A couple of incidents that happened some time ago made me think about this more than usual. I have had to stop and ask myself how supportive I have been of my children’s relationships, both within the family and with their friends.
With the pandemic, there has been less physical interaction with their friends due to off campus learning and social distancing. The kids have adapted fast and are ok playing with each other but there is still something missing.
With schools opening in January for face to face learning here, the kids are looking forward to seeing their other friends and planning for playdates.
Children generally make friends with those closet to them; neighbouring kids, church mates, classmates, or in extra curricular clubs such as music, swimming or gynmastic classes. When we moved away, they had to start from scratch, which was not easy as we did not know many people here, and those we did, had kids much older than them. Our immediate neighbourhood doesn’t have kids their age too, but thankfully we were lucky to meet up with some family friends who had also moved here.
One of the things I am always keen on is knowing who their friend’s parents are, and their contacts. Play dates can be arranged but no sleepovers.
Playdates are good as one gets to observe how the children are interacting with each other. It can give one an idea of what values their friends have, by how they behave when in your home, my assumption is that the other parent is doing the same (though we know this is not always the case).
Some of the ways we have been trying to support their friendships in this social distancing times is by having them invite a friend over, letting them use my phone to record voice notes for their friends, scheduled video calls, emails and even cards or notes left in class cubby holes, so their friends can pick them up when they go collect their schoolwork.
I am learning to be intentional in this; speaking to them about their friends and what they like or miss about them. I also talk about my friends, and how my friendships were at their ages. Keeping communication lines open is important, they will be more willing to speak up when things are not right and be more confident in sharing the good experiences too.
Parenting includes recognising and supporting our children as individuals. They have their own likes, preferences and dislikes, and we need to teach ourselves how to acknowledge their desires in creating social bonds for themselves as they grow. No man is an island. As adults, we take pride in our social relationships, why do we forget that our kids need it too?
Children learn from us. The pride and fun they see us enjoying in our friendships adds to that appeal for them, and they yearn to get the same recognition and enjoy their friends company. Obviously we do have to discuss boundaries, safety and respect, but let us be supportive of their positive friendships.
The kids have been home for the better part of this school year due to Covid protocols where we live. Hopefully, face to face classes will resume in January and I for one cannot wait.
It has been great having the kids learn from home, but it is not easy. From longer screen time, not being able to physically interact with their teachers and schoolmates, a larger school work load…online learning is taking a toll on everyone involved.
The kids have always carried snacks and lunch from home. This has worked well for us so far- in terms of cost, being able to know what they are consuming and it doesn’t take as much time as one might expect.
Planning ahead is the greatest tip I have for this. As a Mum, my prime concern is for them to have healthy and tasty food, but I also need to take into consideration what is easier for them to consume in school; what is not time or labour intensive for me, we and will go well with the main family meal plan.
When my eldest child started carrying food from home, I worried she might not like what I have packed, so I decided to include her in the planning process. This has been working well for us so far.
Here are some tips in no order of importance:-
Focus on healthy, colourful, tasty food, that is easy to pack and keep. We do many cold meals, though the kids can warm from school, but cold lunches are great in this Kampala weather, they are quick to eat and clean up. No soup spills and the like.
Have a variety of meal options. I usually have 10-15 main meal ideas the kids like and approve, so I plan their meal choices around those options.
Include the children in planning for their meals. What would they like to carry? You can make a plan with them (keeping in mind the main family meal plan), so you are sure of less food wastage, they will eat what they chose and like, and you have less labour in shopping and prepping.
Make what you can ahead, if you can peel and chop or boil earlier it becomes easier to assemble in the morning.
Involve the children in packing the snacks and lunches too. My kids have become so good at this, I am really proud of them. Since they know what is on their menu, it is easy for them to pack what they are carrying for the day. For example, Fridays is a day for fries and a kachumbari salad for lunch. The kids are quite firm on this, but flexible enough on me to make plantain, green banana or even sweet potato fries, instead of the normal Irish potato ones.
Partitioned lunch boxes are a great option. One is able to separate the fruits and veggies, or main meal and salad. And I am also able to portion according to how much I know each kid is able to eat.
In terms of cost and nutrition. Fruits are a necessary snack. For this, I always put what they like and a fruit that is in season at the moment. For example, there are plenty of mangoes available at the moment, so their price is lower than other fruits not easily available at the moment.
