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Hook ‘em While They’re Young

About a month ago I added an article I had written nearly two years ago for a startup app that wasn’t ever really able to get started. I hate wasting what I write when I think it’s good, so here is another, this one geared towards parents. Enjoy and share, if you like.

Hook ‘em While They’re Young

by Terri Klaes Harper

I recently acquired a four-year old. That’s a strange way to put it, I know, but it’s true. My husband and I had no children of our own and suddenly found ourselves as the caretakers of a four-year old girl. Since our only in-depth experience with four-years olds is having been four once ourselves, you can imagine we’ve been scrambling to figure out the best this and that for her, especially in developing a well-rounded young lady, so I sought advice in what would be best for her long-term. The common theme with each person was the idea of forming good habits. “I’m no doctor, but I do know it all comes down to habits. If [kids] form healthy habits early in life, they will stay healthy as they get older,” says youth soccer Players Development Academy’s (PDA) Reg Monsanto.

One area of concern for us was physical activity and involvement with other children; after all, we do not want a zombie child who responds only to the stimulation of electronics while her muscles turn to goo. “Physical activity and social interaction are critical for children. Unfortunately, we are living in a time where our children are bombarded with homework, social media, and other obligations that tremendously cut down on both their physical activity level and their human-to-human (not human to hardware) social interaction. Physical activities like competitive sports, dance, gymnastics, and martial arts provide all of these,” says Sensei George Rego, Chief Instructor of Jukido Academy. Not all of these issues are a problem yet for a four-year old, but when I went back to the idea of developing good habits, I realized I could not begin that too soon. Even setting up play dates with other children at a local park is a good start. We were still, however, wanting something a bit more structured than that, yet still fun.

Some of the soundest advice I found came from Chris Knox, a yoga for kids instructor at Hot Yoga Lounge, who also happens to be an elementary school teacher in our county. “The biggest thing with getting kids to be active is to allow them to choose their activities. Expose them to a variety, but don’t force them to do something they don’t enjoy. If an activity stops being fun, allow them to move into something else.” Flagler County offers much for sports and activities for children, so it really comes down to finding the right fit for the individual child.

For our girl, we chose dance. We wanted something that crossed over into more than just a physical activity, and with her love of music, creativity, and vision to dance, it was the perfect fit. According to Jeanna Reiter, new owner of and long-time instructor at Flagler School of Dance, “Dance education not only provides students opportunities to learn a healthy lifestyle and technique, such as posture and pointing their toes, but also life skills necessary for success. For example, dancers learn hard work, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, team work, accountability, and so much more, all while de-stressing and cultivating a passion for the arts… It is a physical workout intertwined with camouflaged life-lessons and an appreciation for music, movement, and artistry.” When she heard me talking about dance class, the mother of one of our girl’s friends mentioned to me that her daughter’s pediatrician recommended dance for her to help build strength and proper use of her leg muscles as she currently walks a bit pigeon-toed. In this sense, dance could be used as a developmental therapy of sorts, and it is commonly recommended as a therapy for scoliosis, making it a non-medicine approach that prevents and corrects.

Though each activity or organized youth sport can boast its own unique advantages, most offer children these common qualities: socialization, confidence, and stress-relief. Most youth sports and physical activities have the added bonus, as mentioned about dance, of relieving tension, something more adults need. In today’s fast-paced society, this is a clear advantage of good habits more adults could use. Why not start early? Knox says he tells his yoga students “to use their yoga breathing techniques when they are stressed (especially before a test).”  Kimberly Hale, Director of Flagler Sheriff P.A.L. says in her experience she sees that, “healthy, physically active kids also are more likely to be academically motivated, alert, and successful…and physical competence builds self-esteem at every age.” Again, socialization is a common thread in almost all organized youth activities. It isn’t just about learning to play and have fun together either; kids learn how to be part of a team and to build up one another and to get along with different personality types, a skill that will be required of them for the rest of their lives.

Also, in order to keep your child excited about this endeavor, and wanting to continue, Kimberly Hale suggests, “Parents should volunteer and be part of the program [when possible] to keep kids interested. It supports bonding with the families and the kids feel safer when they have someone they know around. I also feel kids strive to do better at something to impress their parents.” Children do learn by example and they watch every move we make, whether we realize it or not. As they are learning about life, they want to know they have the support of the ones they love and respect.

