My Reflections on the Tragedy in Toronto

I had a completely different blog post under works for this week, but the horrible tragedy in Toronto that took place on Monday has left me with so many thoughts swirling around my head that I just had to get them out. In this age of digital media, we are no strangers to tragic world events. And the news of yet another tragedy, no matter where or what, always causes me to take pause, feel for those involved directly and indirectly, and consider, even if just for a second, what if this happened to me or someone I love. But then I always find some way to reassure myself that these things don’t happen here. That we are safe.

 

But it’s so very different when tragedy strikes this close to home. It takes it from an event that happens elsewhere, that affects others, to an event that happens at home. An event that could have directly affected me and my loved ones, that did directly impact people that I know and their loved ones. The feeling of sadness hits a little deeper and lingers just a little longer. I know I hugged my family a little tighter this week.

 

It also causes me to take more time to reflect, to really think about it, to wonder how on earth we’ve come to this. And I don’t claim to have all the answers, or any at all, but I do know that love, kindness and compassion start at home. I truly believe and am a strong advocate for the belief that there is no one right way to parent, that each family is free to choose what works best for it. But I do feel compelled to share some of the values that guide my journey as a parent, as a person. I’m not willing to shrug my shoulders and say “nothing I can do.” Because there is something I can do, and it starts at home.

 

In a world of deadlines, alarm clocks and schedules we’ve become so far removed from our natural instincts. We are bombarded with books and articles telling us to sleep train our infants, to punish our toddlers. We are overwhelmed with theories and rules. We hire sleep consultants, potty trainers, night nurses. We struggle with anxiety, fatigue, and depression. We let others set expectations of ourselves and of our children and we go to various lengths to live up to them. And as a result our basic human connection is suffering, at home and with others. In a world of instanteous communication we are feeling more alone than ever.

 

This tragedy only solidifies my unconscious decision to be a responsive parent. Not only because it reminds me that life is too short to be bogged down with rules and expectations, but also because I just cannot imagine that a home environment that meets a child’s physical and emotional needs could produce a 25 year old man capable of mowing down pedestrians with a rental van. It starts with responding to my infant’s cries at night, letting my babies nurse for comfort, cuddling my 2 year old back to sleep throughout the night, welcoming my 4 year old into my bed after a bad dream. I always have, and always will, respond to my children’s needs (real and perceived) day and night in a loving and comforting way.

 

In light of all the recent tragedies, particularly the school shootings, I keep seeing posts about bringing back spanking and corporal punishment, that these tragic events are somehow a direct result of children who haven’t learned respect or been punished appropriately for their wrongdoings. I may not be an expert, but I personally believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. First, let us not forget that many, many parents in North America still spank and many more did so 15-20 year ago. So it’s ridiculous to assume that the absence of physical punishment is causing violent incidents. In fact, I’d hazard a completely unscientific guess that indeed the opposite could be true.

 

Instead of spanking my children, I will talk to my children. I will teach them that physical force is never the answer. Instead of time outs, leaving my kids alone to deal with new and big emotions, I will guide my children. I will teach them to identify and work through their emotions. My goal is not to control or to punish, to make them ashamed or afraid. My goal is to help them learn from their mistakes, to right their wrongs. I cannot expect a child to make perfect decisions when I myself am not capable of perfection. I will not punish her for making a mistake or a bad choice, but I will help her reflect and move forward.

 

I am not advocating that children shouldn’t have consequences for their actions or that we shouldn’t prepare them for the ‘real world’ (two arguments I hear frequently about this style of parenting) but I am saying I strive to be my children’s soft place to land. A place where they can be their ugliest selves and still feel the unconditional love of a parent. It isn’t about raising entitled children that are free to act without consequences, but more about agreeing to be your child’s guide as they learn to navigate this world and their place in it.

