Author Archives: Heather Shumaker

Founding a Better Kindergarten

It’s time for some good news. If you’re looking for inspiration in the early childhood world, look no further than Cheryl Ryan and the brand new Red Oak Community School. Her motto: “No grades, no homework, no testing.” Like many … Continue reading

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The Every Day Hero’s Job is Speaking Up

I suppose the whole message of my “It’s OK” books is simply about speaking up. Speaking up when something’s wrong. Speaking up directly child-to-child when a child doesn’t like something. Speaking up when the culture is at odds with what’s … Continue reading

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Teaching Tech Limits

If you ask most adults, they’re concerned about kids and the amount of time they spend on screens. That’s definitely important, but have you asked kids lately how they feel about their parents’ use of screens? Too often, this is … Continue reading

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One Response to Teaching Tech Limits

  1. Great post. I fear this addiction to technology will be the downfall of western civilization… Well…not really, but it boggles my mind how many people prefer machines to humans these days.

    I use a computer all day, but do NOT like using my smartphone. I don’t want anyone to have the number so no one will feel entitled to call me 24/7. Tech is a tool, but to rely on only one tool is foolhardy. What on Earth will we do if a terrorist attack wipes out the electric grid?

    My Little Brother is nine and seems indifferent to technology other than liking to play “educational” video games at the library. I assume he has a Game Boy or similar at home, but thankfully he never drags it along when we have time together. I rarely use my phone while with him and have only called his mother or taken a few photos with it. I hope to show him that life with technology used sparingly is possible and (more?) enjoyable than life glued to a screen.

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Celebrating Cake

I was just talking to fellow parenting author Jessica Joelle Alexander about the virtues of cake. She’s the author of the new book The Danish Way of Parenting, and describes how Danish teachers focus on empathy lessons every week from … Continue reading

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One Response to Celebrating Cake

  1. Loved the cake. I would have killed for that as an 8-yr-old. :-)

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Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

News disasters don’t just stay in the news. Children encounter them. When something terrible happens, kids want to know why. We may not think they even know what’s going on in the adult world – but you’d be surprised. Kids … Continue reading

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3 Responses to Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

  1. Joanne Frantz says:

    Great column, Heather, on a scary topic for so many of us! This is information parents need to have.
    I heard your NPR spot on All Things Considered Weekend. Again, you were very good and clear BUT it was too short. Food for thought from the other woman about behavior in public
    judged differently for low-income families. Of course, I don’t agree with her.

  2. Bridgett says:

    Good topic Heather. But don’t you think, we can avoid giving them the scary answers and just divert their mind to something else?

    Or just tell them it’s a movie or a fairytale and just escape for the moment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Absolutely not. I love fairy tales in their own right, but when a child brings something to us about real news, in the real world, it’s up to us to give an honest answer, however scary that may be. If you think about it, it’s scarier for a child to realize she can’t trust her parents to tell her about life’s difficult subjects.

      Going into details may not be necessary, but basic information is. No need to dwell on it, but remember a child feels safer when her feelings are heard, her fears are understood, and her questions are answered.

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Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

When grown-ups realized bullying was a big, bad problem, they did what they usually do: they banned it. Zero-tolerance. Automatic suspension. Kids forced to sign contracts to report bullies. Now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent … Continue reading

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3 Responses to Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

  1. “You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance.”

    That quote should be sent to every lawmaker, legislator, policy maker, school official, and rule maker in the country. Too often, well-intentioned, but misguided and/ or lazy adults believe that simply passing a law will fix any problem that comes up.

    Our local school district has typical anti-bullying policies that are as ineffectual as most.

    Chris

  2. Jan Waters says:

    Great Heather! As usual, you are right on! Kids have to learn what to do not just what not to do. Jan Waters

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Joys of a Burned Finger

My son burned his finger the other day as he was helping me cook. I love it when these things happen. Not the pain, of course. What I love is when kids engage in real life and learn how to … Continue reading

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10 Responses to Joys of a Burned Finger

  1. Cari Noga says:

    I was astonished this weekend when at an overnight SCOUT camp all the children were told by the director NOT to run outdoors as they might trip and get hurt. I thought Scouting was supposed to be all about outdoor activity! On a similar note, a friend shared how her son’s finger started bleeding at soccer practice after being hit by a ball (who would have thunk, at a soccer practice?) The hit aggravated a prior injury, which the 8-year old calmly explained. My friend, however, who had taken her other two children for a walk away from the field, subsequently received a stern notice that the soccer league was not a drop-off program, that coaches were not responsible (!) and parents were required to be in physical attendance at all times. For safety’s sake, of course. Good grief.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh my. No running outdoors at Scout camp? Now there’s a place where children should be experiencing burned fingers – from building campfires. And running!

  2. Jenifer says:

    I love this! I’ve pretended I didn’t see “no running” signs in places where it made no sense to me to limit running. And since my kids can’t yet read, they were none the wiser. :)

    I also love the idea of teaching them how to fall, as well as teaching other safety skills (such as how to cross the street). But I’m not always sure of the best ways to do that teaching, or how to judge that the kids understand a skill well enough to tackle the next challenge (such as crossing the street alone).

    I’ve read Gavin de Becker’s “Protecting The Gift” and I’m familiar with (but need to revisit now that my kids are older) Free Range Kids. Do you have other good resources for helping parents give their kids the skills they need to take reasonable risks and assess which ones the kids are ready for?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad you’re running! Crossing the street – observe your children when they don’t know you’re watching, or announce you’re going to let them try and see what they do. In both cases you can be nearby enough to step in if necessary. For non-life and death things, go ahead and give them a chance to try the new challenges. If you wonder if they’re old enough, they probably are. Try interviewing someone from an older generation to find out what kids their age used to do. Good luck and enjoy your confident, capable kids.

