Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Gatekeeper

When I first became a mom, like many newbie parents, I thought I had to do it all.  That if I wasn't at the forefront of every parenting decision made, well then, things wouldn't be done correctly.

I know, it's hard to believe that I was ever a control freak or a perfectionist. :)

(To put things in context, though, that was also during the life stage when I organized my linen closet by color, size, and style -- and made sure everything was folded perfectly and that all folds were facing the same direction.)

Clearly those days are long gone, and I had WAY too much time on my hands.

Yes, parenting has fully changed my perspective on a lot of things.

You see, one day I had an epiphany: I married a man who was fully capable of making parenting decisions on behalf of our kids.  I had a partner in the parenting process.  (In reflection, however, he probably wishes I'd go back to those days of me doing a little more and him doing a little less!)

I was reminded of this tonight.  As I type, I'm supposed to be at church volunteering in our Wednesday night children's ministry.  But, alas, I'm at home recouping from a doctor's appointment and catching up on work.  So, my gracious husband is filling in for me---as one of the teachers in the Pre-K through 2nd grade class.  That's love, folks.

Five years ago, by my accord, this wouldn't have happened.  But little by little I learned to stop being a gatekeeper and start embracing help from others.  Now I frequently quote the "It takes a village" mantra as I humbly recognize all that others can offer my kids (and me!). With the help of grandparents, extended family, church family, teachers, school parents, colleagues, and most of all, my husband, together we make things work.  And my kiddos are loved by many.

Thought for today:  Embrace your village.  And if you don't have one, start networking.  Get to know the other parents in your kid's class; lean on family or community friends.  And unless you have a valid reason not to, trust your spouse or co-parent to be a great parent too.  Life's too hard to go at parenthood alone.

Practicing What I Preach:  I have to admit, I've become increasingly bad at paying attention to detail.  A life lesson in slowing down.  But whether I overlook a detail or misread the fine print... thankfully my village keeps me going. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Novelty is Necessary

Last week I participated in a two-day professional development "experience."  (I use the term professional development loosely, as this wasn't your typical PD workshop or seminar.)  This one was a little different.  It wasn't directly related to child or family development, or even best teaching practices.  This was, instead, an agricultural bus tour.

As part of the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (I'm part of the "Life" portion of CALS), Dean Linton invited a handful of junior faculty to join him on a two-day Discovery Tour of Eastern North Carolina.  So, beginning at 6am last Thursday, I set off to discover a few of the reasons this State is such a research and agricultural mecca.

We toured agriculture and meat farms, research stations, and crop production facilities.  We met local farmers, industry professionals, college stakeholders, and Extension personnel.  (And we ate quite a bit of barbecue and seafood!)  Hushpuppies aside, it was the best professional development experience I've had since joining the faculty at NC State.  Which says a lot coming from a family researcher and not a crop, soil, animal, or plant scientist.

Not long into the tour, my mind was racing with research possibilities.  As I connected with other professionals (from butchers to agents to farmers to scientists), I felt my professional passions skyrocket as I witnessed their passion and productivity.  Subject matter ceased to matter.  I was surrounded by a group of field and industry professionals who were driven by passion, purpose, and precision.  I, too, wanted to join their ranks.

As I often do, I couldn't help but connect my experiences with the experiences I offer my children.  Why offering them novel experiences is vital to their cognitive and emotional development.  The Dean's Tour got my mind racing in ways that touring child development centers couldn't.  The newness and the novelty of my Discovery Tour experience helped me think outside of the box.  In the words of Dr. Seuss, "Nonsense wakes up the brain cells."   It was exactly what I needed to wake up my mind and help me sharpen my focus.

Thought for Today:  In childhood, as the brain develops, it is constantly being wired and re-wired.  New experiences produce synapses between neurons that combine to form our brain's thought networks.  Because a child's brain produces many more synopses than it needs, those that are repeatedly used are seen to have a purpose while others are pruned away.  According to, "The brain operates on the use it or lose it rule."  This "use it or lose it" principle is why parents and educators should continually work to stimulate a child's mind, especially during early childhood and the elementary years when little brains are deciding just how much "gardening" should be done.

Practicing What I Preach: Although our brains experience critical periods in development, such as infancy and childhood, thankfully learning is a lifelong process.  Participating in the Dean's Tour reminded me of the universal need to keep our minds awake.  To keep our neural synapses firing.  With my kids, I try to balance what is repetitive (e.g., schoolwork, academic concepts, social etiquette) with what is novel (e.g., museums, trips, hands-on educational experiences) so that I'm helping to reinforce both types of cognitive engagement.  For example, yesterday was full of novelty.  We visited the North Carolina State Fair where my kiddos milked cows, attended a concert, and viewed tons of educational and agricultural exhibits.  It was a Discovery trip all their own!

A few Snapshots from the Dean's Discovery Tour

Roanoke Tar Cotton, Inc.
Acre Station Meat Farm
Upper Coastal Plains Research Station
Sweet Potatoes at Nash Produce

And, Extension, what ties it all together.