During this summer vacation, my kids did one week of summer camp on the “Bauspielplatz”, which could be translated with the words “Construction Playground”. They had a wonderful time there and I think, the pedagogical concept of this playground is so great, it is definitely …
Author: Anna Schledorn
Discrimination and injustice is a touchy subject for some “white” people. Many “white” people don’t want to be racists and don’t mean to actively discriminate. It’s a subject some parents don’t want to address or don’t feel necessary to address. However, we should be aware, …
I want my children to learn that all humans are our brothers and sisters, all are equally valuable and all have to be treated with the same dignity and respect.
I want them to appreciate how beautiful it is that God has created humanity with so many faces, colors, cultures, body types etc. and how boring it would be, if we all were the same. This does not only apply to our appearance but also to culture, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. I want my children to learn, that our looks and our ways are not the norm for everybody else but diversity is the norm and we are only one variation in many. I want to teach my kids to not judge people by how they look.
When I was a young child,
my father set an example and taught my brother and I to be open to people who are different from us and include them into our group and neighborhood. The population in our town was very homogeneous. But one day, a refugee home for refugees from Africa opened just down the street. Most people were scared of those “dark colored big men”, who did not speak our language. My dad however, he took me by the hand, walked over there and welcomed them and invited them to come sit with us in our garden, have a beer and a chat and get to know each other. And when he had friends over, they were invited, too and soon more and more people of the neighborhood knew them personally and appreciated our new neighbors. That way, it was not “us” and “the strangers”. They became part of our neighborhood and individuals the people knew by name.
Where we live now, my kids grow up in a diverse society. Some adults in Germany still don’t get it. However, if you look at statistics, especially our youngest generation is a melting pot. In my city we even have some neighborhoods with much more children with immigrant background than “traditional” German kids. In every school class there are at least some children who speak another language at home and come from other cultural background. We need to address this and tell our children that this is normal and OK. I try to teach my kids, to not only accept the other children with other cultures, but also to be interested and open to other cultural backgrounds. By greeting and introducing our selves to the new parents, by actively telling our children, that they can invite those kids for play dates, we as parents can strengthen our kids’ inclusive behavior.
When my kids were around three years old, they started asking questions about why other kids looked different and spoke different.
Here are two of many examples I used to explain diversity, when my children were really young and asked about why some kids looked different or spoke different:
Look at all those beautiful flowers and plants in our garden. Isn’t it beautiful how many there are? Now imagine we would have to pick only one. Imagine we would say that is the only good flower and all the other flowers are not as good because they don’t look the same. Wouldn’t that be sad and look so boring? Isn’t it so much more beautiful that God has created so many different flowers? It’s the same with people. It’s beautiful that we aren’t all the same. We humans come, just like the flowers in many different colors and sizes and that makes our world even more beautiful and not boring.
In this world we have many different cultures. That means for example that people in different cultures have developed many different ways of cooking. A typical dish from where we live in Bavaria would be sauerkraut and dumplings with sausages or roast pork. Now imagine you had to eat sauerkraut every day! Isn’t it great that other people from other cultures also created pizza, pasta, croissants, couscous, falafel, curry, barbecue sauce, tacos and all those other foods? How boring would it be, if we didn’t have all those different cultures?
Whatever examples we chose to talk about this topic, it will be fine as long as we do address it. You will know, what your kids understand best. By acknowledging diversity in a respectful way, we teach our kids not to judge or look down on people, who are different from us without having ignoring the differences.
Should we ignore color?
Now – with all the protests for #blacklivesmatter going on, I read a lot about some white people, who don’t want to discriminate saying “Color doesn’t matter” and some people of color saying, that this is offensive, because they say “then you ignore our culture and background”. Here is my personal view on this topic:
Somehow we humans tend to put people in boxes and judge them by visible features. But once we start to really look and be honest, we realize that we are just exercising prejudices. I believe that where I live it is an illusion or well, more a prejudice to think that “color” is a reliable sign for somebodys cultural background. Where I life in Europe I only have to drive a couple hours and I can meet “white” people with all kinds of cultures and languages.
