Posts for Learning Category

More Books for Girls This Summer

Girl Power, Go Girl!, Learning, Media - Allison Kenny - June 13, 2016

Our little girl loves to read. This is big because last summer, her confidence around reading was non-existent but now she can sit with books for a long time on her own. She loves that I write books and will ask me now and then, “How’s your next book coming along?” which makes my heart melt completely. Continue Reading

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The simple DIY project to help out at 35,000 feet

Learning, Parenting, Play Time, Tales from the Maxi Pad - Lynn Johnson - November 24, 2015

As you know from yesterday’s post, our family is traveling to Dallas to visit my family of origin for Thanksgiving. No, I am not from Texas, although my whole family lives there now. For better or for worse, I cannot claim Texas as home.   I always feel the need to explain that.

Anyway, as I write this, we are taking up residence in row 13, seats D, E, and F – living our lives at 35,000 feet. You should see the amount of toys, snacks, reading materials, and media we have managed to fit into a few carry-on bags. On one hand, it seems ridiculous that we would need so much crap. Shouldn’t we be able to pass the time in simpler ways? On the other hand, to keep our daughter occupied, we pretty much engaged every single item we packed while sitting in traffic just to get to the airport. Short attention spans and squirrels go hand in hand.

Of all the crap stuffed into our bags, I am most excited about the personalized coloring book the Squirrel and I made together.

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So Excited for our World Changing Webinar Tomorrow

Foster/Adoption, Gay Parenting, Girl Power, Learning, Parenting - Lynn Johnson - August 4, 2015

Camp 2015 collage

I gotta tell you how excited I am today.

It has been so incredibly satisfying and rejuvenating for both Allison and me to have this opportunity to share our stories on this blog as we make our way down our path to raising a Go Girl!.  We have made this space to write about what we know, what we certainly don’t know, what we wished we had known, and what we are working hard to figure out.  The response we have been getting has been inspiring and has motivated us to keep sharing.

And now, we are taking our storytelling up a notch.

Tomorrow, we will be hosting a free webinar called Raising a Go Girl! where we will share our stories live as we present the art and science behind the learning philosophy of Go Girls! Camp.  We just did a test run of the webinar to work out all of the technical kinks and…can I just tell you…I am so friggin’ excited!  There are dozens of folks signed up ready to hear what we have to say about how the heck we can come together to raise girls to be both powerful and peaceful.

I just can’t wait because I predict this webinar is going to change the world.   I know.  When I say this, it sounds naive.  Like a 1-hour webinar could possible change the world.  When I say this, though, I mean that it will change my world…and that counts.  It will change my world because for years now, I have wished and wanted to be able to share more of my philosophy about raising girls with more people.   But wishing and wanting don’t get us very far.  Doing and planning and intending and trying and expecting, however….that’s what moves mountains.

So, I am excited because I am standing at the base of my mountain and I am ready to push.  I am even going to treat myself tonight to get ready.  Take myself to the mall for a little eyebrow threading and perhaps a new top.  We’ll see what Old Navy has in stock that says “world changing webinar” for about $30 or less.

As readers of this blog, I hope you join us.  Let me know if I picked the right shirt.

 

 

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Can my daughter learn connection through competition?

Girl Power, Learning, Parenting, Play Time, Pop Culture - Lynn Johnson - June 17, 2015

The other morning at breakfast, the Squirrel noticed that she and I both had the same amount of orange juice left in our glasses.  “Let’s race to see who can finish first!,” she screamed.  “Ugh,” I responded.  I just wanted to enjoy my orange juice.

This ordinary breakfast moment made me wonder/panic, “What will be my daughter’s relationship to competition?”  And this morning, in the wake of my town’s fervor over the victory of the Golden State Warriors, I feel the need to explore the concept of competition a bit further.

My competition-panic comes from the fact that I have always been a bit competition-phobic.  My grandfather, who was an Olympic-class runner in his youth, used to tell a story about me that I absolutely love.  One summer while I was visiting my grandmother and him in their home in Evanston, IL, he entered me in a little kids’ race in connection with a 4th of July festival.  I was around 5 and was running the race with other 5 year olds.  How cute is that?

According to my grandfather, I was fast.  I took off with an early lead and kept that lead for a long time.  Until, I noticed that I was in the lead.  I noticed I was no longer with all of the other kids.  So, I stopped.  I was waiting for them to catch up.

I love this story because I feel like it so beautifully depicts my values of community, connection, and equity.  I have committed my adult life to examining and promoting how to bring people together; how those left behind can catch up.