 

I’m not trying to simplify what is a complex problem or shame anyone who parents differently than me. But I do hope I can cause someone to take pause and consider the idea that love creates more love. I mean in a cold, harsh world, can we really be too loved?

 

Not only do I vow to always show my kids love and compassion in our interactions – I vow to show myself the same love. I try to take care of myself, modelling how to deal with stressors in positive and productive ways. I work out, I eat well, I take time to de-compress and shut off the stressors of the outside world. We all know the old adage that kids will do as we do, not as we say, so I take my job as role model seriously.

 

Again, I’m not naïve. I know that loving our kids and responding to their needs isn’t going to solve all the of the world’s problems. I’m not attempting to place blame on the parents of any of the perpetrators, nor insinuate that your kids will grow up to do horrible things if you don’t parent a certain way. But can it hurt?

 

My own family is no stranger to mental health issues. I am not trying to downplay what are very serious and very real issues. But if I can help my kids feel safe in a world that is anything but, then I will try my best to do so.
There are no rules, no formula and I mean, what do I really know – my kids are still so young. I have yet to face the difficulties and big problems that come with big kids. But it’s hard to find an argument against kindness, against compassion.

 

These are just my thoughts, my musings, my ramblings as I try to work through the deep emotions that come from such a tragedy happening so close to home. I am so deeply sorry for the pain and suffering that has affected so many. My love is being sent to all of those affected directly, and indirectly.

 

 

 

DIY Birthday Gift Kids

Since making the decision to quit teaching full-time, I’ve had to create a budget and really stick to it. One thing that has been incredibly difficult since Ayla started school this year is birthday parties!! We try to make gifts for family members, but I’m not sure friends would appreciate a piece of child made artwork in the same way that grandparents do (or at least they let on they do – ha!).

For the first few parties, Ayla filled a box with art supplies: googly eyes, pompoms, paint etc. But it still cost quite a bit; usually because we both got carried away picking out fun supplies. But then April rolled around and she has a birthday party every weekend. And two of them are for twins!! That’s a lot of presents and for a family on a pretty tight budget, that’s a lot of money. So it was time to get creative.

We decided to make at-home activity kits with the instructions and materials for some of our favourite activities. Ayla helped me go through our recent pictures and she picked out four of her favourites: slime, bouncy balls, bath paint and chalk paint. Our first recipient was a set of twins, so she decided one would get slime and bath paint, and the second would get bouncy balls and chalk paint.

The finished products

The first thing I did was make the instructions. Each activity got it’s own card with the activity name, materials list, directions and a photo. I printed them onto heavy cardstock and laminated. The files for the activity cards can be found in the “Living Life Outside the Box” Facebook group. Feel free to use them!

Instruction card for DIY Bouncy Balls

Then I made a list of all the materials and the measurements. We made a trip to our discount store in town and got everything we needed. I also got containers for some of the materials I was going to portion out myself. Then Ayla selected two baskets to hold everything for each child.

Once home, Ayla helped me assemble the baskets. We measured out enough materials for the slime and bouncy ball recipes to be doubled (after all they are twins), labelled the containers with the contents and put into the basket. We both thought the baskets looked kind of messy with everything just sitting inside it. I remembered we had some plastic Easter grass leftover so I dug it out and placed it on the bottom on each basket and set the materials on top. It helped make it much more visually appealing!

Each kit with it's materials and instructions

 

Last, but not least we wrapped the presents in cellophane and tied with ribbon. I was a bit worried that the presents wouldn’t look like much to the kids and a mommy friend suggested we add labels. So I quickly printed some off and added them to the outside of the baskets. Perfect finishing touch!

 

The labels

 

I was worried they wouldn’t turn out, but both Ayla and I are very happy with the finished product. She is excited to give them to her friends and is quite upset she had to miss the party due to this nasty Spring ice/snow/rain storm we are having. We really try to give gifts that are thoughtful and made with the person in mind. It’s not always easy on a budget, but I think we accomplished just that.

