Life gets busy. Whether you are a parent or not we all seem to have a to-do list a mile long. It is becoming more and more important to prioritize ourselves. I used to think that if I prioritized myself I was being selfish, I am sure many of you can relate.
I own and teach at a preschool, teach private piano and voice lessons, I am growing two online businesses and have my family responsibilities as well. If I am not organized with my week or I have not taken time for myself to do the things that energize me and fill my cup I get overwhelmed. Planning is a big part of how I keep myself feeling like I have things under control, lucky for me I am very A-type and I thrive on planning and schedules. This can sometimes be a detriment to my mental health though as I can tend to be quite rigid in certain areas of my life but that is a whole different blog topic.
Part of what I schedule within my day though is time for ME. This time typically happens in the morning before the day has really started for me. I find this the best time because if I wait to do it until afternoon something always seems to come up and I am never able to make time for it. My morning routine is really important to me. It energizes me and puts me in a headspace where I feel like I can be the best version of myself for all the people and tasks that require my attention throughout the day. Here is what a typical morning looks like for me.
1. Exercise. This is usually the first thing I will do often before I even have my coffee!! Yes, you read that right! I recently heard on a podcast that you should delay coffee intake for at least an hour after waking up because it doesn’t actually “wake you up” it just blocks adenosine which is one of the neurotransmitters that make you sleepy. This is why most people have a midafternoon crash because once the coffee wears off the adenosine is still in your system since the body did not properly deal with it. Also I exercise EVERY DAY. Some days may be less intense but I intentionally move my body every single day. This has proven to be one of the best ways for me to start my day right. I always feel better and ready to take on the day after I work out. I want to also mention that as a mother (or primary care giver) I know how difficult it can be to stay consistent with working out especially at first because you feel like if you are giving to yourself you are taking away from your children. This is absolutely not true and I intend on writing another blog on this topic. Giving to yourself will actually make you a more conscious, loving human.
2. Journal. Once I have come up from my work out (and grabbed my coffee!!) I write in my journal. I actually have TWO journals. The first one I write in is for my negative thoughts. It is modeled after the concept in Make Miracles in 40 Days by Melody Beattie. I take about 10 minutes and write all the things I am not happy with in my life but I say that I am grateful for it. If this intrigues you I definitely recommend you reading the book. Essentially the idea is to get it all out there, be brutally honest about what you are not happy with in your life or about yourself or things you think are holding you back from your past that way later in the day when your ego tries to step in the way of your greatness your subconscious already feels like that negative thought was addressed and doesn’t feed into it. After I get all the crap out of my head I write in my “feel good journal.” This one is strictly for positive thoughts, things I am truly happy with and grateful for in my life and affirmations.
3. Meditate. After my journaling is finished, my mind is free from it the negative clutter and I am all filled up with gratitude and hope for my future self, I meditate. This for me is the perfect time and since my body has already moved it is easier for me to sit still. Some like to do it first thing in the morning but I personally find it hard not to fall back asleep. Meditation has so many proven and researched benefits such as reducing stress, increase emotional awareness, reduction in memory loss and lower blood pressure to just name a few.
I have made these three things a priority each morning because I know how much I benefit from them both physically and mentally. As I mentioned I am a mother and I have a work schedule to keep so most days I am up by about 5:30am to give myself enough time to make sure I get all of this in before my day becomes filled with other obligations. That might seem like a feat for some and I get it. If you have a younger child at home and your sleep is mediocre at best perhaps 5:30am won’t work for you OR maybe you just need to start smaller and build up to a great morning routine. I only in the past year developed the habit of journaling and mediating but it was after almost a year of exercising every day. If you don’t take the first step in the direction you want to head you’ll never get there but if you are consistent even if you think you are not doing much it will accumulate, trust me. So start building the morning routine that allows you to show up for YOURSELF each day. You won’t regret it…and your babies are watching.
When things get busy I love nothing more than easy but hearty and nutritious meals that be complied into one pan or baking dish.
Here are 4 of my favorite one pan/casserole meals
1. One Skillet Cheesy Broccoli Cheddar Orzo Bake – This delicious meal is quick and easy with minimal ingredients. It can be assembled ahead of time and it freezes well.