Uganda’s great weather ensures we have plenty of sweet fruits available year round, so homemade juices are a great option too with the passion fruits and oranges that are easily available.
Basics for me in their bags are a bottle of drinking water, a small bottle of juice or flavoured milk, fruits and a healthy meal and snack. For example, a snack box for break will include a small sweet banana, popcorn, a muffin and some nuts. Popcorn is easy to make from home and doesn’t take too much time. Lunch can be rice balls, a simple salad and the fruit option can be grapes (sliced vertically), pineapple slices, or apple slices with some peanut butter on them.
Do not forget to pack some serviettes (paper towels) and cutlery for them. IKEA and many supermarkets have hardy plastic or melamine ones so you can keep your silverware safe. LOL.
Family main meal leftovers are also great for their lunchboxes. Leftover pasta makes a great pasta salad with some added veggies, tuna and mayo or yoghurt dressing.
Leftover steamed rice is great for rice balls, or fried rice which can be had warm or cold. Having canned tuna, chickpeas, sweetcorn and quinoa in the pantry is great to add to salads and sandwiches.
Pancakes can be spread with jam, Nutella or peanut butter to make them more interesting and sweeter for the kids. Leftover veggies are great for savoury muffins, sweetcorn, zucchini and cheese make great options for this.
Other food options we like are :-
Salads- potato salad, pasta or quinoa salads are great with added cold meats such as tuna or leftover chicken. Veggies to bulk them can include chickpeas, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, beetroot, or even roasted zucchini and eggplant.
Fries or potato wedges. These could be sweet potato fries, green banana cutlets, plantain or yam fries.
Beef kebabs with a yoghurt sauce.
Orzo pasta is a fave here and can be used to bulk up a lentil salad.
Amaranth cereal bars
Pancakes both sweet and savoury. Sweet ones can be spread with their favourite spread and sweetened with fruit. Savoury crepes work well with a veggie and cheese filling.
Leftover chapati can make wraps of quesadillas, even frittatas.
Rice can be a salad, or fried rice. the kids also love beetroot pilau and celery rice which they can warm at school if they want to.
Carrots, cucumbers, celery stalks are great as a side salad with a small yoghurt sauce.
Quickbreads and muffins; banana bread, chocolate muffins, cheese and herb rolls are great options too.
Using what you have on hand and that which is easily available makes your work so much easier as a Mom.
Other tips to help the school mornings and school runs easier are:-
Having a good sleep routine. It is important for both you and the children to have a good night’s rest. Especially the kids who are still growing and need to let their minds and bodies rest and replenish lost energy. Having set times for bed and waking up is great for this.
Be prepared. Be stocked up on essentials to make mornings move faster. If you have to stop at the store on your way to drop them, chances are your kids will be late for school.
Have a morning routine for the family. Not a strict military style one, but a basic one that you and your family members have discussed and agreed upon. Simple ones like making beds immediately they get up, breakfast then shower and brush their teeth, oil themselves and dressed up work. This is how we teach our children independence, decision making and basic life skills.
Pack ahead for co- curricular activities. Sports and swimming gear can be packed the night ahead. Imagine looking for a swimming costume in the morning when they need to be out the door? it leaves everyone frazzled and not a good way to start the day.
An evening routine is great too. Once they get home from school, what is the first thing they do? When I pick them I always ask them to check if they have all their stuff with them. Once home, it is shower, a bit of play and tea time, homework then they can play some more before dinner is ready. Do not let them get way with dumping their shoes and bags at the door. I am firm on this. As messes such as these will end up with someone tripping on them and getting hurt, and also not teaching them how to be responsible for their things.
Check their schoolwork and let them also pack the books and stationery supplies before they go to bed once they are done with their homework; less chance of forgetting their homework at home or diaries.
Always keep the kids involved. Listen to them, talk to them, discuss with them what is going on in their school life. It makes them feel heard and seen and improves their self esteem.
As a parent, I am the adult and should lead by example. The kids being late is not their fault, it is mine if I did not take the time to ensure they are well prepared for the day ahead.
Let me also add that there is no perfect parent. We are all trying to do the best we can.
