Jul 14

Theorists of Child Development Part Two

SchoolchildrenIf you remember a few weeks ago, I started a post on the Theorists of Child Development and by the end of a pretty long post, I had only covered Freud and some of his theories. I did hint that I was going to move on to Erik Erikson in a few weeks and today you get to read a fun post surrounding Erikson.

If you want to review the first part of these posts, please click here but to give you a recap, Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and he believed that the human personality was made up of three parts: The Id, the Superego and the Ego. Each one works to temper the other and the ego works the hardest to fulfill the needs of the Id.

Freud also went on to explain the stages of development which included Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency and Genital stages. Each one occurs at a specific age of development and if you are interested in learning more, please read Theorists of Child Development Part One.

So why the little recap on Freud, the main reason is that Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a psychoanalyst that not only studied Freud’s theories but expanded them. He felt that our development was affected by the social and cultural influences that are around us. He also believed that even a child who suffered during some of the developmental stages has the ability to overcome the obstacles and deficits from the earlier stages.

Erik Erikson felt that each stage in development was faced with a crisis and that successfully overcoming the crisis would help build the skills necessary to good mental health. He also believed that each resolution was a combination of both positive and negative experiences and the key was to find a balance between the two.

Many of the theories of child development are the result of Erik Erikson’s work and for the purpose of this post, I will look at the developmental stages that Erik Erikson identified and a short little explanation of each one.

Erik Erikson had 8 stages of development, but he did not focus on child development only. These stages span the entire life of a person from infancy until old age and ultimately death. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to stick to the stages of development which affect children from infancy until 18 years of age.

Erikson’s Stages of Development:

  • Trust vs Mistrust: Since Erik Erikson looked at the outcome at the end of a stage, his stages are labelled differently than other theorists. He believed that the ego would suffer or benefit from each stage and gave the desired outcome to the stage. For Trust vs Mistrust, it is fairly obvious that the positive outcome would be trust while the negative outcome would be mistrust. This stage occurs between the ages of birth to 18 months and is the stage when a child learns that his needs will be met. The bonding that goes on between parent (or primary caregiver) and child is important to fostering the trust necessary to build on greater self esteem and self worth later in the child’s development. If needs are not met or the child is not held, comforted or cared for properly, mistrust begins to form and can lead to even more detrimental feelings as the child grows.
  • Autonomy vs Shame: This stage occurs between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age and as you may have guessed, this is the toddler stage where children will begin the process of autonomy. Toilet training occurs during this stage, along with many exciting and frustrating aspects of development such as dressing and feeding one self. If there is a balance of positive experiences, a child will come through this stage with not only autonomy but a strong feeling of self esteem. If the experiences are negative, such as parents becoming frustrated and angry at potty accidents during toilet training, feelings of shame will be evident.
  • Initiative vs Guilt: Spanning the ages of 3 to 5, this stage is when children begin to take the initiative in activities. This may be small things or they may be large but the key is that children are taking the lead and parents are allowing them to do so (as long as everyone is safe). If initiative is not allowed or encouraged feelings of guilt may occur, and as with all the other stages, may lead to feelings of worthlessness.
  • Industry vs Inferiority: Occurring between the ages of 6 and 12, children are beginning to branch out and interact with peers and at school. There are moments of industry where the child is learning and creating and there are moments when children may feel a little inferior to the other people around them. A balance between both builds on feelings of competency.
  • Identity vs Role Confusion: The teen years are always confusing no matter how well the other stages of development went. During the ages of 12 and 18, children are in a limbo of sorts where they are expected to act more grown up, actually feel the need to do so, but are still limited in what they can do since they are not grown up. It is a stage where limits are tested, more than others, self identity as both an individual and a peer takes place and morality is developed on a more personal level. It is no longer a simple matter of “Because my parents said it was wrong.” Again, self esteem, self worth, independence and many other traits can be harmed if there are too many negative experiences.

Erik Erikson went on to explore stages after these but they deal with adult development and not child development. It is interesting to note that for all of these stages, Erik Erikson identified key relationships that are important in the development of the child. From infancy to the age of 6, the important relationships are with parents and family. After 6 there is a shift in relationships from family to school to peers, and although family is still important it is not the key relationship.

So that is it for Erik Erikson, in a few weeks, I will look at Jean Piaget and go over his theories. After that, I will touch on a few other theorists, although not in the length that I have done with Erikson and Freud.