Check out the recipe from Half Baked Harvest HERE.
2. One Pot Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff – This dish is perfect for meatless Monday! It is absolutely delicious, hearty and filling. The mushrooms replace the meat and the added nutritional yeast and cashew butter create a creamy and satisfying flavor. Recipe from frommybowl.com and you can find it HERE.
3. Chicken and Zucchini Casserole – I find that most casseroles tend to be pasta focused. Do not get me wrong I LOVE pasta but sometimes it is nice to have another option. This casserole is a wonderful alternative if you want to steer clear of the extra carbs. If you are gluten free then be sure to substitute the flour in the recipe for arrowroot powder or corn starch. Recipe from Eatingwell.com and you can find it HERE
4. One Pan Chicken and Rice – This delicious Mediterranean meal will be a hit with the whole family! Easy, delicious and full of flavor you will come back to this dish again and again. Recipe from downshiftology.com and you can find it HERE.
Even as adults many, if not all of us, have experienced some form of anxiety. Our children are just as susceptible to anxiety but they may not have the skills yet to cope with it.
Anxiety in children can present in a number of ways including:
Reluctance to separate from parents
Physical symptoms such as headache or stomach ache
Teaching proper coping skills will allow them to feel more in control when feelings of uncertainty arise. The goal is not to make the fear go away but to teach them to manage it and to learn to tolerate uncertainty. When techniques for tolerating uncertainty are practiced at home in their “safe place” children will be able to put their skills to work when needed outside the home.
As parents we need to be modeling to our children how to react to stressful situations in a healthy way. Instead of thinking worst case scenarios we need to keep ourselves grounded and mindful in the moment. We can manage our own stress and anxiety in a number of ways.
Limit the amount of negative content you are taking in. Although it is important to stay informed about the world’s events it can wreak havoc on our own inner peace when we are not careful. Social media can be bad for this, people constantly sharing negative information or “calling each other out” because their opion isn’t aligned with the other persons. Try limiting the amount of time you spend on social platforms that are not filling your cup and limiting the amount of negative articles you are reading each day.
Be Present. This a big one in general but especially when it comes to handling anxiety. The actual definition of anxiety is: A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Since anxiety stems from worry about something that has not yet happened when we focus on being present it is impossible to worry about the future. Consider starting a daily meditation practice to help you on this journey. I absolutely love the Insight Timer App, it has a ton of amazing free guided mediations.
Rely on routines. Establishing a routine of daily exercise, getting outside, healthy meals and appropriate amount of sleep is crucial for regulating our moods.
So now that we have discussed how to help ourselves let’s talk about how we can help our children.
Structure their day. Children thrive on routine and structure (just like we do). When there is certainty in their day such as regular meal times, time for exercise and play, scheduled play dates or classes and a good bedtime routine it will help them deal with the uncertain things that may arise. It is not necessary to schedule their entire day because free down time allows for children to recharge and for their imagination to flourish but having things throughout their day that they can rely on is very important.
Acknowledge their emotions and problem solve if you can. What may not be a big deal to you can be a BIG deal to your child. We need to acknowledge how our children are feeling but not allow them to spiral. Work with your child to come up with a plan to help them cope. My daughter recently started kindergarten and knowing that she was getting anxious about so many unknowns coming up. We discussed things that may help her feel at ease and she suggested I go to school with her. Unfortunately with the recent circumstances of COVID that was not an option so instead I called the school and scheduled a quick meeting and tour with her principle. This eliminated many feelings of uncertainty for her because she was able to go into the school with me to see her classroom and meet some of the staff prior to her first day. Initially the school seemed reluctant but after explaining how beneficial it would be to the success of her first day they agreed to meet us. It is important that we advocate for our children to set them up for success, this will in turn empower them to advocate for themselves as well.
Avoid over-reassuring. Reassurance can be good in small doses but our children can tend to rely on it and need it more and more. You cannot make promises of a future you yourself do not know about so instead have them practice mindfulness activities at home, in their safe place, with you or on their own so they are better prepared when feelings of anxiety arise. Again I would recommend the Insight Timer App, they have many great children’s mindfulness meditations.