I can also meet people “of color” who grew up in those different cultures but one would speak French, one German and one Italian and another one Dutch … Some would have mixed ethnic backgrounds and have grown up in Bavaria just like me and have my accent and culture. Some would have my culture and African or American cultural backgrounds. Others might come from Africa, which however has so many different cultures and religions itself. So the color would actually NOT be a reliable sign of their cultural background, upbringing or even social status.
I don’t think we should turn a blind eye to the culture or background of a person of color. However, I have to look beyond the skin color or tan or other superficial feature to actually see the culture or background and recognize the person as who she or he is. This in mind, in a perfect world, it would be ok to say “Color doesn’t matter to me”. But unfortunately we all grew up in a racist system. Even when a white person isn’t aware of their privilege and of racism, systemic racism does exist and many – if not all – “people of color” or “black people” do make negative experiences with racism from childhood on. So saying “color doesn’t matter” in our world, is a way of ignoring and downplaying the fact, that racism exists and that due to it “white” people have privileges that often are denied to people “of color”. I think, we need to keep this in mind. Because not all racism happens with the intention of hurting someone. I believe, as we all grew up in a racist system, many or all “white” people unintentionally sometimes support this racist system without being aware of it. So let’s not play down the fact, that in our world, color does still matter a lot. Because too often it matters when it comes to chances in education, job search, finding a home to live etc. So I believe it is important to be aware of it, because only then, we can take on responsibility and make it better.
There is one context of the phrase “color doesn’t matter” however, that I personally want to teach my kids as true. For me personally the phrase is true in the sense of “Color does not influence the amount of respect I have for a person“. Color does not matter in regard of the value of a person, in regard to the rights this person has and in regard to whether I am willing to get to know the person or accept the person in my group, life or family and would like to be part of this persons group, life or family. And that is – what I try to teach my kids. To be interested in getting to know a person as he or she is, regardless of “color”, to be willing to listen and learn from this person.
Another important topic we need to address with our children are human rights. With the UN children’s rights convention we have a very good foundation to teach kids about their rights and human rights. By now there are so many good materials out there we can use to help our children understand their rights.
As a social worker I have taught so many kids in our city about children’s rights. What always stood out to me was, how interested and involved children become, when we discuss equal rights and discrimination. Children have a very strong sense of justice. All those kids I worked with had either experienced or witnessed some form of discrimination and they all understood what is fair and unfair behavior. We adults need to is nurture this sense of justice, nurture their compassion by making them aware that others feel the same, when treated unfairly, teach them their rights and that all humans have the same rights and make them aware about racism. From young age on, we have to teach children, to be aware that “equal rights for all” means equal rights also for people who look different or/and have another culture. The most lasting lessons children learn, are the ones that connect with their emotions. So let’s use their natural feelings of compassion to teach this lesson from early age one, before they fall for racist slogans and start to define people of other color, gender, sex. orientation or people with disability as less worthy and start to loose their compassion.
… and why this talk is a crucial point in my parenting With all the protests and riots going on lately about justice for George Floyd and #blacklivesmatter, more and more articles and TV messages are popping up about “how to talk to your child …
I know, we are really privileged in our situation, as my husband and I haven’t lost our work and we have a big child friendly garden, where our kids an play. However also for all members of our family the Covid 19 crises is a challenge.
As a working mom I am busy on normal days. However, now I am truly struggling during lockdown to home school my kids while simultaneously working from home and running our household.
Being a mother during Covid 19 times for me means being a parent, a wife, a school teacher, music teacher, a fitness coach, an entertainer and friend to my kids, who miss their peers, a cook and housekeeper for 4 people who are now home 24/7, a shopping service for the elderly to keep them safe (a.k. my mother), a seamstress for face masks and last but not least, of course I still have my job as a professional social worker. I am sure many parents can relate. Well, ok, I am not so much an entertainer. I let my kids entertain themselves and when they get bored, and I don’t start to entertain, that’s when their creativity soars. But usually they play for hours by themselves, or with the sibling or with friends. Usually, if I feel bad after a couple hours of not seeing them, I go to them and ask if they need anything and they are like: “No we are busy, see you later.” (And by the way, all this without computer games. We don’t even have computer games or anything like that and my kids can sometimes during a week in the evening watch something via streaming service, but we don’t even have TV). However now, especially our younger one really misses her friends. So of course she needs an open ear more often and I cannot just let her be lonely… And I try to provide the right environment and tools to be creative and stay balanced and happy.