Sirena Van Schaik

Jul 01

Between Parents: Lamenting the Loss of a Tooth

tooth fairyI was all set to write about that horrible stage in development when you need to have “The Talk.”  You know the one about the birds and the bees but then I was making dinner last night and my oldest son yelled out, “My tooth is really loose!”

Oh, no! I knew that this day was coming but I was hoping that he would keep his baby teeth for a few more years.  I decided to check his mouth to make sure that it was truly what I thought it was.  Sure enough, his loose tooth was hanging there by a small piece of gum (most likely the nerve) and the second adult tooth was already poking up, ready to take its place.

I’m not sure why I was upset about seeing that adult tooth in my son’s mouth but as I was trying to figure out the reason for my distress, my son yelled out, “Isn’t that great, I’m growing up!”

And that was the whole reason behind my feelings.  My son was growing up.  He wasn’t the little baby with all his baby teeth, he was now the school age child with his own hockey team, school friends, teacher and life that doesn’t involve me.  All those things should have alerted me to the fact already but the tooth falling out was what tipped the scale for me.  He is, in fact, growing up and no matter what I do, I simply can’t stop that.

I spent last night feeling a little melancholy but I performed my task as “Tooth Fairy” after he was fast asleep.  It is sad that they grow up so fast and it seems sad that they are so eager to grow up.  I remember that age so well, the eagerness to just be old enough that I stopped counting my age in years and started with quarters.  “I’m 6 and 3/4 years old,” I would say when asked my age.  It didn’t help that my birthday was at the end of the school year so all my friends turned a year older ahead of me.  Cutting my year into quarters made it seem like every four months I would be a little wiser, a little more grown up.

So although I am happy that my son is growing up, I really wish that he could slow down for just a little while.  On the bright side though, we’ll get some really great pictures of him with his teeth missing to put into those scrapbooks and we get a visit from both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny this weekend.

So just between parents, how did you feel when your child lost his or her first tooth?


Jun 02

Theorists of Child Development Part One

swimmingWhen I talk about child development and all the things you can do to encourage it, the foundations of all my theories and practices are attributed to several theorists.  I know that in the day to day, most parents could really care less about who invented this or what the thread of thought was on that and often feel that if it’s working, why bother taking it apart, dissecting it and then forgetting how to put it back together.

Chances are it will never run the same and you’ll have a few extra parts left over.  Generally, I agree…oh wait a minute, scratch that since I enjoy taking things apart.  It is great to have some understanding on what drives early childhood education and most, if not all, of the discussions that I have on this blog.

There are several theorists that I will be discussing over the weeks but for today I would just like to focus on one theorist, Freud.

I’m sure we all know who Freud is but do you know much about his theories.  Freud is the developer of psychoanalysis, something that many people know.  He believed that the personality was formed of three parts and these are:

  • The Id:  this is the subconscious part of the mind that is the pleasure seeker.  Freud believed that it is where all desires and motives come from and that it was present at birth.
  • The Ego:  This is the hard working part of the mind (or personality) that is there to find ways to satisfy the Id.  Freud considered this to be the rational part of the mind.
  • The Superego:  This is a person’s morality, the moral compass, which reflects the individual’s and societal ideas of acceptable behavior.

And that is pretty much it with Freud in a nut shell.  Now I know that we can go through and elaborate on all of the stages but I’m not an expert in Freudian and I only know the parts that are connected with Early Childhood Education.

Freud went on from the “personality structures” and identified three stages that occurs during early childhood.  He felt that any difficulties during these stages could and would affect the person’s personality.

The stages that Freud identified are:

  • Oral:  This occurs during infancy from the time when the baby will instinctively suck at birth and throughout the entire process when the baby is exploring items with his mouth (mouthing), up to 18 months.
  • Anal:  This is an important stage where the child is toilet training, usually between 18 months and 3 years, and Freud believed that any problems during this can lead to an “anal” type of personality, i.e., extremely tidy.
  • Phallic:  This seems to be the one that most people focus on or remember when it comes to Freud.  This stage occurs when the child begins to explore his body and becomes aware of his body.  Freud believed that this is the stage (usually between 3 and a half to 6 years) when boys develops a rivalry with their father.  This is considered the Oedipus complex.