Model calm yourself. Your child does not need to hear when you are worried about something; it is not their responsibility to shoulder your burdens. If things are weighing on you, be honest about your own emotions (because we also do not want to teach our children to suppress their emotions) and what you are doing to work through it, ie. going for a walk, mediation, painting or whatever strategies you have adopted to manage your own stress. You have heard the expression “actions speak louder than words” and it is true here too. You can tell your child all you want about how to cope with stressful situations but it will sink in more when they see you demonstrating healthy coping strategies.
Look for the positive. I don’t know about you but often when I am stressed I seem to have my sh*t colored glasses on. Nothing is good, everything sucks. When I notice myself getting into this frame of mind I instead start thinking of what I am grateful for. Incorporating a daily gratitude practice with your child can help them focus on the positive things in their life rather than the negative. If you are fortunate enough to eat meals all together as a family you can take turns saying what you are grateful for. Bedtime/wakeups are also a great time to connect and say what we are grateful for so we can start and end the day with positive thoughts. Each night when I am putting my daughter to bed I ask her what her favorite part of her day was, what her least favorite part was (and how it made her feel) and 3 things she is grateful for. I look forward to this time with her because typically I learn something about her day that she hadn’t told me and it is a wonderful time to give her a chance to feel heard.
In conclusion we want our children to grow up feeling confident in their own abilities to navigate their world in a healthy way. When we practice healthy coping strategies WITH our children we are giving them the tools to do so. Let’s empower our children to be confident, to see the world in a positive light and to be the best version of themselves. In my opinion the future depends on it.
Process Art Vs. Product Art
I was teaching at another preschool around Mother’s Day and the children were making their mom’s flower pots to give as their gifts. As I observed the project from the other side of the room where I was teaching I had noticed something that really bothered me. Each flower pot had to be made EXACTLY the same way, there was no creative process or personalization not to mention that after the children left that area to move onto another the teacher in charge of that center was “fixing” their gifts so they were just like the other ones.
That is a perfect example of “product art.” Where the project needs to look a certain way otherwise you have not done it correctly. Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times when children need to be able to follow directions but in my opinion art should rarely be one of them. Children can become self-conscious of their ability (or lack thereof) to make their art work look how it is supposed to which can cause defiance rather than compliance. The children who are not as capable with their fine motor skills may start acting up to try to avoid doing the project all together.
Coming back to the flower pots for a second, would it have been so bad if the children painted what they wanted to on the pots for their mothers? Or perhaps could decide to use the flower pot to make a monster for their mother instead because they knew their mom liked monsters more than flowers. Would that be so bad? As a mother I would much rather have a gift that I know my child made herself with her own creative mind than a cookie cutter gift that looked exactly like all the others.
So what is process art and why should you seek out process art activities rather than product art activities especially for younger children?
As the name suggests, process art focuses on the process of making the art rather than the outcome. You provide the materials and you let your child (or student) get lost in the experience. You can still tie this type of art into your themes if that is what you would like to do. For example if your theme is leaves and you have read the story Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert you can set out all the materials to make a leaf man BUT if the child sees something else that they might want to make with the leaves besides what is in the book that is totally ok, it is up to them!!
What are the benefits of process art?
This type of art will naturally put your child in charge instead of always waiting for direction from you. Overtime they will learn to trust themselves instead of seeking external validation.
Children learn to trust themselves and their own ideas. They will become very proud of themselves and what they have created.
Process art can be a great learning experience. Children might need to problem solve if they have a specific plan of what they want to create. They can experiment with different materials by mixing paints, different mediums and the weight of different items they are using to create their projects. Fine and gross motor skills are also practiced here. We want to instill a love of learning at a young age and process art activities can truly do that.
There are so many benefits to process art for children of all ages. At Mini MozArts Preschool we believe in child centered learning and process art is one of the many ways we can achieve this. Have you made the switch yet in your home or classroom?