 

Below, I’ll show photos of each activity card and it’s corresponding ingredients in case you want to make some of your own kits!

 

Kit #1: DIY Slime and Bath Paint

 

We actually included two packs of school glue so that the recipe for the slime can be doubled. Originally I was going to put the measured contact solution into the same type of container as the baking soda, but it wasn’t spill-proof, so thankfully I found a baby food jar in our craft cupboard downstairs. Next time I I would use a little travel sized liquids container, but the jar did just well in a pinch. The food colouring is needed for both recipes, so we included a whole pack. That way they can make 6 different colours (with some mixing) for the bath paints. I really wanted to use a muffin tin with 6 spaces, but couldn’t find a tin foil one, so we improvised with 6 individual cups. We also included 6 paint brushes as we wanted to make sure they had everything they needed to do the activities!

 

KIT #2: DIY Bouncy Balls and Chalk Paint

The cornstarch is needed for both activities, so there’s two containers. There is enough to double both recipes. I decided it wasn’t worth the sticky mess to try and measure out the white glue, so we just included a whole 4 fl. oz. bottle. Again, we included a whole pack of food colouring in this kit so they can make a variety of colours of chalk paint. I decided on foam brushes, as I find they paint nicer with the chalk paint outdoors.

 

 

 

We hope we’ve inspired you to try something similar! If you do, please share with us in the comment section or on our Facebook page (link) or group (link).

 

If you have any questions at all, please send me an email at Katherine@lifeoutsidethebox.ca

 

Happy creating!

 

 

Why I Talk About the Baby I Miscarried

 

I stumbled upon this piece I wrote in February 2015, after losing our baby and felt compelled to finally share it.

 

Miscarriage is one of those things we don’t talk about. We keep pregnancies secret for months, and weep silent tears when we experience a loss. Of course, I knew some women who had miscarried: close friends, family. I knew the stats (1 in 4 pregnancies). But what I didn’t know was how many people in my life had been affected by miscarriage, until it happened to our family.

 

The stories flooded in… from co-workers, my midwife, friends of friends, distant relatives, nurses, even my boss. I don’t wish this pain on anyone, but I did take comfort in these stories. Our family felt less alone in our grief.

 

I’m not a private person. I’ve been accused of being an over-sharer. But my need to talk about my miscarriage goes deeper than that. Here are a few reasons why talking about my loss is so important to me.

 

1.) Normalizing the Experience

As I left my ultrasound that fateful morning, I was so angry. What had I done wrong? What should I have done differently? If only I had worked out more. Or not worked out so hard. If I had eaten more vegetables. Or less sweets. I hated my body for failing me. Why couldn’t it have done what it was meant to do! And although it took me some time to truly believe this, it was not my fault.

 

Talking about miscarriage serves to normalize it. It lets other women know that it is not their fault. It lets you know nothing is wrong with you. It removes the blame that is all too often associated with this experience. You feel like you shouldn’t talk about it because people will judge you. They will wonder what you did wrong. But they don’t. You did nothing wrong.

 

Sharing my experience and having others share theirs with me, validated my feelings. Miscarriage is awful. It is a loss. A very real one. It hurts and you need to grieve. Staying silent about the experience implies it’s not a real loss. You would never hide the death of your father or a close friend. So why do we hide the loss of an unborn baby?

 

2.) Healing

I heal through talking. I talk about everything. I need to. Every detail, every angle. I reflect on every feeling and share every thought. It is how I cope. Now, I can recognize that not everyone heals in this way. My partner tends to seek solitude, reflecting inwardly. As you can imagine, I can exhaust him. But he lets me talk, and even encourages it, as he knows how important it is to my healing process.