At the same time, as a girl advocate, the story troubles me.  Why couldn’t I take my place out ahead?  Why was I uncomfortable leading the group?

One thing I noticed while witnessing the aftermath of last night’s championship game was the massive amount of community and connection that was created by the Warriors’ win.  Right at the final buzzer, I ran outside my door just because I was curious what folks would do to celebrate.  I heard yelps and hollers and car horns and gun shots and firecrackers and general jubilation.  There was even someone on my street playing a horn of some kind.  Not well, but with the sheer joy of someone welcoming home an old friend they hadn’t seen in 40 years.

curry and jamesI was inspired and pumped up by how this simple competitive sport was connecting me to my neighbors.  I thought about how connected the players felt to each other – not just the victorious Warriors but also the defeated Cavaliers – how taking on a task as mighty as an NBA championship can bond you to each other, win or lose.  I meditated on the connections that can even be built between competitors in that moment when LeBron James congratulated Stephen Curry at the end of the game.  It made me realize that, when people are courageous enough to take their place out ahead of the group, they put themselves in the position of not just winning a game, but winning the respect and admiration of others who recognize their efforts and celebrate their hard work.

This is what I want for my daughter.  It’s what I want for myself.  It’s want I want for all women and girls.  As I wonder/panic about how my daughter yields her own power in the world, I want us all to be able to access real competition in healthy and dynamic ways.  My wish is that we can work hard, take our rightful place out ahead when appropriate, and celebrate the wins of others when defeated.  I want my daughter to be known as both a fierce competitor and a compassionate community leader; always looking for ways to use her power to help others who have been left behind.

And I also want her to let me enjoy my orange juice.

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“This is Hard!”: A Go Girls! Moment

Foster/Adoption, Girl Power, Learning, Parenting - Lynn Johnson - May 7, 2015

It’s okay to try something hard.

This is a phrase you will often hear around Go Girls! Camp in response to “This is hard!,” especially when said in that slightly high pitched, complain-y way with a touch of whine.  “This is haaard!!!”

You have likely heard this said before.  I heard it the other day when Allison and I decided that we would walk the dogs around the block while the Squirrel rode her bike.

When you come out of our house and turn right, there is a slight incline to our street.  The Squirrel was struggling with this incline on this particular day.  She had navigated this route before but, for whatever reason, she had decided that, on this day, “This is haaard!!!”

“It’s okay to try something hard,”  I say.

When faced with a challenge, humans who lack or are not able to access their advance level coping skills go into the fight, flight, or freeze mode.  9 times out of 10, our Squirrel freezes.  Upon hearing my “It’s okay to try something hard,” she stopped riding her bike in the middle of the sidewalk, dropped her head as low as it would go, crossed her arms, and pouted.  I tried coaching her to jump off her bike and push a while.  I encouraged her to ask for help.  I even tried to give her a little push to get her started again.  Nothing.  Just like Queen Elsa, she was completely frozen.  After a few attempts to start again, I ultimately wound up taking her back home while Allison gave the dogs their much needed walk.

“It’s okay to try something hard” is such an essential part of Go Girls! culture that, if you were to ask a camper, “What makes you a Go Girl!?,” you would likely hear “I try my best even when it’s hard.”  This past weekend, Allison and I ran our annual Go Girls! Leadership Team (GGLT) retreat for the middle school girls who work as counselors-in-training at our camps over the summer.  Our opening ritual was that each of us brought and shared a photo of a “Go Girls! Moment” with the rest of the circle.  Pretty much each of the 18 girls shared pics and stories about overcoming some kind of challenge; paddleboarding for the first time; jumping from a tall cliff into a waterfall below; giving a speech; winning a sports competition.  I was so proud of these girls in the this moment, and throughout the weekend, as they continued to say yes to new people and new experiences and build their identity as someone who is ready and willing to accept anything that comes her way.

Our Go Girls Moments

GGLT’s Go Girls! Moments

I thought about how annoyed I had been at my own daughter’s  “This is haaard!!!” and unwillingness to keep going up that hill.  I thought, “I can’t wait until she gets to camp and can spend time with older girls like these.  I need their Go Girls!-ness to rub off on her.”

