A Scooter, a Walker, and a Tricyclist – a tale of processing speeds

This morning, we went for a walk at a beautiful nature preserve. One on a tricycle, one on foot, and one riding a scooter (their choice).

It was a beautiful day as we started down the gently curving mile-long path. 

The scooter glided easily. In fact, more than 50% of his time was spent waiting for others to catch up. Again and again, I reminded him to wait, that I needed to be able to see him, because gliding is easy, almost effortless. It’s easy to keep going.

The tricycle started out slow. She pedaled with persistence and diligence and kept her trike on the middle of the path, but she was, by far, the slowest. And hills were nearly impossible. I had to push her up anything beyond the slightest incline. But she kept going, enjoyed herself, and was proud of her independence.

My walker was the most flexible. She could run ahead to where the scooter waited or could slow down to stay with me and the tricycle. She didn’t really notice the gentle, sloping ground, and her hands were free to touch the fauna along the path, finding juniper berries and various textures of leaves. 

Because we we’re pushing her abilities, she had time to enjoy her surroundings, to notice and ask questions. I held her hand for a bit and even carried her on my back when she was tired.

Cracks and breaks in the path were a hazard to my scooter, who could easily get toppled if he wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t phase the other two in the least.

At one point, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a raised pathway. We stowed our wheels, and suddenly, these three kids whose paces were so disparate were now close to unison. 

Sure, by the end of the path the tallest was slightly ahead, but it was nowhere near the difference seen with the various wheels.

Now, I know that all analogies break down eventually, but they can be useful too, so hear me out.

We’re all outfitted with different brain processing speeds. They’re innate characteristics of how we’re made. They are NOT intelligence. Some of the most brilliant people I know take a long time answering a question, and the opposite rings true as well. 

Someone with a slower processing speed will have the experience of constantly being helped along, pushed, nudged, dragged, pulled to keep up with the group, and will have little experience with downtime in a classroom or group setting. They’re constantly being told to finish things up, save it for later, switch gears to something else & then come back.

Someone with a faster processing speed isn’t showing off or intentionally leaving the group behind. It’s how he’s wired. He may have already passed by that tree, categorized it in his mind, and have moved on – and would be reticent to come back and rehash what to him is already in the past. 

My walker was made for this trip, and we saw that when everyone got down and walked/ran. They were able to run together, adjust their speeds to the group, and have a shared experience which was almost impossible for the tricyclist and required enormous amounts of restraint for the scooter.

Do you know what I said most often to the tricyclist? Let me help you.

And to the scooter? Wait.

And to the walker? You’re right – you found ________________.
So…. what’s my goal with this post? Empathy & understanding for our kids and their innate speeds – not judging someone as less intelligent because she happens to take longer to get there – and understanding for that kid, too, who has to hear “wait” 50x when all he wants to do is keep going. 

Cleaning Fun

A few months ago, I posted about how we’ve been focusing on the life skill of cleaning recently. It’s been a summer of slowing down, back to the basics, working together. And it’s been paying off.

Yesterday, 3.5yo E declared, “I’m good at cleaning!” And you know what? She is. She has been given appropriate jobs with support and practice, and she does a good job.

Even kings get to clean

It’s been rewarding, seeing the meltdowns diminish and the “I can’t”s turning into the “I can”s. I’m not saying we have it all put together, and I still have a couple clutter piles that I haven’t dealt with yet, but my kids are helping, and we’re all reaping the rewards. 

Shaving Cream in the Water Table

Shaving cream. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, reading other people’s blogs about how fun it is and a good resource for sensory play. But I didn’t trust it.

I tried that whole put a bar of Ivory soap in a microwave experiment – let’s just say it was a big mess and involved at least 3x  5x more clean up than actual play. So I was wary.

Since it’s summer and we have a water table, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to buy one of those dollar store cans of shaving cream & see what happens.

Here’s what we did.

We started with paint brushes of various textures and shaving cream mountains. In less than one minute, the table was covered. Uh-oh, I thought. This was going to lose its appeal in no time. 

But then the magic happened. The kids quickly transitioned to spreading the shaving cream along the deck railings. (We had a not on the floor rule — too slippery)

One trick I’ve learned with open-ended play is to only begin with some of the supplies. We began with a dry table, shaving cream, & paint brushes. Once I saw that interest flagging, I brought out the next element: water. 