Some of my best and most memorable childhood experiences revolve around the great outdoors. Getting stuck in mud puddles and losing my rubber boots, climbing hay bales in the field at the baseball diamond while my mom played softball, camping out in our back yard and floating down the river with friends on a hot summer’s day. If you think about it aside from special holidays and events I bet most of your favorite memories also revolve around being outside. Being in nature is not only good for your physical health with the benefits of increased vitamin D and rough and tumble play but for your mental health as well.
Right now the statistics for the amount of time spent in unstructured outdoor play for children is quite alarming. In an article published by childmind.org the average American child is said to spend only 4-7 minutes of unstructured play outdoors and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen! Technology and recent global events have played a huge factor in this, along with parental fears of the dangers of playing outside. Although some of these concerns may be warranted we need to consider how the decreased time outdoors is affecting our children long term.
Studies have shown that decreased nature play can affect your child’s mental state leading to feelings of anxiety and depression later in life and children who grew up in natural surroundings that went outside daily for unstructured play have a 55 percent lower risk of developing a mental health disorder as an adult.
There are many benefits to nature play in regards to physical and mental health and here are a few of my favorites.
So how much time should your child spend outside each day? There are many schools of thought from 30 minutes to 3 hours a day but even just 5 minutes a day can instantly boost your child’s mood. If you take an average from the studies that have been published you’ll find that 45 minutes to 1 hour a day of unstructured play outdoors is the sweet spot. This is time where your child can just play and explore at a park, green space or even in your back yard if you have one. Nature walks can count as well as long as there is no agenda like going from A to B with a limited amount of time to explore. Allow time for your child to investigate and be in awe of their surroundings.
In conclusion I believe if we all prioritized more time outside for our children (and ourselves) we can reap the many mental, emotional and physical benefits and be more joyful humans.
I never used to make my own play dough. I always thought it would be way too much hassle until I discovered an easy no cook way to make it!! We like to add essentials oils, sparkles, color and sometimes dried lavender to our playdough depending on what mood we are in! The possibilities are endless and it is much more cost effective than store bought playdough.
Here is my simple - no cook - play dough recipe. Enjoy!!
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 cup of boiling water - add food coloring directly to the water if you are coloring your playdough as it makes it much easier to blend the color
- 1/3 cup of salt
- 2 TSP of cream of tarter
- 1 TBS of vegetable oil
- add a few drops of essential oils if you like scented playdough
- 1 TBS of glycerin to make it extra soft
Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until it firms up. If your playdough is too sticky add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
Children should be encouraged at a young age to explore music and engage in musical activities. There are a number of benefits to enrolling your preschool age child in a music program. Music can boost your child’s confidence and mood, improve fine motor skills, help with language skills and increase overall IQ.
1. Music Can Improve Your Child’s Speech - In an article published in the Globe and Mail it states that music can improve your child’s literacy. Musical sound and speech is processed in the same way. Children who take music classes can improve their listening skills and in turn improve the way they process language. An article from The Royal Conservatory of Music also states that children with as little as 4 weeks of music instruction showed a dramatic improvement in their verbal intelligence.
2. Music Can Increase Your Child’s Creativity – If your child is anything like mine they are constantly making up songs both to play and sing or creating different rhythms and movements to go with those rhythms. That is the creative brain at work!! In an article from the Royal Conservatory of Music they state that scientists found a marked difference in communication between the right and left sides of the brain, which fosters creativity, in individuals with musical training than in those without.
3. Music Can Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Skills – Fine motor skills are used in activities such as doing up buttons, tying shoe laces and writing. It is important to develop these skills early and music is a great way to encourage fine motor practice! Action songs that encourage the children to think about their movements, tapping to the beat with rhythm instruments and repetitive finger movement at the piano are all excellent ways to build fine motor skills.
4. Improve Working Memory – Many studies have shown that listening to classical music prior to learning something new can improve memory. There are a number of theories as to why but what most studies agree on is that there is a marked reduction in stress and a boost in mood. It is much easier to learn something new when you are in a positive stress free state.
Mini MozArts is proud to be the first music and art focused preschool in Edmonton, Alberta! At Mini Mozart it is my mission to create an inclusive nurturing environment for every child that enters through the doors where they can be encouraged to explore their personal strengths through the use of music, creativity and imaginative play.