There are other stages to Freud’s theory including the Latency stage, between ages 6 to puberty, and the Genital Stage, from puberty on, but in regards to early childhood education, the first three are the ones that I focused on.

And that is it on our first part of theorists of child development.  I will go over them again another day and I will focus on Erik Erikson who extended Freud’s stages.  Now you can all go and study and I will test you on Monday. (Just kidding.)

Sirena Van Schaik

May 01

Media Influences: Weight


friends at the parkLast night I took an hour to myself to watch America’s Next Top Model.  Yes, I watch it every week and only started watching it during the last “cycle”.  I say I watch it because I have an interest in fashion and it gives me some names to look into but let’s face it…there really isn’t much in the way of fashion, unless meat clothing is the newest rave that I haven’t noticed. (Imagine the women running down the street, clutching their latest meat purse as a pack of hungry dogs chase them…enough said.)

No, America’s Next Top Model is one of those guilty little pleasures but it doesn’t seem to have as many calories.  Still, as I watch these shows, I shudder at the messages that young girls are getting over body image.  These girls that are deemed “beautiful” are a size 1 (and that is probably pushing it.)  They are stick thin and although they are very pretty, they shouldn’t be what women aspire to become.

I know that they have episodes where they stress eating and they try to show the girls eating at least 3 times in a show but you have judges making comments about being overweight.  One such inference was when a judge commented on Whitney, the plus sized model, being a ham.

Now plus sized models get to me as well, for the simple fact that they are regular sized women that are called plus sized.  Whitney is a size 11 and since when is a size 11 a plus sized clothing line.

So where am I going with this rant?  Very simply put, it is important to notice how media is influencing your children.  There is no way to really shield them since skinny women are every where in magazines and on commercials.  Girls aspire to be thin and beautiful and corporations bank on that.

Since you can’t shield your child, even your teen.  It is important to discuss healthy weight and how to maintain it.  If your daughter is worried about becoming overweight, discuss a meal plan at home where everyone can eat healthy and stay fit.  You could also enrol in a exercise class so you can keep an eye on how she is managing her weight.  If she gets too skinny, you have the knowledge to intervene and get her back on track.

Above all else, tell your daughter that she is beautiful and that being too skinny isn’t beautiful at all.

I will have more information on healthy weights, body images and other issues that concern media and how it affects children over the next few weeks.

Until then, happy and healthy eating.

Sirena Van Schaik

May 01

Cheat Sheets: Snails



It has been a while since I wrote a cheat sheet for the site so I figured it was time to do so again. Right now, I am the proud snail-sitter of about 10 snails. They will be going back into a nice spot in my yard very soon, not the garden where they were caught, and they have provided endless opportunities for learning. This year more than any other year since I have been able to show the kids snails of all different sizes from little baby snails no bigger than a pencil eraser to the large adult snails.

This isn’t the first time that we learnt about snails, actually it is a topic that we have pursued several times. I guess when your a kid, you can’t get bored about anything that is slimy and as interesting as a snail.

So here are a few facts about snails that you may find interesting and at the very least, you will know the answer to it.

  • Snails are not insects but are in fact mollusks and belong to the same family as clams.
  • Snails are gastropods, which means “stomach foot.”
  • Snails have both female and male reproductive organs.
  • The largest snail in the world weighed in at 2lbs and 15 inches long

Now that we have a few interesting facts. Let’s look at the external anatomy of the snail.

  1. The Shell: this is the most obvious part of the snail and the one that will be easy for your child to find. It protects the snail and provides a home on its back. Of course, there is a difference between a home and a habitat.
  2. The Foot: this makes up most of the body of the snail and is what the snail moves on.
  3. Respiratory Pore: there is a small hole on the side of the snails body just below the shell where the snail breaths from.
  4. The Head: A pretty obvious part of the body, it is identified by the four tentacles protruding from it.
  5. The Tentacles: there are four on the head. Two small ones and two long ones.
  6. The Eye Spots: found at the end of the long tentacles, these are the eyes so when you poke a tentacle to get it to go in, you are actually poking the snail in the eye.
  7. The Mouth: also found on the head, it contains tongue with file-like teeth, which is called the radula.

For an excellent printout on snail anatomy, I would recommend this site.

Before I close off on this topic, I would like to mention a few things about keeping snails. If your kids are like mine, chances are they have already asked to keep a snail or two. It is very easy to set up a terrarium for a snail and all you need to be sure of having are a few plants, and a cuttle bone so the shells stay hard. In the wild, snails will eat limestone and other rocks to maintain the right amount of minerals to keep the shell hard. In captivity, snails do not have the alternative food so it is important to provide it.