My kids are doing OK during this situation. But that is also thanks to us parents giving our best. Because our goal is to teach our kids, that crises can be overcome, that even in hard times there is love and light somewhere and that we as a family stick together and are there for each other. That in the darkest hours, loving people can shine the brightest.
This situation is no sprint. We are all in for a marathon. So we have to find coping methods, that will help us long term. We cannot just burn out bright and hot like a bush fire. We will probably need to keep our warmth and glow for many months. So we are trying to pace ourselves and find structures and routines that we can do for many months. For example, we realized, that homeschooling isn’t working, if our kids have to do it all by themselves but our home office work isn’t working, if we are constantly just helping with the homeschooling. So now, we are setting up homeschooling plans for the whole week for each child on Sunday evenings. And then we set up time slots, during which the kids can come and ask for help with their assignments and times, during which they will try to work independently on their homeschooling. I also find it really important, that we all start working at 8 a.m. because school work needs to be just done at some point of the day and then the kids are off and can just go outside and play for hours.
Here are some activities, we have so far in our family, that keep us positive, happy, healthy and grounded. Maybe I can inspire some parents a little with our ideas.
Lots of physical activity like inline skating, biking, hiking, swinging, jump starting our days on the trampoline and sometimes I even manage to make my kids join my digital yoga classes at home:
Lots of art and crafts, like turning our garden into an art gallery, woodworking and carving, body painting, sewing (face masks) etc.
Kids need the feeling of being helpful to the family and to contribute their fair share. And I, am neither willing nor – with all the work I have to do – able to play the maid for our family. So our kids are allowed to but also have to take over tasks at our house and contribute to the well-being of our family. For instance my 9 year old cooked lunch 3 times last week, while the rest of the family still had to do home office and homeschooling. Or our kids helped together and made pizza from scratch for dinner. They also repaired our old fence (cutting the wood, taking our the old nails and screws and putting the new sticks in place), mowed the lawn, helped with laundry and cleaning, worked with us in the garden, etc. Kids are capable and if we teach them how to, they can step up and do their fair share and they will be proud of the results of their work. I believe letting them do some work is good for their confidence and an important lesson for life. But we need to take them serious, as partners and have to give them some real tasks.
Simply playing outdoors without pressure, lots of contact to nature, plants, dirt, water and even fire, relaxing, listening to the bees humming in the blooming apple trees, reading a good bock while swinging in the hammock, playing with huge bubbles, playing with huge boxes, carving sticks, playing in the forest, picking flowers, all these are activities that keep my kids balanced and happy.
Music plays another important role in our lives. Whenever I can spare a little time, I just sit in the garden, next to where the kids a playing or reading a book and play my guitar a little and sing. And soon they are humming and we all are in a good mood. I wrote a song for my kids, and it’s so beautiful to catch them sing it, while they are playing. We also still all take our music lessons – now at home in a digital way. It is good to see and talk to our music teachers once a week. Sometimes we play music all together, my daughter with the violin, my son with the accordion or the piano.
And for us parents? We are trying to schedule our days in a way, that each of us can at least do a little sports like running, home-trainer or yoga everyday – even if it is sometimes as little as 30 minutes – and a couple times I was even able to squeeze in a little meditation. After all, we need some alone time, too.
I would love to read, what you have been doing in your families. Maybe you’ve got some new ideas for us, for there will be many more weeks with social distancing.
Many of my most precious childhood memories are connected to the four elements, earth, water, air and fire. When life is difficult for me, I can draw strength from those memories. I believe that playful experiences with the four elements are essential for good and …
Many parents put lots of thought into how to design their child’s room, because they want to create a nurturing environment, that helps the child to feel safe, calm and balanced and is encouraging for the child’s exploration sense and creativity. So they carefully pick out a color for the walls, the curtains, the carpet and try to choose furniture that is not only functional but also creates a harmonic combination.