Then, I thought about it again.  Okay, the Squirrel didn’t continue up that hill on that particular Tuesday afternoon.  But, what about all of the other hills that she has said yes to throughout her life?  Sure, jumping off a cliff is hard.  But so is leaving behind everyone you have ever known to take on a brand new life in a brand new city.  Our Squirrel has never given a speech in front of her classmates, but she has, in just the last 7 months, dared to say yes to new mommies, new dogs, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, a whole new wardrobe, set of toys, and a brand new community of people.  Every day, she learns words she has never heard before, tastes food she has never tasted before, dances to songs she has never heard before.  Every day, she makes the choice to take one more giant step into this new life that has been thrust upon her.  I don’t know about you, but I would say “This is haaard!!!”

I am excited that the Squirrel will be coming to camp this summer and will be inspired by our amazing GGLT.  I do think that these older girls will have a lot to teach her about being a Go Girl!.  I do hope the experience will help reduce the amount of times she freezes in challenging situations.  However, I also imagine that she won’t just be the student.  I imagine that our Squirrel will have a bit to teach us all about what it really means to try hard things.  I imagine that we will all grow from her example.

What about you?  What’s a time that you are your daughter have faced a challenge and said yes to try hard things?  I’d love for you to share your #GoGirlsMoment with us.

And check out more highlights from our GGLT Retreat…

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I’m sorry my kid beat the sh#t out of your kid

Foster/Adoption, Learning, Parenting - Allison Kenny - April 29, 2015

School is hard on lots of kids. I know it. For a long time, my work during the school year was to run friendship circles for girls, present Kidpower in classrooms, and provide social/emotional support during recess. I see what happens when kids get over or under stimulated, when they don’t have enough tools for emotional processing or simply when supervision is limited. School can be a place where emotions run high and hitting feels like the only way.

michelle rodriguez girl fightStill, when I go to pick up the Squirrel from school and she’s in the office…again…my heart sinks. The secretary and her teacher have that harried look like they’ve tried everything and are at their wits end.

The hitting started back in January. Every once in a while, the Squirrel would lash out at a kid who did something she didn’t like. Then, it escalated. Pushing kids out of their chairs, kicking them on the ground, pinching, kicking other girls in the crotch, beating kids with hard plastic jump ropes, hitting the same girl over and over…this has been happening every single day. For months.  Her school threatened suspension. I didn’t know that could even happen in kindergarten.

What is causing this level of acting out? What do we do about it? How out of control she must feel.  Is it the environment? Her past trauma? Frustration over a learning disability? Being away from home too long? All of the above?

Of course, we had an SST with the principal, her teacher and our social worker. We all agreed that, as the Squirrel deepened her attachment to Lynn and I, being away from us for a whole school day, was just too much. She needed to be able to picture where we were and what we were doing. She needed to know we still existed. Like a toddler who circles back around to her mother’s lap 1000 times a day.

So I volunteered in the classroom more, presenting Kidpower skills every week to all the kindergartners. We set up a daily phone call for the Squirrel to hear our voices each morning and picture where we were. We gave stickers and special time with us for each day she kept her hands and feet to herself. We practiced great ways to deal with big feelings in therapy. We repeated how much we loved her and were there to help. Nothing, however, seemed to actually help. The daily beatdowns continued. And she was crying every morning and faking sick to get out of going to school at all.

Finally, our therapist suggested I stay at school with her for a few weeks, like a behavioral aid, and find out more about her triggers. Frustrated and exhausted, I agreed. I saw that the Squirrel behaves very much like a two year old in her classroom. She wants things her way and when they don’t match up, she freezes, fights or flees. It is heartbreaking. Our kid is nowhere near ready for school. There is not enough containment or support in a traditional classroom. And there is not enough mommy. She wanted to be in my lap all day. Being her aide wasn’t sustainable, of course. I lasted less than a week. But I learned a lot. And I switched to picking her at noon every day instead.

Investigating new schooling possibilities has been at the forefront these days. Public school? Private school? Charter school? Homeschooling is not allowed until we formally adopt her. We are not in charge of when that happens. Most folks who have been parents for 6 months don’t have to deal with school at all. I miss that opportunity to get to know my kid at home with the curtains drawn. No sad and sorry looks from teachers with the best intentions. No pressure for the kid to make friends before she actually knows how.

One morning after Spring Break, the Squirrel announced that she had decided not to hit anyone at school. Great choice! She’d never said anything like that. I admit, my hopes were up. Could it be this simple? Did all our interventions finally sink in? Sure enough, the hitting stopped. 4 days of no hitting. 5 days…I started picking her up 30 minutes later each day.