If you are keeping a snail, you can feed it any type of fruit or vegetables (I found they love apples) and you will need to keep the terrarium moist. Spray the snails with a water bottle every day. If you forget, don’t worry too much. Snails will often close up their shell with a plug of mucus and then hibernate during times of drought or lack of food. If your snail does this, simply spray with water and watch as it slowly wakes up.

I hope this fills you in a bit on snails.

Sirena Van Schaik

Mar 27

Teaching Family Values Conclusion

PicnicWelcome to the final post that I will be making on the topic of morals and family values. I’m sure you are more than ready to move onto a new topic and tomorrow I will have a great recipe for you to use at home.

But back to our topic on teaching morals and family values. If you remember, I started this topic with my post here and I also talked about things a parent can do, here. Now let’s talk about what you can do with your child.

  • Try not to focus on material gain or feeding egocentricity. I was guilty of this when my oldest started JK and it was really the result of my own fears that he might be picked on or bullied. At the beginning of his first year, I was constantly told how empathetic my son was and how he would often take children who were having a hard time adjusting under his wing. I heard wonderful comments like, “If it wasn’t for Jake (my son), the first few month’s of Timmy’s school year would have been horrible.” (I have changed the names of both children for privacy reasons.) After a while, I forgot about reaffirming his compassionate nature and began worrying about how popular he was. If a child in his class had the latest and greatest toy, I would run out and make sure that my son had the same toy. When he came home from school, I often centralized my questions about his day around extrinsic influences and things that he got and I began to focus less on the values I had already set in place. Fast forward a year and I had a child that primarily cared about feeding his own needs without thinking of others. I had to do some major damage control and change the way that I approached things. I can’t really blame him for much of the problems since I was illustrating to him that it was more important to have than to give but after some rough patches, we have begun to see some of his natural compassion again. The thing to remember in this is that children are egocentric creatures and for a period of time, and that is perfectly okay, but parents need to explain and illustrate times when that egocentricity is not okay. So the lesson on this is “Don’t focus on what your child doesn’t have, but focus on the less concrete items, such as the love and friendships that he or she does have.
  • Donate items from your home to Goodwill or another cause. I don’t have garage sales and this is partly to do with the fact that I’m just not a big fan but the main reason why I don’t have garage sales is that the money that I can make from a garage sale can be better used by places like Goodwill or the Salvation army. When you donate to these places, it is best to have your child take one or two toys (or more if they are drowning in toys) and place them into a bin to take down to the drop box. Make sure you give some of your items away so your child doesn’t feel this is a one sided deal that they are the only ones that has to suffer through the giving. Things like old furniture, shoes, and clothing are great choices and I’m sure you have lots of all three that you don’t use anymore. I like to go through the items in January right after they have received a whole bunch of new toys over the holidays. This way, they are more likely to give up an older unused toy since they have to make room anyways. Other times that I do this are in the spring and fall and usually coincide with my big spring and fall clean up to remove clutter.
  • Volunteer with your child. When I was a Cub Scout leader, another leader in my group also volunteered their time at the local soup kitchen on a weekly basis. Although her 13 year old son wasn’t involved every week with her, he did come down once a month where he would help serve the food. For them, volunteering served many purposes but the main thread of reasoning was that he learned through example that giving one’s time for those less fortunate is a great thing to do and he also became aware of people that needed help and how he could affect them for the better.
  • Sponsor a child or a cause. This is something that I do personally with my family and my oldest son takes the time to send letters to the child in Kenya that we sponsor. It doesn’t seem like much but it has opened up a lot of awareness in my children on how there are those that are much less fortunate than we are. Being able to converse through letters brings the message home and it has had a lot more affect than simply dropping items off at a drop box. There is a face that goes along with the giving and a voice that can be heard through the letters. Take the time and talk to your child about what they want to sponsor. This is a great way to teach morals, family values and also provides opportunity to learn about the world together. My oldest wanted to learn everything about all the countries that needed help before we decided as a family on Kenya. So change not only one life but your families as well by sponsoring a child or a cause.
  • Give a gift at Christmas. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there is nothing wrong with giving a gift to a toy drive during the season. If you do celebrate, I would encourage not only giving a gift of your own but also having your child go out and purchase a gift to give (with their own allowance). My oldest son chaffed at this the first year but my youngest only grumbles about how he doesn’t have enough money to buy more. Have your child drop it off at the toy drive so he or she can be part of the whole process.
  • Have open dialogue. Nothing helps build values better than having an open dialogue with your child. Answer their questions, share your own views on morals and values and let there be give and take conversations. All the steps above offer ample opportunities for open dialogues.
  • Finally, don’t stress if your child doesn’t always follow the morals and values that you have so diligently worked on instilling. It takes time and everyone makes mistakes, I know I do, so don’t expect your child to grasp all the values perfectly and don’t beat yourself up when they do.