I will not lie and say I have all this down pat. No! I am still learning and I do drop the ball from time to time. However I cannot emphasize enough how much being organised has saved me time, money, energy.
Sure it’s easy for me to say do this and you will all be a calm, happy family. But as any parent will tell you, there are no guarantees. We can make the effort nevertheless. Nobody likes yelling or being yelled at in the morning to “hurry up!” And being more organized will reduce those frazzled mornings, don’t you think?
There is a lot that can be said, but I came across this brief version I had jotted down years ago and thought I would share.
Parenting is hard, and we are all raising our children differently. These pointers are just some things I learnt over the years, and still learning as we apply them raising our children. I ask myself these questions on a daily basis on this journey that has no perfect manual. I am no perfect parent, nobody is, but we are all trying to do our best right?
Once you get a child, you know your reason for living has changed. You are now conscious of being the provider to a little helpless human, till the time they can fend for themselves. How prepared are we for this?
Keep in mind, humans are totally helpless when young, the child cannot provide shelter or feed or cloth itself, it is up to us the parents to do it.
The first seven years are said to be the most critical in setting the foundation for the kind of adult a child will grow to become. How are we fulfilling this provision role to ensure we set a firm and stable standard?
Parenting is not just paying the bills and ensuring the child is fed. Provision of basics is not enough.
Are we available when it comes to our children? Are we easily accessible to them or are they to be neither seen nor heard?
Do we look them in the eye when they speak to us, or are we buried in our phones, laptops and tv screens?
Are we approachable, or do they fear us?
Do we listen to them or just talk at them?
Obviously, boundaries and respect are important, but we should not let them fear to come to us. We are all they have in a cruel world, if they cannot turn to us and trust us, who can they trust?
It is not enough to just provide as a parent, we need to be responsible for and to our children.
How quick are we to respond to their needs? (Including young babies).
I do not mean we should drop everything and centre our lives around them, but we do need to be responsive to their needs and teach them patience too.
When playing and they get frustrated, how do we teach them coping strategies? Do we demean them or do we help them understand that it is normal to get frustrated and anxious at times.
If it is about something they want; talking to them about the difference between wants and needs, will help in this.
I also learnt something the other day about looking for opportunities to say yes to their wants, as per our resources and dependent on what it is they need. “Yes, you can have that toy, but for your birthday, or special occasion”, instead of an outright “No!”
Children learn more by what they see, than what we tell them. Are we responsible human beings in our personal lives?
How can we expect our children to learn responsibility when they see us shirk ours in various ways; Escaping work early, lying to get out of family commitments, e.t.c. They see all this.
Let us lead by example.
We should strive to encourage our children at all times. Through their successes and failures.
It also doesn’t hurt to carefully steer them towards the vision you have for them, and encourage them accordingly.
This is tricky and it is easy to steer them towards our failed dreams; visions we had for ourselves and impose (read force) them to actualise them. Let us not do that.
Ask them what their vision is, and guide them accordingly, we know our children; their strengths, weaknesses, talents and that they like. That knowledge will inform us on how best to encourage them.
Also let’s not compare our children to others. It is so easy to do this, but let us not. Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not be the one making your child miserable because they are not as good as the Joneses’ seemingly perfect child, or not doing things as well as their sibling. Just don’t. It inflicts wounds that fester inside and damage their self confidence and self worth.
Encouragement and nurturing go hand in hand. As parents we must try to be dream builders not dream crushers.
Is your child talented? Encourage and nurture that talent but! there is a big “but” here – keep in mind they are still children. And we should still let them be children.
Let us take care of them, be protective of what we expose them too.
This is easier said than done, as we might also end up being too protective. It is a delicate balance of allowing them to explore; but still remain within our sights.
As parents, we will drop the ball many times. Let us not be too hard on ourselves. We can strive to not give up, delegate our role or neglect it as the sole providers and nurturers of these precious children, no matter how difficult it will get at times.
We should keep offering direction, guidance, and discipline. We are their first teachers. Language, values, manners, how they talk and how they think, is up to how we train them.
Guiding them through each milestone is not an easy task, and many are the times we will ask ourselves what we signed up for and if we can hack it. We can and will hack this parenting thing but we have to be intentional in steering them the right way.