Yesterday, we got to pick up another little girl in class for carpool and the Squirrel was so happy she could barely stand it. They ran down to class together holding hands while I watched. This had never happened! Maybe we’ll make it through the next few weeks to summer and she’ll feel even the littlest bit connected and successful.

But the Squirrel was in the office when I came to pick her up later that day. She had pinched and hit and kicked the very same girl we picked up for carpool. I’m back to picking her up at noon. And I’m up at 4:30 in the morning writing this blog post.  I’m noticing how triggered I am about her hitting. I’m noticing how much I want her to “be a good girl” in school. Mostly, I’m just tired and out of answers. But I’ll help her write her apology card this morning and give it to her friend. I’ll help facilitate the repair and try to trust that at some point she will grow through this. However, I am so frustrated… I could hit someone.


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The Moment our Adopted Daughter Claimed Her New Village

Foster/Adoption, Learning, Parenting - Lynn Johnson - April 27, 2015

Last week, I shared about how utterly moved I was when the Squirrel told me that she loved me for the first time.

As it turns out, she loves all of you as well.

Yesterday, as part of her “patch time” (see my post “Pirate Day” for explanation), the Squirrel had the idea to do some cutting.  Ever since her participation in Art Yowza camp last December, this is a skill she’s working to improve.  She’s determined to get better and better at it.  Patch Time is a great opportunity to practice as it is a focused activity that really engages her “lazy” eye.

I decided to draw shapes for Squirrel to cut.  As this was happening, Squirrel started asking me to write little love messages on each shape.  It started with “I Love Roxie” and “I Love Rufus” (our dogs).  Then, it progressed to a few close friends “I love Blaine.”  Until the Squirrel had an idea to make 1000 of these love shapes.  “They could be invitations to my birthday party!”

Seeing as her birthday is not until September (and she has no ability to grasp how long away that is), we convinced her instead to glue the shapes to a large piece of chart paper so that we can keep them for later.  I drew a tree for the background and together, we created this…

I love this piece so much because it is filled with all the family and friends she has claimed in just the last 6 months of this new life she was thrust into.  She has literally forged out new shapes and declared her love for her new village.  This simple “Patch Time” fine motor activity morphed into spiritual exercise; an act of gratitude aided by kid scissors and a glue stick.

 

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8 Parenting Books You Will Love (or Hate)…it’s up to you…

Foster/Adoption, Learning, Parenting - Allison Kenny - March 25, 2015

parenting books collageI have a love/hate relationship with parenting books.  When I feel at a loss as a new parent, I pick up a book that has been highly recommended to me or even sent to my doorstep as a loving gift from a friend. I start at the beginning. I read a few chapters. I try to do every single thing it says to do. I read a few more chapters. I get to a section that says some version of “If you don’t do it this way, your child will turn into a drug addict/axe murderer/ suicidal teenager.”  I get so triggered, that I put the book down feeling worse than when I started.

Is it possible that the information age pulls us so far into our heads that we mistrust our own intuition? Maybe so.

Never-the-less, here are the books on my night stand:

Books I read before “The Squirrel” came into our home:

The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children
I love the framing of how kids are just mirroring our own spiritual journey back to us and how learning to accept who our kids actually are is key. So hard! So huge! There is a pretty big emphasis here on raising kids from birth, so I’d love to know her thoughts on counsciously parenting kids who have experienced trauma before coming to you.

Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition)
We’ve used more limit-setting strategies from this book than any other. I love how they stress empathy but feel like they do not speak to attachment or children with special needs.

Books I’ve been read while parenting “The Squirrel”:

The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption
Until I was a new adoptive parent, I did not know such a thing existed. It does. I haven’t read the whole book but just knowing the topic exists was helpful when I felt unexpectedly depressed those first few months.

The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting
This woman goes there. She is not afraid to claim how adopting a child through foster care is not the same as birthing a child. She breaks down the details of her daily life. I was so triggered by this book, I could only read it a few pages at a time. But I did get through the whole thing.

Orphan Train
This is a fictional story of an adopted child that has a relatively happy ending. I can’t read enough of these. Plus, it shines a light on a time in history that I never knew about…the legacy of adoption in our country.

Books on my shelf that I haven’t read yet:

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation
Recommended to me by a good friend and mindful parenting coach, Michelle Gale. She loves it and from what I can tell, it’s full of Dan Siegel inspired approaches to working with trauma and putting non-violent communication to work in your home.

