we all fall down

I noticed at Friday’s Play Shoppe that there was the perfect assortment of children playing Ring Around the Rosy at circle time.  There were a few older ones who could keep the circle strong and moving – some younger ones who were very tuned in to follow along – and some very young beginning ones who were doing their wide-eyed best to keep up.

And then, of course, there were the adults!

We often play Ring Around the Rosy at Play Shoppe ( and yes, I am aware of the historical context) because little children always like it.

And why wouldn’t they?  The anticipation of “We all fall down” is high – and then, the actual falling down – the heap of children on the ground,  the joy of being silly, adults and children – just like that – falling down together.

Hilarious – actually – when you think about it!

Because falling down – on purpose – as part of the game – is silly, is zany, is just plain fun.

And more and more we are learning from experts like Lawrence Cohen, PH.D, author of Playful Parenting and his new book, co-authored with Anthony T. DeBenedit M.D., The Art of Roughhousing, that this type of shared silliness and roughhousing is one of the very best ways for families to connect.

And in a way we already know that, don’t we – from our own experiences both as a child and as a parent?

Just try saying to a child/children “You can’t catch me” and see what happens.  Become a parental jungle gym. Hide and seek and shriek together. Watch tensions and stress melt away.

In addition to releasing stress and providing laughter and joy, these experts say that playfulness and roughhousing offer shared adventures and memories, develop cooperation, self-regulatory skills, trust, strength, tenderness and  provide connection.

Plenty of connection.

So if you find yourself knocking heads with your children far too often, a little fun, a little slapstick, a little roughhousing might be in order.

Try it!

As easy as “catch me if you can!”

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“home work”

If I were in charge (and I’m not!), homework for children from K through 8 would be listening to/reading a continuing chapter book every single night for one- half an hour.

That’s it.

A  large variety of books would be provided at school for children to take home to read/to be read to/to share.  Instead of homework struggles, there could be imaginations and thoughts exchanged, anticipation shared, minds enriched.

Simplistic – perhaps – but the tales I hear about the struggle in getting kids to do their homework begs for some simplicity.

Parents battle with this homework issue as much as children do.  Resistance is high – and so to make sure it’s accomplished, children are often expected to do homework immediately when they arrive home before getting to do anything else.

And in the two families I spoke with this past week, that scenario was not working well.

One of the moms shared that she was trying to be a responsible parent and didn’t most responsible parents insist their child do their homework right away?

Yet both she and her son were frustrated and felt disconnected.

I’ve been enjoying observing a young boy who gets picked up and brought back from school to The Parenting Place while his parent finishes working.  I feel as if one can sense an inaudible release of tension as this little guy eats his snack, colors, draws, looks at books, ponders, imagines with a toy car, pretends to “work”, day dreams – all in his own very relaxed, dreamy world, very personal, very connected way – secure in a spot near his parent.

Empty space – a snack – that’s what I would suggest to these two struggling parents -the time for a child to refuel, to trust each child to find what she needs most – to concentrate and encourage their personal “home work” first.

The mom of three that I spoke with feels her children only want to play.  I say – let them play – let them shed the stress of the day, release their pent-up energy, go outside, laugh,  run and chase and use their outdoor voices.

And then, well-fed, de-stressed, reconnected,  their personal “home work” satisfied, everyone might be ready to face sitting down and doing their school homework.

I believe so.

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We’re into our third week of school now and this is sometimes the point where children start to question, “You mean I have to go back every day this week too?”

  And as parents, we start to have some questions of our own – like just what really goes on at school  and what are our children  really like at school?

This is even more so when a child makes a comment about something he/she doesn’t like or a situation he’s bothered about at school.

Author Janet Lansbury in her blog, Elevating Childcare encourages parents to give your child space when she/he is sharing personal information with you.  She says the missing element in most of our exchanges with our children is silence – our silence.

We are often too quick to jump in with advice and “shoulds” and “maybe’s”.

Lansbury says it is enough for us to just listen – to say “that sounds hard for you”  or “you didn’t like that” – and then be  still, stay near,  be silent.

Allow your child the time and the gift to absorb  your words, appreciate  your understanding, confidence and trust in him.

A parent just told me that her young daughter had shared with her  something that was happening that her daughter didn’t like.   Her mom listened and reflected back her daughter’s feelings and then let it be – for her daughter to think about, to integrate,  or to share more when she’s ready.

For now I believe this little girl felt “held” by her mom’s quiet empathic response.

Silence – often says more than a thousand words.

It says I heard you.



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not too late

It’s Labor Day today – a traditional declaration of the end of summer as we know it.

But I say it’s not too late for another spontaneous picnic or two.

Picnics have changed a bit over the years, it seems. We go out to bigger, more planned events and festivals to eat and have fun- we do a lot of barbecuing in our own back yards.  But I’m talking about the simplicity of packing up some sandwiches, fruit, cookies and lemonade from home and heading off to the beach or the park for some spur-of-the moment fun.

This is just what the doctor ordered.  After a day at school, home or work it will soothe tired brains, frazzled nerves, refuel emotional connections for everyone.