 

During one of many conversations I had with my midwife she warned me that many people say well-meaning, but insensitive things following a miscarriage. While not un-true, I was not bothered by this in the least. I could recognize the effort behind the words, and appreciate that the other person was attempting to reach out. That they were talking and most importantly, letting me talk. What I found harder was silence. Those people that would look at you with pity in their eyes. They didn’t say anything not for fear of upsetting you or a lack of words, but in fear you would talk. Or the visible discomfort in some people as I told my story. That was harder to handle than the insensitive comments. The understanding that some people feel that these stories of loss are better left untold.

3.) Honouring the Baby

 

My biggest fear throughout this journey has been that I will move on. That I will become pregnant again one day, and forget about the hopes I hoped and the dreams I dreamed for this baby. Not another baby, this one. Talking about my experience helps me to feel as though I am honouring this baby as a member of our family.

 

If I didn’t talk about my experience and outwardly acknowledge the loss, I know I would have a hard time attempting to have another baby when the time comes. I am not trying to replace this baby. He will forever hold a special piece of my heart.

 

I believe all pregnancies should be celebrated. With my first pregnancy with my daughter, I hated staying silent for the first trimester until I was “in the clear.” As a first time mom, I could barely contain my excitement. I ended up breaking my own self-imposed silence with many family members and friends, but waited to tell others until after my 12 week ultrasound. It was such a let-down for me. I was over the moon thrilled, and I had to keep it to myself (remember, I’m an over-sharer).

 

With this pregnancy, I didn’t wait. I told anyone and everyone within weeks of finding out. We were growing our family! I couldn’t contain my happiness. And I don’t regret it at all. After finding out the baby had stopped growing, I had to tell all of my friends, family, co-workers, neighbours that I was going to lose the baby. And you know what. I was ok with that. I was overwhelmed with the love and support our family was shown. So many people reached out to me, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But most of all, people knew. They knew of the life I had had growing inside me. They knew of the life that had been lost. What better way to honour our baby.

 

My hope is that we stop suffering in silence. That we acknowledge and celebrate every life, and that we honour the babies we lose. As a dear friend said to me, this is part of the story of my family. I tell it with a tear in my eye and love in my heart.

The Basics of Sensory Play

To break down the basics of Sensory play – I’ve devised the 3 S’s of Sensory play.

S – Senses

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates one, or more, of a child’s senses (touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing).

It can be as simple as smelling flowers on a walk to the park.

S – Stimulating

Sensory activities encourage exploration and invite children to play, create and investigate.

S- Safe

When planning sensory activities, keep safety in mind. Think about choking hazards, toxicity of materials, etc. You know your child best!

The Benefits of Sensory Play:

There are many proven benefits to provide your child with sensory stimulating experiences, including:

  • language development;
  • cognitive growth;
  • fine and/or gross motor skills;
  • problem solving skills; and
  • social interaction.

Basic Supplies

It helps to keep a few things on hand to facilitate sensory activities. Some ideas include:

  • measuring cups and spoons;
  • a large deep bin or water/sand table;
  • large freezer bags;
  • hair gel;
  • baby oil;
  • shaving or whipped cream;
  • glitter, sparkles or sequins;
  • spices, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but with these materials, you will easily be able to participate in many of the sensory activities I share without running to the store.

The Value of Independent Play

Let your kids entertain themselves – seriously.

I know it seems strange that a blog dedicated to engaging your children is now encouraging you to let them entertain themselves. I felt it was necessary to address this right at the beginning. I felt it necessary to address this right at the beginning.

Yes I believe in thoughtfully engaging kids in creative play. Yes, I believe in getting on the floor and directly engaging in their play. But I also believe in balance. I make sure to build in “free-play” time daily. Time where I haven’t devised an activity or provided specific materials. Time where I am not directly engaging them, or even really interacting at all.

Why do I believe in letting your kids learn how to entertain themselves?

1 – Creativity

Letting your kids direct their own play opens the door for some pretty awesome imaginative play. Let’s face it, kids are innately creative. Much more so than even the most creative adult that I know.