Again, consider the personality and interests of your child in order to begin testing what fits best. Give them choices and do your research. Rego says of martial arts, “There are a lot of schools…but there is a lot of fast food too…it doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Look for quality and substance.” Obviously this could be said of many activities choices out there. The right experience can make all the difference, so we must be able to guide our kids into what is best for them as individuals. What works for some may not work for others, but there are enough choices around Flagler County to find at least one good fit for your child’s needs and personality. Clearly, it is up to us to help today’s youth, the next generation of leaders, to form good habits now. As parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, neighbors, and community leaders, we should be able to break the trend of childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles by mixing healthy activity with fun.

Copyright Terri Klaes Harper 12-2-14


My Banned Book List: an Update on Living with a Four Year Old

I was an English major in college with an emphasis in literature, so I’ve never really been one to support banning books, but I may have found a book no longer welcome in my home.

It seemed innocent enough…

ban this book

Today, Linnea asked me to read this book at naptime, one I had never seen or read before. It even started out with a child and a dog who grew up together.  I have two beloved dogs, so I thought it would be a cute tale (or should I say tail?- sorry, bad pun).  I should have known early on when it was mentioned that the dog grew faster than the child… but I kept going. I will leave out the devastating details, but will just say I had to pause to suck up some tears (and probably some snot) as I drew close to Elfie’s death.  I didn’t think I would be able to continue after that.  Fortunately, Linnea could not see my face as I read to her, but I had trouble getting the quivering out of my voice.

I guess this book was meant to prepare kids for the death of their dear Rover, Fido, or even Whiskers, and to emphasize telling them you love them while you have them, but I am not ready yet to accept that my two wonderful Australian shepherds will ever leave me in any way, let alone prepared to explain this to my grand niece. A warning on the cover of this book is all I would have needed, but NO, I was taken completely and vulnerably off guard!

I tucked in Linnea, went into the living room with my doggies and hugged and loved on them so much even they wanted me to stop after a while (that NEVER happens).

Just be warned, if you see this book, you should be prepared before reading aloud to any child (or even silently to yourself).

Ok, so it really is a nice book in many ways, but seriously, read it yourself first so you know what you’re in for. Yikes!

It’s nobody’s business, but here goes…

After my two most recent posts, I noticed this, my very first post, popping up in my stats again and I had to reread it because I’d forgotten it. God has a sense of humor.

caverns of my mind

There is an imaginary rule book, no, wait- an engraved stone out there that “they” wrote.  Nobody knows who “they” are and nobody questions the rules on the imaginary stone tablet.  Why not?  And don’t you dare go and break one of these sacred rules, or you’ll be viewed as weird or different.  After all, if we were meant to be different, we would have each popped out of our mothers’ bellies with our own individualized rule book in hand.  I, for one, am declaring the need to throw out this archaic book and write a new one!

As young children, we are raised on great old stories of princesses, castles, Prince Charming, and happily-ever-after.  There’s nothing wrong with this idea… I could be a princess, and even pretend as though I couldn’t survive without Prince Charming, if he was charming enough.  I always had a problem with the…

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My Peculiar Confession

I do not have children, nor have I ever desired to have children (for maybe about 6 months of my life because it felt like a duty I should take care of, like paying taxes, walking the dog, or something); however, I am tired of those who propagate assuming I don’t because I am a selfish person.  And even if I were childless due to being selfish, why would anyone want to argue with me about it and try to talk me into having kids.  If there are people out there who have made a conscious decision not to have babies because they know they are selfish, wouldn’t it be best to let it rest?  Don’t we have enough bad parents in the world?

I have several reasons for not having kids (many I believe I covered sometime ago in my blog), but one is, surprisingly, that I don’t want to be selfish.

That’s right.  One reason I have not procreated is because I want to keep myself from being too selfish.  I have an intense personality and I put my all into whatever I do, to the point of it almost becoming unhealthy at times.  I taught for seven years, and in that time I touched the lives of more kids than I ever could have if I had one or two kids of my own.  Sure, some people do both, but for a personality such as mine, I knew I had to make a choice because I would only be good at one.  By the thank yous I often get from students I was able to encourage and inspire, I believe I made the right choice.