  3. Love your message and hope parents everywhere will see how it applies to academic challenges young children face as well. Teachers and parents need to create safe environments in which children can take risks in their pursuit of new knowledge and recognize how a perceived failure can fuel future success. It’s not about the failing moment, be it a test or assignment or wrong answer in class. The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts for that is often where true learning takes place, perseverance is learned and growth is possible. Adversity builds strength and confidence. In the words of Mary Poppins, we are all “perfectly imperfect”. Thank you for sharing your message.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. Thanks for bringing up the academic side. Love your words “The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts.” Our reaction matters, and school learning is often focused on getting things right and looking good, but failure and healthy reactions to failure are so much more important. Mary Poppins has it right again.

  4. Luiza S says:

    What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? Hmm, where do I start.
    1. When my daughter was 18 months old, I was chided by a passer-by for letting my daughter play about two feet from a street trash can while waiting in a bus station. `What if she touches it?” (I’ll wash her hands?)
    2. When my daughter was 2 years old, I was forbidden to let her climb up and down the stairs of a restaurant terrace. “She’s going to fall, and you are going to sue me!” (No and no.)
    3. When my daughter was 3 years old, I was scolded for letting her unattended in the house (which was locked up tight) while I was napping. “What if she burns the house down or injures herself?” (No she won’t. Trust me to know what my own kid can handle?).
    4. When my daughter was 4 years old, we were scolded for keeping blunt but sharp scissors on her craft table, and also letting her play with coins and buttons. “She may injure herself! She might swallow them and choke!” (Why would she do that?)
    5. When my daughter was 5 years old, we got a scolding by park rangers because she was jumping from rock to rock at the beach. “The rocks are slippery and she may fall!” (She’s barefoot for better grip, and she’s been doing that for a week already with no harm.).

    These are just some samples of the many times over the years we have had conversations on this topic. People, this kid only learns from experience (possibly all kids do?). Let her have the experience. We promise you we are doing the utmost to control any serious danger. She’s 6 now, and she has not injured herself or destroyed property.

    Thanks for the new book! I loved “It’s OK not to share”. It was a breath of fresh air.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      The one that hurts my heart most is the park ranger story. Kids out in nature should be celebrated and encouraged, not shut down. Thank you for sharing your stories and for keeping a level head!

      • Luiza S says:

        The ironic part about the park rangers story was that there was a playground near the beach that the rangers closed for days after every trickle of rain (“Slippery playground equipment is dangerous!”). Well, at least open the playground if you don’t want the kids to play on the rocks! I couldn’t have made this stuff up if I tried.

        Kids are taught to fear nature these days from all angles. Nature is messy, muddy and icky. Some of my daughter’s playmates on that vacation would freak out if they stepped with their sandals in a mud puddle and would insist their parents clean it. And nature has critters. My daughter was afraid initially to climb on the seaside rocks because of the tiny crabs scuttling between them, so my husband convinced her to hold a few and let them scuttle over her arms and shoulder, to see they tickle but don’t pinch. That worked for her, but the other parents were shocked and were cautioning my husband that she might catch a disease. My husband was annoyed enough to tell them that these are not the right kind of crabs to catch a disease from :)

        It’s not as if we do this to espouse a particular child rearing philosophy; me and my husband were merely born in different times and places, and by those standards we are worrywarts with our own child. And the vast majority of young child rearing advice we see in North America seems to run counter to our desire to raise an independent, self-sufficient adult. Which is why I LOVE your books. I finally have something to point to: “See, we are not crazy and reckless!”.

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What’s Fair and What’s Equal

We don’t want to play favorites. That’s a basic tenet of raising kids. Yet our quest for impartiality can get in the way of recognizing, supporting or celebrating one child. Don’t play favorites, that’s still true, but kids can handle … Continue reading

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One Response to What’s Fair and What’s Equal

  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is how most people freely interchange the terms “fair” and “equal.” Equal is rarely fair, and fair should rarely be equal. Why? Because we are all unique!

    I feel stuck sometimes, especially with kids when they all want the approval of adults. Your example of praising the 12-yr-old and the father immediately mentioning his other children is a great example. Let the ones being praised have their 100% moment of glory. and insist on the same treatment when the next child has his/her success.

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Making Room for Justice

What would you say if you saw a group of eight 1st and 2nd grade boys excluding a girl from their running game? Possibly this: Sexism. Girls discriminated against. Our adult minds leap to what seems obvious. We might sigh … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Making Room for Justice

  1. Meghan Owenz says:

    Love this! I call it “natural consequences.” Children learn from natural consequences if adults don’t step in and stop them from happening. The little girl’s behavior had a natural consequence – the children didn’t want to play with her any longer. I bet she learned from it too.

  2. Excellent observation. I’m amazed that everything you say about raising children is 100% common sense and based on how children see their world, not an adult’s interpretation of a child’s world.

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Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

Choice gets a bad name in early childhood. Adults scold kids about the “choices” they make on a daily basis: “That was not a good choice” (when she hits her brother). Or perhaps we interrogate: “Was that a good choice … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this. After working in a handful of daycare centers when I was in college, I am horrified and often repulsed to see how that time has snuck its way into my parenting. I tend to default back to those years and I hate it. This is one of those phrases that I have heard, that I have USED, but it has always bugged me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.

    I love the phrase “neutral and helpful.” So much more effective.

  2. Keith says:

    “It’s ok to go up the slide.” What a great title for a book!

    Thanks for the helpful article, it was very enlightening. I’ll keep it in mind with my little ones (8 and 6, both going on 41).

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