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Get What You Need

April 19, 2009
Do you get what you want or what you need?

Do you get what you want or what you need?

In our family, the Easter bunny left the shopping until Easter Saturday. Easter Saturday evening. As I wandered the barren aisles, I wondered what on earth I was thinking.  Traditionally, the bunny leaves candy, eggs and a small toy to enjoy in the spring sunshine.  That tradition looked to be coming to an abrupt halt.  I called my husband for some back up, but his response was a pragmatic, “it’s fine. they don’t need anything.”  Not the answer I was looking for, but he was right.

Gone were the days the bunny could bring new bubbles or chalk.  There isn’t much my kids wanted, and even less that they needed at the moment.  So candy, a few brightly colored permanent markers, and new journals would be it. Would be fine. Would be perfect. As Easter unfolded, what my kids wanted and perhaps needed, was the traditions we’ve shared  — both silly egg-hunting type and the church-going type. This was a bit surprising, given their ages and our inability to mobilize to church on a regular basis.  Again, I am reminded that the familiarity and comfort brought by rituals whether it is in times of abundance or not.  I know many, many kids who really don’t need much more in their lives, yet have so many wants.  I know plenty of adults for whom the same could be said.  There’s so much we could have or thing we need,  but when we focus on what it is we truly need and what our priorities are, we can remarkably content and productive.

Think about what happens when there is conflict and trouble in our immediate communities and the role schools play in establishing some normalcy and security for children.  After 9/11, after hurricanes or multiple snow days, what children at my school craved was the predictable routine and comforting faces in school.  These helped all of us feel grounded and able to move forward. When individual families face tough challenges, it’s often the coming to school which provides relief. I’ve seen children rise above challenges and do some of their best academic learning in the face of difficulties at home, due in large part to the security they feel in school and the daily rituals which meet their basic needs.

I often get questions from parents about specific deficits or concerns they have for their child.  It surprises many of them that the behaviors they see at home are not at all what I see at school.  I think much of that is rooted in the structure and security inherent to school and my determination to give kids what they need and not simply what they want.  A child may want to build in blocks all morning, but in first grade, academic choice means doing some word study, meeting in guided reading groups and working with your team on other activities which integrate my academic goals and fun activities.  That’s a lot to balance, but it helps meet kids’ needs, rather than succumbing to or ignoring the propensity of some to simply choose what they want all morning.  At school, routines and patterns are predictable. As a parent, I know it’s far more difficult to maintain that level of predictability at home.  Siblings, illness, household distractions, traveling parents, and the daily grind all tug at the ideal structure. Kids are great barometers of these unsteady weather patterns – and their moods and behaviors can turn stormy or they can feel and react to the storms of others.

It’s often hard to keep an eye on what’s necessary and what is important.  Knowing what to expect at each age/stage is invaluable and helps you keep your own child’s behavior and growth in perspective.  Prioritizing your own goals for your family, yourself and your child are important, too.  Is it important that your child is well-rested and has down time after a full day at school? If yes, then think carefully about what is a reasonable number of after school activities.  Most early elementary kids I know operate at optimal capacity with one or two activities a week.  Really. There’s plenty of time ahead to have a packed schedule each week.  If you want your child to love reading,  are there baskets and baskets of books around your house? Do you  make time to read to your child? Does you child have time to explore books on her own?   We often try to expose kids to so much because we can – or because they express a want —   without giving careful thought to meeting their needs and the needs of our entire family.

My kids probably would have loved a new skateboard or lacrosse stick for Easter, but what they really wanted was time as a family and time to remember the story of Easter.  I did forget the chocolate bunny, but there were plenty of jelly beans and peanut butter eggs to satisfy their candy fix.  Next time I’m beating myself up for not doing enough, I’m going to pause and think about whether or not I am making sure my kids (both my students’ and my own) needs are being met and move forward from there.  I think it will help me worry less and be slightly more proud of a job well-done.  Give it a try yourself… I bet you’re a fabulous parent/teacher/care giver!

A few good reads to check out:

Lucy Calkins – Raising Life Long Learners

Dan Kindlon – Too Much of A Good Thing

Katrina Kenison – Mitten Strings For God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry

Wendy Mogel – The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children

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