Leading by example, listening to them, correcting them, teaching them with love and patience the difference between right and wrong.
Training also includes basic body hygiene and how they conduct themselves in private and public. Toilet manners, table manners, making their beds, brushing their teeth, cleaning up after themselves, respecting authority and elders, proper communication. “Excuse me,” “pardon me,” “please,” “thank you,” “you are welcome,” ” sorry”, how to be safe, money sense, and many more.
We are the ones to teach them all this. Not the nanny, not the daycare provider, not the teacher, we the parents are the ones to do this.
There are age appropriate ways we can impart that knowledge to them as well as many teachable moments in our daily lives that we can use to do it.
Parenting is not an easy task, but with knowledge and guidance, and keeping a ‘village’ aka support system around us, that is respectful and shares our values, we will become more confident and feel less alone when navigating this parenting life.
What are some of your best parenting tips? Please share in the comment section.
Being a parent is interesting, it is a continuous learning process and a constant reminder on how much we do not know. On anything. Toys and playing for instance.
When you get your first child, you are excited and some of us go overboard with the toys. We read up on age appropriate toys, check reviews and buy them for our little tots, assuming they will be as excited as we are about them. Some kids are happy, at first. They will touch, sniff, try to taste the toy, throw it or even play with it. But the toys do not hold their attention for a long time. Many a time has a mum had to cook with a tot at her feet banging pot lids and plastic cups together. The child finds this more exciting than their store bought toys.
So you opt to get them a mini kitchen set to play with, but nope the real oven door is much more fun to try swinging with. Cake sprinkles are better for them to run their little fingers through than the beanbags you got them, and your cookbooks are much better finger painted on. Whew!
Anyway, as the kids grow older, you realise they are building and expanding their creativity and wonder how to help them enhance it. After a few deep breaths and a painkiller or two.
Both our kids are at the age where they are now learning their strengths, and what they want to work on. They are creative and innovative at what they choose to do. As a plus, they can now pick out the kind of toys they prefer. But it doesn’t end there. What they do with the toys or rather, how they play with them is where it gets interesting.
About a couple of years ago, my son got a really cool firetruck and my daughter a Christmas Holiday Barbie all decked in a red and gold gown with a faux fur cowl. You should see the doll now, first it was renamed. Then got bangs, then the gown discarded for a toga made from a cloth dinner napkin. The firetruck is still there unchanged but when it is being used for play, but it is not for fake fire rescue operations, noooo. It is used as a cargo truck to transport the smaller Hot Wheels from his room to the garden.
The most interesting thing for me though is how they incorporate other everyday bits and pieces they find around the house to enhance their play experience. I no longer discard kitchen paper rolls, cereal boxes, egg crates and even water bottle lids (for the big water bottles) once done, as the kids always find ways to use them up. I have seen my son turn an old egg crate into a ‘robot monster claw’, a woven shopping bag into a cape, torn socks into sock puppets, to name a few.
They each have a dedicated drawer for their sleeping toys, or those not being played with at the moment. In one drawer, Wonder Woman is sleeping next to GI Joe covered by a paper napkin, and the bigger dolls are seated watching the smaller dolls sleep in little repurposed boxes. An old cereal box has been used to hide toy cars from batman (who is a villain) in one of their games and Chase from Paw patrol will lead the other GI Joes in a sting to bring down the villainous Batman. Their story lines are humorous but intricate cliff hangers full of high speed chases, screams, rescues and happy endings.
They are also inspired by some of their favorite shows. I have been called upon to judge mudpies â la Chopped style, as well as been asked for plastic cutlery for them to showcase their meals like Tilly Ramsay. It is enlightening for me to watch them try new things, create stories in their minds and come up with characters and plot points all by themselves. I have to keep reminding myself to not interrupt them, but nurture and support their creativity. They still have to clean up after themselves though. There is no compromise on that here.
As I listen and watch them play, I can tell how they interact with each other, how they compromise, solve problems, fight and make up. By listening to them I am also able to know what influences them. The shows they watch, their friends and even the names they give to their toys do mean something to them.
It is important to let children play and let their imagination flow. Play teaches them organisation and planning skills. How to arrange for some things and how certain actions produce certain results. It teaches them social skills; communication, teamwork, patience, how to handle their emotions, empathy and sympathy, self control and how to love too.