However, when it comes to yards and gardens, many families choose some outdoor furniture and toys (like a trampoline) to place somewhere functional, but forget that they are missing the true potential of outdoor spaces: To create a beautiful harmonic place, that is beneficial for the development of their kids just as well as for the well being of the whole family.
As it matters what colors, textures and shapes I choose for my child’s room, it matters what colors, textures, shapes and even smells and play opportunities I provide outdoors, just that (in my personal opinion) nature provides so many more inspiring possibilities. I know, creating a beautiful garden is a lot of hard work but it is worth the effort.
When we plan a house, we plan different rooms for different purposes. With walls and furniture we define different functions for those areas. A garden, even if it is a smaller yard, will benefit from such a planning approach as well.
I cannot tell you what plants to use because that depends on where you live and what will grow there. However, I can give some ideas of what to consider:
When you try to decide on a structure for your yard, you should – just like when planning a house – ask yourself the following questions:
Where will be the space for retreat? Where and how do you want get comfy and relax? Not just the adults, but also the kids thrive of beautiful retreats that help them to relax and calm down.
Where do you want to sit together as a family and eat and maybe even cook outside?
Where can your kids do (loud and) active play? What kind of active play opportunities do you want to provide?
Where and how can you provide opportunities for your kids for creativity and to leave their own traces and shape their environment?
How can you include decorative aspects (just like you would decorate your home) to make a stay in your yard a beautiful, harmonic experience?
Use plants wisely!
Plants can be the backbone for the structures you want to create. It is contraproductive to see plants for the space they are using instead of their potential. Plants can fulfill many purposes in your garden.
With the help of plants you can create different little “rooms” and areas in your garden. Some people believe that a place looks smaller when you create different areas. However, it’s the contrary. If your eye cannot take in the whole area at once, the space appears much bigger. Plants, like bushes, can be used like a wall to create romantic hidden away spaces and are much more beautiful than just walls that protect you from neighbors´ view. You can also use bushes to break the wind so your sitting area becomes less drafty.
Don’t be afraid of trees. Some people believe that they can only plant a small tree because they have a small garden. However, the best tree for a small space is a tall tree, that grows tall enough to sit underneath, because you do not loose any space with it.
Use plants for shade. Personally I really like to create shade with bushes and trees that loose their leaves in winter time, because in the cold time of the year, I am happy for any sun I can get, but in the summer it will provide all the shade we need.
Use plants to provide play opportunities. For my kids the best places to play hide and seek are under and behind bushes. In bushes they built forts and their own little hideaways and can role play for hours. Plant bushes that survive when the kids cut some branches for carving or other creative wood works. Great “child” resilient bushes for us are hazelnut bushes and wild rosebushes that grow quick and create little “caves” underneath.
Grow flowers the kids can pick and play with. Your lawn does not have to be perfect green grass. Daisies, dandelions, shamrock, violets and forget-me-nots are much more interesting and inspiring for kids that just grass.
Personally, I believe that a beautiful environment has a positive influence on our mental health and stability. Use plants which shapes, textures, smells, and colors you like to make your garden beautiful. Plan different beautiful layers and levels. What decorative part do you want on ground level, what that could be knee high, what above your head? In my garden we have different areas of different beauty character. We have cultivated flowerbeds next to our porch with good smelling roses, lavender, sage and many smaller flowers as well. But we also have diverse natural areas in the meadow around the bushes and trees with flowers. We have trees that have shapes we find beautiful and many have beautiful blossoms and fruits (apple-, pear-, plumtrees).
I think those elements are the bases a good child friendly garden should cover. If you have more space and want to provide more play opportunities, there are so many things you could do. Of course treehouses and trampolines are fun. Ask you kids, I am sure they will come up with great play ideas for your yard. However I believe a natural and beautifully structured garden is much more important than a play furniture we put in it. In a well structured natural environment, my kids can play all day. While play structures I put inside like a furniture can get boring after a while.
Children should have the opportunity to make playful experiences with all four elements: fire, water, earth and air.
Read in my next post, how we have included those four elements in our garden.