If you have anymore tips on instilling family values, please feel free to comment.


Mar 25

Family Values, Part Two

Feeding the pigeonsIf you remember, yesterday I talked about things that we are teaching our children without even realizing it.

I guess I should say that I was actually ranting but you’ll forgive me my flaws. I am after all human and as both a human and a parent I am allowed my foibles. Actually, parents are allowed to have many flaws and teaching children that we are as flawed as the next person is a great way to build family values. The whole, “If I’m not perfect, then you don’t have to be either.”

On the topic of those little eyes that are watching every mistake we make, parents should be aware of what their children are picking up. I could spout Piaget or Erikson but there are enough articles stating the psychological ramifications of parents’ actions. We know that children learn through observation. They watch, listen and touch to figure out the world around them and their place in it and they learn through the actions of their parents, regardless of what is said.

The old adage, “Do what I say and not as I do,” was never good advice and it still isn’t. So let’s look at some things you can do.

Pull out the old lessons about manners and use them. You remember those things your mother (or father) used to bark at you like a deranged drill sergeant. “Chew with your mouth closed,” “Elbows off the table,” “Show respect for your elders.” I’m sure that you bark those same lessons about everyday manners to your own children but without using them yourself, you success at teaching your children will be pretty low.

Show compassion for others. This can be done a number of ways and can really start at home with how you interact with your family and the respect and caring you give your spouse and your children. It can also start with simple things like helping out a friend in need or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. You could also give change to someone needing it or opening a door for someone. Anything that shows that you are thinking about the needs of others and that you care enough to commit small acts of kindness. One note, however; is that you need to explain to your child that talking to strangers is dangerous and he or she should never talk to a stranger without your express permission or without you standing there.

Donate. Whether it’s your time or your money, donating will provide opportunities for you to demonstrate selflessness. This is an excellent way to build empathy and to bond with your child when you include him or her, but more on that tomorrow.

Key down the road rage…or any rage for that matter. I know that it can be hard, especially when you spend 20 minutes with some guy tailgaiting you only to have him pass and then cut you off. Giving into road rage sets an example for your children that it is okay to react with rage. If I had reacted to the woman with the shopping cart, see What are we teaching our kids?, by throwing my arms up and yelling, “You idiot! Why the heck don’t you watch where you are going?” I would have taught my children that you can be abusive and disrespectful to others. If there is no respect for others then you can’t expect empathy or compassion.

These are only a few tips and I will have more on what you can do with your child to build family values but until then; what tips do you have?


Mar 24

What are we teaching our kids?

Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter

As Easter drew near, I realized that I had forgotten to pick up a few things, and ended up having to go grocery shopping on Saturday; the day before Easter!  I knew it was going to be a horrible day for shopping, but I gritted my teeth and headed out anyways.  I was completely right.  The store was packed and everyone, equally stressed by the crowds, glared at every person they passed.  There were no slight smiles, or tired nods of the head, as people navigated the aisles with their over-filled grocery carts.  Only scowls when you didn’t move fast enough or when you parked your cart to the side of the aisle so you could reach a product.  I was bustled, pushed, and cut off at every spot in the grocery store and I found myself returning the same scowls that were directed at me.

Finally, as I was walking towards the checkout, trying to avoid running over anyone, I was slammed in the back of the legs by a cart.  It wasn’t a tap but a full out crush that crumpled my one knee and sent a throbbing pain from my other heel.  I took in a sharp inhalation of breath and turned, expecting to see my husband with a second cart carrying our two kids.  He was way behind and a very angry looking woman was staring at me.  “Sorry,” she mumbled in a forced tone and then pushed past me and stole the place in line that I was heading to.  There was no, “Are you all right?”  No pause to see if she had injured me severely, just a terse sorry before she continued on with being particularly rude.  As I watched her move away, the only thought that was running through my head was, “My God, what are our children going to turn out like?”