They started pouring, mixing, experimenting with different consistencies, and even took their brushes and started cleaning off the cream they’d just spread. Lots of good gross and fine motor as well as sensory input was happening here, but we weren’t done.

The paint brush cleanup of the railings allowed for some great crossing the midline activities, and all the mixing and pouring was a rich source for bilateral coordination.

We then added a spray bottle filled with water, good for grip strength, shoulder stability, eye-hand coordination, and look at that bilateral coordination! 

In the end, all 3 returned to the table, playing with the slop they’d created by thinning out the shaving cream with water. E was watching how the force from her spray bottle propelled the other liquid forward – easier to observe in the grainy solution rather than pure water, and J & E were cooking up concoctions and pouring and stirring, using their imaginations.

We were out there for about an hour, and they ended up cleaning up most of the mess themselves in the midst of their play. 

It was fun. We’ll definitely pull this out some other time.

This last year, I’ve been immersing myself in the OT world of sensory input and motor skill development, and the thing that amazed me was that I now had the eyes to look at what my kids were doing and to see the purpose in their play – not because I dictated what they must do but because they sought it out themselves. And it was wonderful. 

5 Steps to Learning a New Skill

Learning something new isn’t easy. As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was to practice and develop the coordination necessary to swim, ride a bike, or tie our shoes, but at one point, we all went through 5 basic steps of learning a new skill.

I post this because we sometimes think that we (or our kids) should be able to jump from step 1 to step 5, from modeling to independent mastery, but we forget the steps in between that are so vitally important.

So here we go. These steps are largely necessary, though some people may occasionally be able to skip some of them. And they may also take longer or shorter amounts of time to move through.

  1. Modeling. An expert shows a beginner how something is done. A parent reads a book to a child. An older sibling shows a younger sibling how he ties his shoes, narrating the process. A potty training video breaks down the steps with visual cues “potty potty wipe wipe flush flush wash wash”, anyone? Grandma mops the floor while the grandkids watch from a safe distance.
  2. Participation. The expert still has control over the situation, but the learner is allowed to give limited input. This could involve the learner chanting along to the tie your shoes rhyme, a little stirring or pouring while baking cookies, throwing the socks into the washing machine. Rather than one plateau, this is a gradual stage where the learner takes on more and more responsibility until we get to
  3. Self-direction. The expert/teacher is still right next to the learner, but now the learner is in control of the situation. It’s the driver’s ed student finally sitting in the driver’s seat, though the instructor still has a brake pedal and is able to grab the wheel. It’s a 4yo deciding which toys to put away first, but his babysitter right there next to him, helping with the process and finding the missing pieces. The 6yo holding his own shoelaces and going through the rhyme, with helping hands right there to steer the process or catch some slack as needed.
  4. Partial independence. The learner is now in charge of the situation, but the expert/teacher still checks to make sure it was done properly. The mom still checks her 5yo’s teeth to see if he missed a spot. The dad runs a brush through his daughter’s hair just to check that she got everything. The teacher walks around the room, glancing at papers to make sure her students are carrying the ones in their subtraction lesson. The 8yo bakes a cake with her mom in the next room. By this point, students feel confident in knowing what they need to do, but they still need oversight, just in case. 
  5. Full autonomy. The skill has been learned, and the individual can be trusted to accomplish the task without outside help of reminders. You send your 10 year old into her room, and when she comes out everything is clean & put away. It’s time for bed, and you don’t double check that your child has remembered all the necessary steps because you’ve practiced so much that it becomes habit. The kids do their own laundry, no questions asked. You trust their math calculation at the farmer’s market and don’t double check it. This is the holy grail, what we’re working toward.

But so often, we forget that the intermediate steps are vital. And messy. Some may take a long time, and you may have to go back & repeat earlier steps. 

Learning is a process. And as much as we want our kids to have learned, we want, even more, for them to know how to learn. To be comfortable with asking for help and being learners, in those messy intermediate steps. We don’t want to shame them for not moving along fast enough, because that will diminish their desire to try again and learn something new.

So if I could encourage you with anything today, it would be to remember the process and be a willing partner to your kids along the way. 

No, we can’t have a beach day. And that’s ok.

We spent 2 wonderful hours at the beach this morning. 