Just this morning, my kids built a pirate ship out of my weight bench and a small chair. They made the entire sea with blankets and islands out of books. They played for an hour before breakfast and almost an hour after. They went from being surfers searching for a good place to surf to adventurers searching for sea creatures, complete with a hand drawn map. They even dug out my weights and yoga mats and lead themselves through a workout!

Ayla and Rory in their pirate ship.

The point is, I couldn’t have thought these things up if I tried. And I do try. But imaginative play is like the bane of my existence. I can only say the same scripted line for so long before I’m day dreaming about what I’m doing to make for lunch, or dinner, or bedtime snack (What? I like to eat!!). I also find it painful to recklessly move from being pirates to surfers to adventurers. I can’t help but point out the gaping plot holes and inconsistencies, much to Ayla’s dismay.

This creativity may be channelled into play today, but in the future it will be an invaluable skill in a rapidly changing work world.

2 – Mom’s Sanity and Self- Care

Whether you are a stay at home mom, a working mom, or something in between like me, we all need a few minutes for self-care. DAILY!

Taking a few minutes for me.

Independent play is the perfect opportunity to take five minutes for you. Have a shower, drink a hot coffee, read your favourite blog (pssst this one!)… just whatever you do… don’t pick up the phone, as that is guaranteed to make free-play time come to a crashing halt. Seriously?! The second you say hello you can 100% guarantee all hell will break loose. But I digree…

In order to be the kick-ass mom that you are, you need to take time to fill your cup too. Do what speaks to you that day. Some days, for me, it’s working out. Others it’s having a hot bath. Alone. Sometimes I just need to sit on my bed and breathe.

Your sole job is not to entertain the little people in your life. You are important, too! You need to know that, and so do they.

3 – Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

If you are on any form of social media, I’m sure you’ve read an article (or twenty) about how we are faced with a growingly incompetent generation of young people. Teenagers and young twenty-somethings that have Mommy call in sick for them, or ream out their teachers/professors for a bad grade.

Rory playing dominoes. He then used them as a road for his cars.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree that the entire generation is a wash, but I can admit those problems do exist. My theory? We haven’t allowed our kids to solve their own problems or make their own decisions. In an over-zealous attempt to make life peachy for our kids, we removed all opportunities for them to practise these skills in safe, small ways. So when it comes time to tackle big life problems, so many young adults just aren’t able to. They lack the skills, and the confidence in their abilities.

I urge us all to take a step back. And it starts with letting your kids figure out how to entertain themselves. Without flipping on a screen, or device. Without $800 worth of toys. Just this morning, my two were arguing over who got to be the captain of the pirate ship. As I’m putting away dishes, I held back the urge to jump in and solve it, to make the decision. Instead, I waited and listened – ready to guide if needed. All on their own, they decided the ship could have two captains (Rory was Captain #2, hahaha, but he didn’t mind). This seems small, but if I jumped in and demanded Ayla gave her brother a turn to be captain, then I would have taken away the chance for them to build those essential problem-solving skills they’ll need late in life. And I’d have sent the inherent message that they are incapable of solving problems without me. Which may be okay when they are 2 and 4, not so much when they are 22 and 24!

4 – Reduce Stress and Anxiety

It is no surprise that today’s kids and teens are more stressed and more anxious than ever. I do attribute some of this to better awareness of our kid’s emotional states, but my completely unscientific opinion is that overall levels have risen, too.

Just some pirates doing their daily exercise.

But think about the average school-aged child’s day – wake up and rush around to get to school Spend 7 hours a day there. Then rush off after school to dance/karate/gymnastics, etc. Hurriedly shovel in dinner and complete homework sometime in there. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I am not suggesting that extracurriculars are a bad idea. In fact, I think they are super important. But I am suggesting that a balance needs to be found. That kids still need unstructured time to just be kids. They have their whole adults lives to rush around be stressed. That allowing them the time to just be, to recharge their batteries, is as invaluable as piano lessons.