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic AND
Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries
These 2 were gifts from my women’s group who listen tirelessly about my intense and wonderful little squirrel.

I freely admit that I am in over my head as a new parent. That’s what makes it so tempting to read these books as “how to’s.” Wouldn’t it be fabulous if following the simple steps outlined in each of these would guarantee my child would never grow up to be a drug addict/axe murderer/ suicidal teenager?

I’m starting to catch my impulse to follow other people’s advice over listening to my own heart. Luckily,  it feels uncomfortable. I get triggered because I know deep down that something I’m reading doesn’t feel true for me or my family. That’s when I know it’s time to close the book, take a deep breath and trust myself.

I may be brand new at parenting, but I’ve been a human being for a long time.

 

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Here’s why I (kinda) get “Girl” Legos

Learning, Play Time - Lynn Johnson - February 9, 2015

Remember a few years back when Lego unleashed “girl legos” on the market – the “Friends” line that Lego released a few years ago to market their product specifically for girls? Do you remember how mad feminists like me were?  It seemed like the company figured that all they had to do was change the colors of Legos bricks from brown and blue to pink and purple, package them in pink and purple boxes and BOOM – they had Legos…for girls.

I was never a Lego kid myself.  I have always thought they are super cool, in theory, but I have never been able to put them into practice.  And still, I was totally infuriated along with the rest of them.

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This all changed when, a few months ago, I started playing Legos with my daughter.

“The Squirrel” had inherited a whole bunch of classic, aka “boy”, Legos from a friend of ours and was immediately drawn to them.  Because I was never down with Legos myself, when she first asked me to play, I panicked.

“B-b-but, I c-c-can’t do Legos.”

Being the Go Girl! I am, I didn’t actually say this out loud, thank god.  Instead, I faked it.  I jumped in, and tried it anyway.  I tried to build a boat or house or whatever.  I just couldn’t figure out how to put the bricks together in such a way that made them look like the thing I was trying to build in my mind.  I got bored and frustrated she and I didn’t play Legos for awhile.

Then, my daughter was gifted with one of those Legos kits where they give you the step-by-step instructions for how to build the thing that’s on the front of the box.  But, those were even worse…for me…anyway.  The pieces are so small that my daughter can’t manipulate them and I can’t see them to help her because I am in my 40’s and my eyes don’t work like that anymore.  Plus, neither of us are any good at following directions.  She can’t read and “doesn’t want to do anything anyone tells [me] to do.”  Direct quote.

I can read but I am totally directionally challenged.  Not because I am rebellious like “The Squirrel,” per se.  It’s just that my brain doesn’t work like that.  A.D.D., perhaps?  I don’t know.  All I know is that written, step-by-step instructions allude me.  I can’t follow a recipe.  I can’t put Ikea furniture together.   If there is not someone in front of me – either live or on video – showing me how to do something, I just won’t get it.  We know that there are multiple intelligences and I discovered years ago that I favor an interpersonal learning style.  I learn best by hanging out with other people.

I don’t know my daughter well enough yet to know her exact learning style but I do know one thing from observing her play with Legos.  Whatever she is building, it always has everything to do with people and those people’s relationships.  She never builds boats or houses or whatever just for the sake of building them.  She builds them so that her imaginary people can become families and have places to eat and sleep and fight with each other and say sorry and forgive each other and start again.

When she looks through her collection of classic Legos for the Lego people to put in these structures she is building,  she only finds “boys” with mean faces and harsh uniforms.  “Where are the girls?” she asks.  “Please help me find a girl!”

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So, I have to admit that I was quite grateful when she received her first set of “girl Legos.”  (Yes, she does get a lot of gifts!).  Finally, she had some girls she could add to her structures.  I didn’t really mind that the bricks were mostly pink and purple because they added some color diversity to the mostly grey, blue, and brown that dominated her huge box of classic Legos.  The “girl Legos” have not limited her options as a girl.  Instead, they have honored her play style and have allowed her imagination to grow.

Now even I see the Lego bricks in a new way.  I don’t get so intimidated about what I can or can’t build.  Instead, the bricks become a vehicle for dramatic play and I can find my way in.  I can engage longer with the toys and, ultimately, with my daughter.

All of this is not to say that Lego is completely off the hook.   Their products include the “Heartlake Shopping Mall” and “Stephanie’s Beachhouse” but there is no soccer field or Oval Office kit to be seen.  The girls pretty much all look the same – some a little browner than others perhaps.  So, yes, I get “girl legos” but, we have a long way to go.

 

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