I am learning a lot about my children by not only observing them but also playing with them. I have realised that the more interaction we have in relaxed play, the more they open up about themselves; what they like and do not like, how they want something done and it never ceases to amaze me how much we as parents and adults take this for granted. I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t buy toys for our children, if you can do so, just get them age appropriate ones. Let them play with their toys as well as those boxes and rolls you are about to throw out. Let their creativity amaze you and once in a while, ask to join in their fun imaginative world too, you will not regret it!
The love of reading is one of those things many parents wonder how to teach their children. How do we get them to love to read without it being burdensome? Which books should they read, and how can we encourage them from a young age? Where can we get the books? How can we know what they will enjoy?
Storytelling has been a part of human nature from time immemorial. Before humans developed written communication, myths and fables were passed on orally around the village fire. Through tales of legends of past times, dances, songs and poems, children were taught cultural and moral values, how society came to be, lessons in obedience and humility, caution and the importance of being safe, how to live in peace with nature, the cycle of life and death and many more important life lessons.
These days we buy our children books and magazines to supplement the language arts they are being taught in school. We may read or tell them bedtime stories, read religious texts together, but is it enough? We want our children to find joy in reading and boost their fertile imagination without it being a chore.
Some past philosophers compared children to a blank slate, ‘tabula rasa’, where it is upon us to determine what they should learn/ know. This idea has been challenged by later research findings, as we now know there are many more factors that affect how children learn. As parents, it is our responsibility to provide a proper learning environment for our children, that matches their capabilities. What and how a child reads is determined by their developmental changes, genetic makeup, their neuro diversity, and their environment. We have to keep this in mind as we teach them how to read.
Reading opens up a whole new world to us; it enables us to travel across time and space without leaving our homes. We learn new things, new words and phrases, improve our communication and become more open minded. We live in a world where we have to be well informed and up to date with what is going on around us. To do this for our children we need to let them read books that reflect the world around us accurately.
Reading not only entertains us, but also enables us to remember and treasure or discard different things from the past. We draw lessons we can apply in the present, learn how to be more tolerant and accepting of those that are different from us, learn the value of hard work, the sacrifices made by those gone before us, learn about the technological advancements made and understand life in general.
Books help us not shy away from topics we may find hard to approach with our children. Topics such as death, sex, war, violence, HIV- AIDs etc, can discussed with our children. “The Dead Bird” by Margaret Wise Brown, has been touted by many as a good book to approach how to talk about loss and death with our children. I also like this book pictured below that is great for talking to younger children about our bodies and to appreciate our physical differences.
We know children learn more from our actions. Do they see you read? My father was and still is an avid reader, we always had books, newspapers and magazines around the house. He read to us from a young age, and once we learnt how to read, he bought us different books as per our ages. I have fond memories of listening to him tell us old tales from our culture, read to us from “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories” Collections, and Christina Rosetti’s children’s poems. Buying Dr. Seuss books alongside African folktales collections. I remember reading about Anansi the Spider’s trickster ways next to Enid Blyton’s classics. Watching us read can trigger the reading bug in our children.
Buy or borrow from local libraries books that cover various interests too, as well as books that match their reading capability, their reading preferences and developmental stage. My daughter is at the stage where she loves reading adventure stories; we have to keep that in mind as we get her what to read. My son is crazy about cars and dinosaurs, so we are also kindling that interest.
It is never too early to read to your child. Read to them in their infancy, buy them picture books, where they can look at the colourful pictures and shapes. I like cloth and textured (also known as sensory) books that help awaken sense of touch and sight in toddlers, helping them visualise and appreciate the beauty in the pages. Nursery rhymes, alphabet and counting books for the pre schoolers are great choices too.
Books in your mother tongue and other languages help children not only learn the languages, but also make them appreciate the diversity of different cultures, will assist in imparting cultural values and teach them to respect the differences we have. Let them read books by local authors too, they will appreciate reading from and about characters who look like them and in settings similar to their own circumstances.
There is no shortage of ways to cultivate the love of reading to our children.
If you do not know where to start, you can begin by choosing books that are at their level of understanding. For the younger ones you can read some short stories to them. It is a treasured moment they will look forward too, whether a simple bedtime story or an impromptu story time session during a long trip. Read aloud to them and pronounce the words well, and if it is a word or phrase that is unfamiliar to them, ask them if they know or can guess what it means.