It was beautiful. The kids did really well. And after two hours? It was enough. Time to pack up our stuff and hightail it outta there.

Over the years, living with multiple children with over-active sensory responses and heightened anxieties, I’ve developed a sense myself – the “it’s time to get out of here” sense. That tensing up, the glazed over eyes, the hyper-reactive responses to stimuli… they tell me it’s time to be done.

With 3 kids 6 & under, it takes time to go anywhere. Today at the beach we had a pop-up tent (necessary for sun breaks), and 3 bags – snacks, tools (shovels & pails), and towels/dry clothes. We needed 5 minutes to pack up, 5 minutes to get to the car, and another 5 to get settled in the car, sand removed, buckled and ready to go. That’s 15 minutes, which in the eyes of a 3yo at the end of her rope can be an eternity.

Respect your child’s limits. Sometimes, yes, they need to be encouraged to persist and see something through, but other times, and your mom sense probably knows, it may be time to call it a day, even when you’re the first to leave. 

A Trick to Help with Difficult Transitions

We’ve all been there. He’s busy playing and doesn’t want to stop for a new diaper (or to go potty). She doesn’t want to get dressed to run errands.

Especially with strong-willed children, we  can sometimes see a battle or refusal coming, and for the sake of all involved, it would be nice to have some magic words (other than a bribe) that get the kids moving and on their way.

You want to know what those secret words are, at least some of the time?

Here you go. Problem solved. 

“What do you want to do after we ___________”? 

It seems so simple. Here’s why it works.

  1. It gives kids control. They may not have control over going to the store, but they can maintain that sense of independence. 
  2. It takes the focus away from the current interruption and lets them focus on something they want to do.
  3. It activates the logical part of the brain, helping them control their emotions.
  4. It reminds them that this transition or change isn’t permanent. 
  5. It reinforces that whatever needs to be done is not optional, but does leave other choices open. 

So … the next time you sense the fight coming, give this a try, and let me know how it works!

Note: this works best after about 3 years of age and not so well when the activity itself is dreaded.

Mundane Magic

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Sometimes, life is big, flashy, exciting, post-worthy. But most of the time, life, especially with littles, is pretty repetitive.

Lots of manners and social skills, toileting, hygiene, basic respect and self-control. Over. And over. And over.

It’s not flashy, not “Pinterest-worthy”, but it is so worthwhile.
I thought I’d share a few of our mini-milestones along the way.

1st time interacting with an abacus – they counted, sorted beads to one side or the other, and started grouping them by 2s. One of my favorite things about the Reggio Emilia philosophy, as I understand it at least, is that we don’t have to show our kids the “right way” to explore something like this. Instead, we can follow their leads and see where it takes us.

It may not look it, but a water fight (got these little squirters at the library summer reading program) actually involves sophisticated social interactions. (Can I spray you? Where is appropriate? When is enough? How do I ask for help?) Younger siblings are perfect partners for developing social skills. They accept you for who you are, don’t have preconceived notions of how it should be different, and are often working on similar skills themselves.

Screen time. Our kids’ screen time is extremely limited. None in the morning (unless we go somewhere like the auto mechanic like we’re doing tomorrow), and it will be immediately taken away if they treat each other unkindly or refuse to share (we have 1 family device). This incentivizes them working together and shows me what they are capable of when they’re motivated enough.

Discovery. The kids are slowly internalizing the language and methods we’re using, and it’s exciting. I filled an empty Voss water bottle (plastic) with a few water beads (aff) and some water, and the kids all interacted with it in different but meaningful ways. It was so rewarding to hear 3yo E verbalize, “I wonder what happens if I do __________”. That’s what we want – for our kids to think through possibilities and outcomes and then trust themselves to see what’s next (within safe boundaries, of course).

Chalkboards doors. I love these. It’s the Contact brand chalkboard paper (aff) – and for about $10 I had multiple writing surfaces covering my very 90’s cabinet fronts. The kids all have separate spaces to create, or I can start a “doodle” for them to add to, and they love cleanup as well (spray bottle with water and a paper towel). It’s great for so many motor skills and for strengthening the shoulder muscles.

There’s nothing showy, viral, or awe-inspiring in this simple, faithful, day-to-day model, but even though it is mundane, I want to stop and recognize the wonder of it all.