This isn’t the first time that question has filled my head as I wondered what we are teaching our children without even realizing it.  We are so caught up in life and getting ahead that we have lost some of the mannerisms that made us a superior species.  I try to practice the manners that were ingrained in me as a child but every time someone treats me rudely or doesn’t even give a polite thank you, I wonder if it is worth it.  I’m sure you know what I am talking about, holding doors open for people that are right behind you, giving a friendly wave to someone on the street or even giving up your seat to someone who needs it.

Only last week while I was at a children’s museum and waiting for a star show to begin, I experienced another time when I wondered what our children were learning.  The room was quickly filling up and a group of mother’s sat their rambunctious children on the only bench in the room.  The rest of the children and adults sat on the mats provided for the floor.  I had already secured a seat on the bench for myself and my husband and my kids were sitting on the floor (a much better place to be since you could lay back to enjoy the show on the ceiling).  Just as the show was about to start, an elderly woman came in with her grandchildren.  Looking around the room, she noticed that the bench was taken so she began to lower herself to the floor.  She was groaning and saying to her one grandchild, “I’m not sure if I can sit down there, honey, my hip might not let me.”

Before she could sit, I was across the small space and offering my seat to her.  She was embarrassed and asked me if I minded sitting on the floor but I told her not to worry about it.  (Actually, my husband gave me his seat and he sat on the floor instead.)  Not one of those mother’s asked their children to sit on the floor so that the elderly woman could sit comfortably and they all stared at me when I offered my seat. I felt embarrassed that their eyes were on me but I wondered what lesson their children just learned in that instant.  Did they learn that their wants are more important than the needs of the elderly?  I also wondered what my children had learned from me as I navigated around children to say, “Mam’ would you like my seat?”

So where am I going with this little rant about proper manners, it’s simple, what are we teaching our children without even realizing it. If we are impolite to people, we are teaching our children that it is okay to be impolite.  If we obsess about the latest devise that will make our life that much better, then our kids are going to believe that a better life can be purchased and they will begin to put more stock in manufactured goods than they do in people. If we constantly pursue anything, money, success, careers, the bigger home, the longer trips, the perceived “better life”, without taking time to enjoy the simpler things in life, then we are teaching children that all those things are more important than simply spending a sunny afternoon braiding dandelions together into crowns.

I know these are all the extreme but we often wonder what is happening to today’s youth and parents truly need to look at what their actions are telling their children. We also need to look at ways to teach compassion and ultimately look at what is more important to us; success, money, fame or our children and teaching them how to be wonderful adults that are compassionate, and caring as well as successful.

On that note, I will leave the topic open but please check back tomorrow to read some ways to teach children how to be compassionate and to instill morals in your child.

Morals are not taught in school, they are not genetic and they can be forgotten simply by watching the actions of those around them.  I had a wake up call a few months ago and this Easter just confirmed it, the way to a better life is in knowing that I have helped my children become a wonderful and compassionate adult by trying my hardest to be compassionate as well.


Sep 01

Your Budding Artist: Age 1-3 years

drawing by paintsYou may not know this but children develop art in a series of stages.  Early Childhood Education has broken those stages down to 3 stages ranging from 1 year of age to 5 years.

It is important to remember that when we discuss any type of developmental milestones, we are looking at a “range of normalcy.”  There, I said it again, that term, and if you are just joining us, the “range of normalcy” is a term used to describe an average age range when a child develops a skill or reaches a milestone.

With art, as with all milestones, a child may fall before or after the range of normalcy. I have seen 5 year olds that are only beginning to grasp the ability to form simple shapes; a skill generally developed between 3 to 4 years and I have also seen 3 year olds using symbolic representation, a skill usually developed at 4 or 5.

Today, however; I’m going to discuss the first stage of art: Scribbling.

I probably don’t need to explain scribbling to you since everyone has watched a child sitting with a paper and crayon; her arms making large movements as a line slashes back and forth on the paper.  To many parents, this doesn’t really look like art but it is.

In the scribbling stage, children are experimenting and exploring.  They are figuring out cause and effect since their actions are creating a reaction; a big splash of color on the page.  They are also learning about colors, textures and the many materials that they can use.