When reading to them, make it fun and interactive to keep them interested. Make it lively when reading. Facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, voice inflections will capture their interest in the story.
Encourage questions as you read. Let them interject and answer them before continuing with the story. Encourage feedback too, ask them what they think about what you read, or what they are reading for themselves. Did they enjoy the story? What did they think about the character and their choices? Would they like to read or hear more stories along those lines?
Buy them books as gifts. Rewards are always motivating, so get them books as a reward too. If they can read for themselves, get them books according to their reading ability and preference. Ask them what they enjoy reading. Stroll through the bookstore or library with them and let them go over the books they are interested in. It will give them a sense of independence and teach them how to make decisions. We should never under estimate the teachable moments all around us.
As parents, I know we want to expand their reading, and stay on top of what they read, so here is what I do; At the moment, my kids can borrow a maximum of three books a week from their school library, what I do is ensure there is at least one non-fiction book out of the three for each of them. A minimum of one non fiction will ensure that they will not only get entertained by their other selections, but will get to learn some factual information too.
Provide them with a variety of books to expand their imagination. From fantasy, to cultural tales, encyclopaedias, adventure stories, historical biographies, fables and legends to poetry. The list is endless. Also get them age appropriate dictionaries so they can know the meanings of the new words they come across while reading.
Let them read at their own pace. Do not rush them or force them, this will discourage them and make them feel like reading is burdensome.
Even 10 – 20 minutes is enough for them to read if you need them to improve on it. Remember, reading is fun, let us not turn it into an arduous activity for them.
A lot of children’s books these days have some interactive activities and questions at the back. Ask them if they need help to do some of the activities, which can be a great bonding session for all of you.
Do not shame your child over their reading preferences. Different types of stories expand their imagination. Every genre and tale has a lesson they can learn. You may feel fairy tales are ridiculous; The dashing heroes who come to save, the transformations of characters from animal to human, the characters’ suffering…but they offer hope and a happy ending when good triumphs over evil.
Personally, I like Winnie the Pooh and her fellow characters’ varying outlooks on life; they teach our children different perspectives. That it is indeed possible to have differing outlooks on life and still get along.
Books such as “The Magic School Bus” range and the “National Geographic Super Readers” Range, offer factual information in such a captivating way; your children will love knowing more about the universe, how our bodies work, the environment and many more interesting things.
It is very important to vet what our children are reading. What is influencing their current reading preferences? Check out the reviews of the books they are interested in and read the books themselves too. Not all books are good or written with the best intentions. Ensure they are reading books that go hand in hand with the values you want them to have.
We have to be proactive in encouraging our children to read. It is not enough to just buy them the books and let it be. Let us lead by example; let them see us read and talk about what we have read, even if it is a newspaper or magazine article. Have discussions with them on what they are reading and their thoughts about the characters or the storyline, or what they enjoyed most about their book.
Encourage them to write their own stories. You can even recreate some of the stories which might inspire them to do so too. My son turned his worn socks into sock puppets the other day and recreated a scene from something he had read with his sister’s help. It was quite entertaining to watch.
The best thing about books is we can find them almost everywhere. From ordinary bookstores, supermarkets, thrift markets, roadside sellers, online, garage sales, from friends, books fairs or local libraries, there are so many places one can access them.
You can also let them read online (with cyber safety measures in place, obviously). There are many websites and apps that you can download and create a profile for your child, and let them read various books. Try sites and apps such as Starfall, RAZ Kids, ABC and Adventure Academy, Mee Genius, Hoopla, Homer, and many more.
Reading nurtures patience, curiosity, tolerance, respect, humility, empathy and the most important lesson of all; that humans are equal. We just view the world in different ways.
Reading will make our children open minded, appreciate our diversity as inhabitants of our planet, learn how to solve problems, inform them of how the world around us works, learn to appreciate and nurture our environment and many more valuable lessons.
Before we know it, our children will be grown and out of our homes. The hunger to know and enjoy the process of learning new things, and seeking to understand the world we live in, are some of the important things we can teach them. A joy for reading will help us impart those lessons to them.
What else can we do to encourage our children to read?