Tips for building in Independent Play:

  • Start with small chunks of time.

The younger the child, the shorter the length of time. If this idea is new to your children, no matter their age, start with 10-15 minutes.

  • Attempt it when children are at their best

This time will be different for every child/family. My kids play independently the best when they first wake up in the morning and after dinner. After school is a danger zone and Ayla is too tired and grumpy to make any decisions, so I usually offer her a quiet art or sensory activity.

  • Use a Timer

If your kids are used to you being their main source of entertainment, there may be some resistance at first. Set a timer. If they come to you, point to timer and remind them they have 8 minutes left, then you will come play.

Ayla and Rory made this caterpillar. He was named Fuzzy and lived in front of our fire place all day.
  • Model appropriate play

When you are playing with your kids, model for them how they can play with certain materials. Build towers or puzzles, colour, zoom cars around the living room, etc.

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I’d love to hear how you build in independent play in your home. What works? What doesn’t?

And don’t forget to follow Life Outside the Box on Facebook for a glimpse into our daily lives.

An Introduction to Process Art

I have to say it. I hate (pre-)school crafts. Do a quick search on Pinterest or visit a pre-school, school or local children’s program and chances are you’ll be inundated with handprint turkeys for Thanksgiving or cotton ball bunnies for Easter.

I cannot for the life of me think of any way this could be considered art.

Okay, okay… We can agree, it’s not art, but every parent wants some cutesy thing to hang on their fridge. Right?

Um… nope, not me. In fact, I’ll proudly display the brown glob that started as a finger painting before my over zealous kid mixed all of the colours for 35 minutes. And then decided to use her toes because she likes the way the paint squishes in between them.

To me, that’s art. That’s creativity, that’s exploration, that’s sensory stimulation, heck, that’s even science. And the look of sheer exhilaration on her face while doing so – I definitely imagine that’s how Van Gogh must have felt while creating.

But if that damn cotton ball bunny should ever show it’s face in my child’s backpack – the only place it’ll find itself is in the garbage. And not just because I have an irrational fear of cotton balls. But because the only thing it symbolizes is how well my child can follow instructions. And perhaps an indication of her fine motor skills, but I can think of a million other ways to flex her finger muscles.

Okay, now that you know where I stand with preschool crafts disguised as art… Let me tell you about process art. Process art is exactly what it sounds like – art experiences that focus on the process, not the final product.

Five Features of Process Art:

1.) It encourages creativity and self-expression

The child is in charge of their art – they decide which colours, which materials, which process. No instructions, no rules, no samples. I will often set out certain materials, but there’s no rules for how to use them.

Rory deciding to paint himself instead of the pumpkin.

2.) It encourages exploration

Ayla exploring with colour mixing.

The child is allowed, and encouraged, to explore the materials. They can ditch the brush and decide to paint with their fingers. They can dip the same brush in all the paint colours (I admit, this one still irks me, but I let it irk me silently).

3.) The child is calm and relaxed.

Rory focusing on his masterpiece.

Seriously. I know this one is hard to believe. But if we step back and let our kids create, the process becomes so enjoyable for everyone involved.

4.) There’s a mess

Making a mess is not only a part of art, it’s a part of childhood. Throw down a sheet or tablecloth, strip them down or wear old clothes, roll up the expensive throw rug and let them make a mess!

The messier, the better!

5.) The final product is one-of-a-kind

If you give 5 children the exact same materials, you will still end up with 5 completely different final products. No two masterpieces will look the same!

Our beautiful family painting.

I hope I have given you an idea of just what process art is, and isn’t. Now that you get the basics, hop over here and read my post on “Process Art and Why it Matters” to get a clearer picture of why this is the kind of art experience we need to be offering our children.

I invite you all to share your process art experiences in the comments!!

Don’t forget to follow “Life Outside the Box” on Facebook where I share ideas and activities daily.