So as the early fall weather treats us to clear blue skies and bright sunshine, make it a point to steal the time for a simple no-fuss “supper picnic” at the park – to just play, run, eat and remember the moment that “what’s for dinner?” was a surprise picnic in the park, right this very minute.


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free to be

Once again The Parenting Place’s Children’s Festival has come and gone – yet the glow of the morning’s activities lingers in my mind.

So many folks commented about how peaceful it all felt.  How could that be with so many children present?

The answer, I believe, is that the children were busy -with real materials, intentional as they worked at their play, exploring  with freedom of choice and deep concentration.

Free to be.

I watched an older toddler, probably around two and a half years of age, digging in the dried corn bin in the “farm” area. She filled her measuring cup with the corn, picked up a plastic egg, realized she had to take it apart first, so put down the measuring cup, took the egg apart, picked the measuring cup back up and,  with such “tongue-biting” care,  filled just the right amount of corn into the egg, and then snapped it up tight.


There was no concern for who was watching. (In fact I was the only one and she did not know that.)  She needed no audience, no “look Mommy, look Daddy”, no “watch me”.

In fact, an audience would have broken the spell.

This satisfaction was totally hers to own.

And so, she then opened up the egg, dumped out the corn and began the process again.

This engagement was not limited to the very young child.  There were plenty of older children creating freely at the Art Factory; letting their imaginations take hold at the Soap Factory, the Mud Kitchen and Construction Site; pretending at Dinosaur Island and the “Campground”; building at Cars and Ramps.

Free to be.

Adults stationed at different activities asked me  “what should we do when the children come?”  I told them, “the children will know” and they did.

At a time in our lives when technology seems to be the answer, the means in which to make our children smarter, quicker, more in touch with their world around them, I wonder – really?

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super heroes

Little boys karate chop bubbles in the air – two other little guys arrive at Play Shoppe suited up in their super hero outfits creatively crafted from cardboard – a little girl arrives one morning, looking lovely in her fancy “gown”; “I’m a princess” she told us, “a superhero princess” – a trio of preschoolers, two boys and a girl, in their dramatic play, yell “Quick, the hospital ‘s under attack!” as they rush to save the day.

All of these children are protecting themselves from imaginary, playful villains yet  sometimes the fears are real and require the strength and protection of super heroes – like their parents.

The shooting episode on the south side of La Crosse on Friday was a devastating tragedy for the families of both boys and a frightening and anxious time throughout the neighborhoods and city.

A day like Friday doesn’t go unnoticed or unheard by most children.

Children are eager listeners – especially when we are talking to others. Even if your family did not live near the violence , your child, the eager listener, may have overheard talk of the shootings this past week on  local TV news coverage, conversation between parents, exchanges between the neighbors, store clerks, even other children. They have a sixth sense when adults are anxious and upset.

And as is the way with children, their biggest concern is “Am I safe?  Will I get shot?  Will my mom and dad get shot?  Who will take care of me?”

As parents we need to be vigilant about our children’s exposure to the conversations and media that happens when a community is rocked by a shocking incident such as this.

If your child has questions about what happened,  or you know he or she has overheard or seen images of the shootings, finding out what they already know or think happened will clarify just what you need to share with them – to assure them they are safe. Keep it simple and don’t give more information than they need.

Just as significant for children is adults being mindful of any stereotyping of individuals by race or economic status as “those people” – the ones we should fear.

And as we come together, sincerely and with generous hearts, we can hope that the problems that lead to senseless loss of young lives can be addressed, and we can all be a part of the solution.  By being good neighbors, strong super heroes ourselves, we can try and support each other and the children in our care and our community.

And we can appreciate that when our children are playing at their own kind of super heroes, they are also coping with their individual real or imagined fears, trying to make sense out of their world, finding the strength that lets them feel in control, that makes them feel brave, that makes them feel competent, and makes them feel safe.

Super Powers. We can all use a little of that.


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I’m around lots of special little children at The Parenting Place but there’s something different about actually having a baby in one’s home – an almost one-year-old little guy who came to visit for a week.

A child of this age has a lot to teach us if we let them.  The paradox is these lessons are all things we most likely once knew and practiced when we were very young.  But then we grew up – and now as the adults that we are, we read books and articles and attend conferences and pay money to try and relearn how to be the way we naturally were as toddlers.

For it’s all about being totally enthralled by the ordinary – every object, sound, sensation,touch – and how to stay and absorb the moment. The world is there – right now, for a toddler to observe – to enjoy, to soak up, to be thrilled by.  And that boundless enthusiasm and joy is very contagious.

It’s free and available for our very own senses to see, to feel, to revive.

Anyone lucky enough to have the chance to spend some time with an almost one-year-old can learn to appreciate this renewed wonder – by watching, by doing.

This past week the joy was mine.  It’s the kind of joy that makes stiff knees and achy backs go unnoticed.

It’s the joy of life.

Thank you, Theo.

The place to witness some of this very joy and focus in children is coming up soon – The Parenting Place Children’s Festival – where play happens – Saturday, August 25th at Myrick Park from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM.  Tickets are $4.00 each;  3 for $10; $5. each the day of the event.  They’re on sale now at The Parenting Place and  The People’s Coop. Join us for this special morning and help us to continue our free parent education and support programs.

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