How My B.Ed. is Making Me a Better Mommy

Not too long ago, when I was a childless, smart-ass teacher, I would scoff under my breath at the sight of frazzled parents struggling to entertain their children over summer vacation. For 10 months a year, I managed a classroom with 25 children; how, then, was it possible these parents were so challenged with their one or two children for a few short weeks?

And then I had a kid.

There is only one of him, but I am completely and utterly exhausted by the end of the day. This got me thinking: what’s different? How did I manage to run a classroom with two dozen little munchkins without dropping dead by noon?

Once I became a mom, I stopped being a classroom teacher. My training and experiences as an educator were a distant and foggy past that had been overshadowed by sleepless nights, emotional and physical exhaustion, and overwhelming joy and love that inevitably come with being a new mother. As my toddler begins to sleep longer stretches at night, those faint distant memories are becoming more clear. As such, I’ve begun viewing my day with my son no different than a day in my classroom.

What’s different? I’ve incorporated some of my teaching strategies in my day-to-day parenting practices. I don’t expect a miracle overnight, but I am already seeing some progress in the right direction. My day seems a little less hectic and more predictable, and, consequently, I am a little less exhausted and definitely more engaged.

I’ve always felt that sharing and collaborating with others is the best way for ideas to grow and evolve. Here are some of the ‘teaching’ practices I’ve incorporated into my day-to-day routine:

1. Structure

I have been building routines with my son since he was born. It has undoubtedly been a painstaking process; but, 14 months in, I am finally starting to see its benefits. My son wakes up, naps, eats, bathes, and sleeps at about the same time each day. The structure in our day helps eliminates power struggles and helps my son “look forward” to activities. This leads to a more cooperative child. Since much of my training and classroom experience dealt with older children, clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham’s work on building Routines for Toddlers and Preschoolers has been particularly helpful.

2. Discipline

As my baby transitioned from a stationary infant to a walking running toddler, his sense of adventure and curiosity has really begun to show. While strangers may find his antics quite amusing, when the safety and well-being of my child is at stake, I know I’ve got to put my foot down. I’ve tried some classroom-style discipline, and I am surprised at how responsive my 14-month old has been.

a. Non-Verbal Communication
– A stern, displeased look is often more effective than a constant rambling of NO! NO! NO!
– Proximity: walking over to my son when I see him doing something I have asked him not to
– Hand gestures, such as an open palm to indicate “Stop!”, help children associate meaning to words. This is why baby sign language is so effective. 
b. Positive Reinforcement
– Expressing (verbally and non-verbally) my approval when my son does something correctly instead of expressing displeasure when something goes wrong.
– Phrasing requests in a positive way: “I love it when you put your toys back in the box. You are so good at cleaning up. Let’s all work together to clean up before dinner.” This tends to be more effective than what most of us mommies would say: “Clean up time now. Hurry up, it’s almost time for dinner.”
– Expressing gratitude when he successfully follows direction. 
3. Play-Based Learning
– Ensuring our daily schedule involves both indoor and outdoor exploring opportunities
– Opportunities to integrate music, movement (dance), and other forms of creative expression
– Being a participant (not a leader, nor simply an observer) in my child’s play
– Allowing for freedom to explore his environment (this one has been the toughest as a mom; I can’t help but be protective of my little explorer!) 
– Reflection: spending a few moments to explicitly think about my child’s play experiences of the day.
– Share (with my partner, or anyone willing to listen) my child’s successes and challenges, and collaborate with other parents. Other parents bring their own set of experiences and skills to the parenting table, and we can all learn from one another. 

4. Differentiate Instruction

For grownups, instructions are almost always verbal. This is silly because not all of us adults are auditory learners. Some of us learn best by seeing or doing (visual or kinaesthetic learners). Similarly, children learn a variety of different ways. Instead of repeating instructions again and again, I try to convey my instructions in a variety of different ways to help my son better understand what I am try to communicate.

Only 27% of people use their formal education on the job. I’m one of them. While being a classroom teacher and being a mother are two very unique and different experiences, I am finding there are plenty of transferable skills that I can use to ensure that my son is getting the best possible version of me. Similarly, when I get back to the classroom, I know I will have a whole new set of parenting strategies that will make me a better teacher than I ever was before I began this beautiful adventure.

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