and it teaches them to consume unhealthy amounts of food. Give your child the opportunity to spend lunch time focused on eating her nutritious food instead of unpacking seven items, feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices, and then not having time to eat all of it.

 

Your child deserves to have the opportunity to have a life that is full of non-material blessings that are not overcome by unnecessary “stuff”. Take your chance this season to give them something more than toys. Give them the gifts of independence through self-control and self-love through quality family time!

 

“The things the child sees are not just remembered, they form a part of his soul.”

–Dr. Maria Montessori

The Meaning of “Enough”: Part 1

•November 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I posted this essay a couple of years ago. Recently, several people in my life have been asking my advice about how to handle incorporating their children’s belongings into their homes in a reasonable way. As we head into the holiday season that often comes coupled with the overwhelming desire to over do it for the people we love, it seemed like a good message to share.

There is an almost universal common emotion experienced amongst busy professional parents: guilt. I experience it too. There is a constant nagging at the back of my mind wondering if I’m giving her enough, worrying that I don’t spend enough time with her. Considering what things she might be telling her therapist about me in twenty years…I’m kidding, sort of. This guilt causes me to feel almost compelled to spoil her when I am with her. I understand, though, that I must be cautious in how I go about “spoiling” her.

We are fast approaching the season in which parents seem to feel exponentially compelled to give to their children. This is the time when celebration can lead to gluttony and we end up feeling exhausted and, ultimately, unfulfilled. Parents can take this moment before the terminal velocity of the end of the year fully sets in, and pause to think about the message all of this endless “giving” is sending to our children. One of the greatest lessons we can teach our child is the true meaning of “enough”.

Take a moment to consider how much stuff your children have. Picture your home. Where and how are all of the toys and clothes stored? Does it look like two grown-ups are renting a bedroom in a house owned by a couple of preschoolers? Is this how you envisioned living in your home? This is your opportunity to start teaching your children about the place that “things” should hold in our lives and re-claim your home as the beautiful, warm, organized place in which your family comes together.

There are three guiding principles in a Montessori setting. The children are welcome to do whatever they want to do as long as they choose to act with respect for themselves, respect for others, and respect for the environment in which they are absorbing. We keep our classrooms beautifully organized and easily accessible to the children. We engage the children in the respectful care of the environment. Caring for and organizing this environment demonstrates to them one of the ways in which we show respect for ourselves and respect for others. They take pride in this process and they have a deep respect for the materials on the shelves. This is possible in your home as well.

The first step is to get organized. Get shelves, baskets, storage units, and a table and chair appropriately sized for your child. Get your children involved in the process if they are old enough. Choose items to keep, donate, and throw away. Take your child with you to donate the items and model this giving behavior. Categorize the items you keep and figure out how much you have. Involve your child in deciding which items will go into baskets on the shelves and which items will go into storage. Mark the calendar together for the day that your child will choose which toys to cycle out of storage and into the baskets and which toys to cycle into storage for a while. When your child gets a new gift it is an opportunity to cycle something else out as well. This shows your child that the amount of toys that fit on the shelf and around her room is enough.

Teach your child to properly put his things away by having a specific spot for everything that is out. This empowers your children to take responsibility for their own belongings. When a child has a playroom that is overflowing with toys that are piled up and stuffed into toy boxes, she is unable to recognize that she has a responsibility to be respectful of her things. When we learn to be respectful of our possessions, we also learn to be grateful for them. When we are grateful for our things, we understand that we have enough.

As you begin purchasing toys and clothes for your children, stop and consider how much they really need and how much you really want in your house. Instead of buying them something, consider “spoiling” them with quality one on one time in which you do something simple and special together such as read books or bake bread. This is what they really want. This teaches them that the most fulfilling times in our lives happen in moments of sheer simplicity. When we relieve ourselves of the burden of overwhelming possessions, we free ourselves to have the space to appreciate our lives and know that we have enough.

 

“Plainly, the environment must be a living one, directed by a higher intelligence, arranged by an adult who is prepared for his mission.” -Dr. Maria Montessori

 
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