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8 Surprising Reasons I Didn’t Freak Out About Choosing a Preschool

Many parents spend hours researching the best preschool for their children. Not me.

It’s not that I don’t care about my little angels. Like all parents, my greatest desire is for my kids to be happy (and for them to sleep through the night). But for my eldest – an outgoing kid without any developmental issues – choosing a preschool was as simple as taking a quick look at two options and, after a ten-minute chat with my husband, choosing the closer, cheaper option.

And while I’m sure that details like educational philosophy and curriculum content matter, when making a preschool decision, I couldn’t be bothered to worry about them.

Here’s why:

It’s only preschool.

I don’t care if preschool teaches kids how to read, as long as it familiarizes the kids with the letters of the alphabet and exposes them to the joy of reading.

Similarly, I want the teachers to put numbers in context by counting kids in the room and crayons on the table, but I have no expectation that they teach addition or subtraction.

Young children (and adults) learn best when they are actively engaged in the subject, and play is what engages children.

It’s about socialization. 

Kids need to understand how to get along in a group before they can benefit from formal instruction.

Imagine a child entering kindergarten without knowing how to take turns, wait in a line, or speak with an inside voice. The time and energy the child and her teachers spend resolving those issues can’t be spent on academic learning.

My daughter is making friends.

My daughter loves her school friends. But sometimes they hurt her feelings. Most of the time, I would appreciate a diagram to explain who is friends with whom on any given day.

The fact is, social dynamics among women – even at this young age – are complicated, and according to the teacher, this playground drama is healthy and normal. These challenges give my daughter opportunities to navigate the complexities of female friendship when the stakes are low, hopefully giving her the confidence and resilience to deal with the “mean girls” she will inevitably encounter later on.

My kid’s school serves a hot lunch.

Maybe it’s strange that my daughter eats a full meal at 10A.M., but this means I don’t stress when she eats a small breakfast or if I forget a snack when I pick her up less than an hour later.

Also, my daughter’s teachers exclaim about her gusto for eating lunch with them. If it’s wrong to be proud of her appetite, I don’t want to be right.

The classroom features a Pinterest-worthy reading corner.

There’s a rug, a beanbag chair, and several low shelves of books, begging you to cozy up with a story. If you’re not a book lover already, this reading nook is all it would take to convert you.

The classroom could be devoid of toys, music, dress-up clothes, puzzles, and crayons, but as long as it had that reading corner, I’d still be thrilled to send my daughter there. My secret fantasy is to sneak into her classroom on a Friday night with a stack of my books and stay holed up in that reading corner, by myself, all weekend.

The teacher is amazing.

My daughter’s teacher was put on earth to teach preschool. You only have to watch her with the kids for about three seconds to figure this out.

She replies to my emails (no matter how trivial) with warp speed. When I am perplexed or angered by my daughter’s half-truths and straight-up lies, she emails me a great article listing the myriad reasons preschoolers lie. (Fortunately, sociopathic tendencies aren’t on the list.)

And when my daughter treats me like a kidnapper at pick-up, the teacher whispers mysterious, magical words in her ear, convincing her to go with me (albeit begrudgingly).

The student population is diverse.

Our family and the overwhelming majority of our friends are like us – white and affluent.

At least a third of my daughter’s class is not white. Several do not speak English at home. At least one of her classmates is a child with special needs. Some receive tuition assistance.

No lesson plan in the world can teach the lessons my daughter is learning, as part of a socio-economically, culturally diverse peer group.

School is more fun than I am. 

I’m pretty fun, if I do say so myself. But if I’m your mom, you are four years old, and I’m trying to care for you and your little sister, keep the laundry under control, feed our family, squeeze in a workout, get some writing done, and plow (ok, meander) through my to-do list…I’m not so fun.

While I love to read stories, I avoid pretend play. I have a limited tolerance for whining, I lose my temper sometimes, and I go to the park 1% as often as my kids wish I did.

A morning at school is way better than a morning with me – if you’re four. Perhaps that explains why my daughter treats me like a kidnapper at pick-up (see #5 above)

Maybe all the decisions that came before preschool — where to give birth, which stroller to buy, how to sleep-train — sapped my energy for selecting the perfect preschool. Or maybe it was the sleep deprivation. 

But, as long as my daughter is happy at her good-enough preschool, I’d rather save my decision-making resources for choosing how to spend my newfound free time.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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