Now I’m not teaching, so people have asked me again about why I don’t have kids.  Well, I’m not as young as I used to be and I know it gets riskier to have a healthy first baby at this point, so again, wouldn’t that be selfish?  (Not to mention that I still have no biological urge to do it)

By remaining childless, my husband and I have less obligation, allowing us more chances to put ourselves into projects and places where we can help others.  We both desire to do this, but I know if I had a child, I would block out the world and make everything about that one little being, while there are so many others in this world with needs.  I’d rather work on a larger scale.  I believe this is why God never gave me the desire to breed.  Seriously.  I know it sounds weird, but it’s true.

I genuinely hope so many people with children will stop assuming they know the reasons people decide not to have kids and that the reason is that we’re all selfish.  Unless you know the person and her story, you cannot assume this about her.  It’s the equivalent to those of us without kids assuming everyone with offspring has them because they are narcissistic and felt nothing but the desire to create facsimiles of themselves.  That is not a fair assumption, and neither is the other.

The Tin Man’s (or woman’s, in this case) Assessment of Society’s Current Direction

As a high school teacher, I get a unique look into the future of this nation, and sometimes it is scary! Please understand that I do teach some wonderful kids who are really going to make a positive impact on the world around them, but they have much to counterbalance that. The kids I teach are primarily the advanced kids, so even though English is a core requirement in 10th grade, my class is optional, and many do not make it. Some of these kids feel that just by their being admitted into my course and by their taking up space in my classroom, they should automatically receive high grades.  Since they are smart, it is obviously my job to place little magic A’s into every possible place in my gradebook.  Why should they even be required to do any work?  They think I owe them this.

I feel it is my job to get them ready for life after high school: the “real world” as not seen on MTV.  The fact that I expect them not only to do work, but to do it well annoys them. My theory is to always aim as high as possible so that even if you don’t make it all the way, you’ll still land somewhere above everyone else.

This last Thursday was our last day of school, and I already had the grades in and finalized when I went in for my last day on Friday.  I opened my email to find this message from a student who had done mediocre work on his best days in my class:

“I couldn’t get one point to get a C for the semester? really?”

My reply: “I’m pretty sure you had the entire semester to work that out for yourself.  I don’t give handouts.  I just plug in the numbers students earn.  If you are not happy with the results, that’s on you, not me.”

(BTW- A C requires a 70% and he had a 68.35%, so apparently his math is not much better than his English.)

He took his communication one step farther with me and replied, “I worked hard the entire time, if i knew my hard work wouldn’t get me one point that i needed, i would have dropped your class when everyone else did. I didn’t think you were that heartless.”

(Don’t even get me started on the butchering of grammar and mechanics in this email to his English II Honors teacher)

This came from the kid who apparently bragged on Facebook about getting a 38% on his research paper in my class, and thought it was funny.

I have some choice words for him, which I obviously cannot use in any response to him, and I will just let him stew over this all summer and not respond at all. Now, I know I am right, but the scary part is that I think he truly believes that he is right, and I am wrong.  Any mature adult, and quite honestly, many of my students, and probably even my two Australian shepherds, know better and see that I would be doing him no favors by “giving” him a grade he did not earn, and would, in fact, only be adding to his delusions of grandeur (I’ve been wanting a place to use this phrase often quoted in Star Wars); however, this does not make me feel much better because this thinking seems to be gaining popularity.

Why? How?

Apparently this young man has a couple of older brothers who subscribe to a similar philosophy, which leads this trail straight back to the parents. Now, they have not chimed in on this matter, and I doubt they will. I understand they are quite hands-off with their kids and leave them alone quite often while they travel, leaving them (the parents) feeling guilty and giving in to whatever whims their children have.  Of course, I have also had parents attack me for similar situations, twisting it into being my fault that “Johnny” got an F after he didn’t turn in any of his work, etc.

As to the “heartless” comment in the last email message, tell that to the young ladies who confided in me about abuse, deaths of loved ones, health issues, and situations of poverty, who all thanked me for being there for them and hugged me on our last day together.  Oh, and a few of them only pulled off D’s in my class too, but they understood that I helped them as much as I could and the rest was on them.  They took responsibility, and in the end, they still saw that I cared about and for them.  After all, it’s hard to be heartless and be a teacher.  We don’t do it for the money, the benefits, the job security, or the recognition, because there isn’t much to be had in any of those areas these days.  Being an effective teacher takes the know how to deliver tough love.

If you are a parent, please think about what you want your child to be like when he or she grows older.  What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Is the idea of entitlement one you want to plant on your child?  “really?”