As they age, and ultimately practice using the materials and not eating them, they begin to develop fine motor skills that enables them to control the scribbles.  This fine motor training will set into place the building blocks for printing in the future.

The drawings progress from being random scribbles to being representative of objects.  They may look like scribbles to you but to your 3 year old, they are rainbows or cars or even family portraits.

When my youngest son was 2, he became enamored with the milky way.  Every time he would sit down with a marker or crayon, he would draw these swirling scribbles and then label the picture for me.  “This is the milky way, mom.  See here is the central bulge and here are the four arms…”

The picture always looked like a confused knot of scribbles to me but to him each scribble opened up a world of wonder, a universe to explore.

And that is what scribbling is.  A means to open up a universe of creative expression. Without scribbling none of the other art stages would develop and it would be like trying to learn how to talk without being able to babble first.

So if you haven’t started drawing with your young toddler, run out to the store and invest in some paper, paint, markers and any other art mediums that you feel are safe for your child.


Sep 01

Lunch Box Blues

Packed LunchWhen my first child started school, I became aware that on an almost daily basis his lunchbox was still full at the end of the day. There might be a bite out of the sandwich, maybe a few grapes missing or a few carrots nibbled on but other than that I was basically unloading the same lunch that I had loaded that morning.

I found it aggravating. Why was my son not eating? I packed it with a few goodies like fruit roll ups, cookies and other unhealthy little treats to go along with the healthy snacks but those were being left by the wayside as well. I tried everything from lecturing to blackmailing, “well if you eat your lunch, I’ll buy those really sweet donuts that you like,” to guilt trips “you know, there are kids that are starving in our own country.”

Nothing worked, obviously, and my stress level rocketed. How could he go an entire day without eating? How could his teacher go through the day without forcing…er…encouraging him to eat something, anything?

The answer to those questions were simple. For the first time in his life, he had complete control over what he ate. If he chose to eat his sandwich, then he ate it. If he was too busy talking to friends (almost always) he didn’t. No amount of lecturing or conniving on my part was going to change this. It was a hard fact to grasp but after a while, I learned to just ignore the half eaten lunches and found other ways to ensure that his daily intake was acceptable.

Here are a few tips that I thought I would share:

Give options:

Getting a child to eat can be pretty time consuming for any parent. There are a few likes, a lot of dislikes and a small amount of maybes in a menu. The key to getting your child eating while he is at school is to pack a large lunch. My usual lunch consists of two choices for morning snack, two for afternoon and then lunch which has the meal, a fruit or vegetable to choose from and one dessert. Usually, he could find a few things that he wanted and most of the other food could be used on another day. It is important to avoid loading up on foods that will spoil after one day or you will start to have a pretty heavy lunch budget.


Ahh, the spice of life. As adults, we hate having the same thing for lunch everyday so why would it be different for children. Yes, sandwiches are a staple of the school lunchbox but you can offer things like wraps, bagels, soups, salads and just about anything. Try to mix it up and take advantage of hot lunch days since this can provide a break from the usual brown bag lunches that are regular throughout the school year.

Don’t Panic:

If your child isn’t eating lunches, don’t panic. This was something that I had to work on since I worried about every little detail. After a few months, however; my panicking days were over and I (and my son) was a lot happier. Remember this general rule about kids “they will eat when they are hungry.” If you are worried about vitamin intakes, pick up a high quality multivitamin for kids.

Offer an After School Snack:

One thing I noticed was my son was famished after school and couldn’t wait an hour and a half until dinner time. Since he wasn’t eating his lunches, I would offer him an afternoon snack. Eventually, I wised up and allowed him to take a snack (one that didn’t have a shelf life of one afternoon in a lunch pail) from his school lunch. He could snack on something I had packed for him and he could hold off until dinner without chasing down the cat to eat him. It was a win-win for everyone (especially for our 11 year old cat ;o)).

Make Breakfast the Large Meal:

Flip your day and make sure your child has a large meal in the morning. This way he will have the energy that he needs to get through the day and if he doesn’t eat, that breakfast should tied him over until the 3:30 munchies hit. Some mornings he’ll eat less but a good breakfast isn’t just a catch phrase for cereals but a way of life.

Following these few tips should make getting over the Lunch Box Blues much easier and you will find one less thing to stress about in the school year.

Sirena Van Schaik