Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stimulating Your Child's Curiosity and Thirst for Learning--

“Parents can plant magic in a child's mind through certain words spoken with some thrilling quality of voice, some uplift of the heart and spirit.”
~ Robert MacNeil--novelist, journalist

The early education of a child is a very crucial aspect of future success and happiness. Many parents, especially first-time parents, miss the greatest opportunity they will ever have to influence their children. It comes in the first five years of their lives, when they are ripe for learning, hungry for knowledge, and malleable. In that time, they are like sponges, ready to soak up the environment around them. It’s your responsibility as a parent to provide an environment that is rich and fertile.

A pilot who has lost an engine knows that the most useless thing there is the sky above him. Similarly, the years you do not spend time reading to and otherwise preparing your child for school and beyond are lost forever. You’ll never know how much better your children would have performed in school, or life, had they been better prepared. There are two major areas of preparation for school and life in general, those being academic and social readiness.

A dad is crucial in his children’s early education! He provides an alternative view and new approaches to learning and often a fresh face. There are customary and magical ways to prepare them for their future. A dad can provide both, but he can be particularly effective in the magic. What your child knows is secondary to their curiosity!

Reading and Talking to Your Child

The preparation of children from high-income families has the advantage of being spoken and read to. A lack of spoken words and mental stimulation hurts children of low-income families more than a lack of money! Welfare can help with money but it can’t help with the environment in the home. So we see that if low-income families could just embrace the idea of emphasizing reading and imagination in their children, they would do much better in school and possibly escape the predicament of their parent(s).

Magical Activities to Prepare Young Children for Learning
  • Stimulation is the magic ingredient in learning. When learning is an adventure then adventures are teaching.
  • Set them up to discover something. For example, teach them the shape of leaves for different trees then take them to a forest or park to find them.
  • Let them grow things. It has been shown that kids who grow their own vegetables will eat them. It also teaches responsibility and patience.
·      Another common yet important activity is playing with blocks or Legos--toys that are creative, that challenge solutions to be found, are three-dimensional, yet fun. You can also teach them counting, colors and letters in a fun way.

  • Kids love imaginary play with their dads. Give into it occasionally and ask them questions about their imaginary friends to get them to think and imagine even more.
  • Challenge them with options/choices. Would they rather ride an elephant or a train? What is a better present for Mom--their painting of her, or a making her breakfast? Always get them to think and make decisions.
  • Traveling teaches kids in a way schools can't. Take them on a train trip. Go camping and hiking. Take them to a farm or to the city. Let them see other cultures and other terrains when possible.
  • Teach them about monkeys or tigers, then take them to the zoo to see them instead of just wandering through without a purpose.
  • Occasionally, let your children help you around the house, even though it will slow you down. Explain what you’re doing and why, even though they may not understand.
  • When comets are forecast on a clear night, take your child on the roof (if safe) or on a high hill and watch for them. Go deep into the country on a moonless night and look at the Milky Way. Point out different stars and constellations.
  • Having your children understand these moments or lessons is not as important as the interplay and stimulus they get from it. The memories may last a lifetime.
Social Preparation
Socially, your children need to know how to play, share and cooperate with other children. Ask their friends along occasionally and observe their interactions. Social experience is important so they are not afraid of school or people. Friends are important for them both to enjoy, and to learn to deal with them. Get your kids involved in group activities that can be found in parks, libraries, and in the neighborhood.

Your children should know that the world is limitless in its beauty and variety. They should feel confident in themselves having been challenged enough to work, but within their capability. They should be outside as much as possible experiencing, not just watching, looking for four leaf clovers more often than watching Nick Jr. on television. Television should be a side dish, not the main course.

Children who have parents that read to then, notice them, listen to their questions, take them on small adventures and wallow in creeks, who take them on hayrides, look at clouds, and make snowmen together--these are the children who are stimulated with a love of learning. They are also learning they are loved They have an interest in many things. They are learning to love wonder and wander. What a beautiful way to start a life!

Michael Smith, the author of The Power of Dadhood: How to Become the Father Your Child Need, is the father of three adult children and grandfather of four. He is a retired US Air Force officer and resides with his wife in St. Louis, MO. Michael can be reached for question or comment at mike@michaelbyronsmith.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When You Lose Your Child at the State Fair

Is one really lost if they don't know they are lost?  That is a question I have returned to again and again after a recent incident at the State Fair of Minnesota.  

As Minnesotans living in the heat of Texas, the annual explosion of Facebook images at the end of August from the Great Minnesota Get-together causes me and my wife severe pains of nostalgia.  This year we remedied that with a trip back to Minnesota.

We spent the weeks before our arrival making plans to attend the fair with friends, just like in the old days.  Unlike the old days, we would be making this trip with friends . . . and children.  Among the six adults there were eight children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years to keep track of.     Since my brood accounted for half the children present we were playing zone defense.  This is not uncommon, but the degree of difficulty increases when you consider the unfamiliar and expansive nature of the terrain and the 180K people in attendance that day.

At the start of the day, I recognized the chance of losing one of my three boys and we all made plans for what to do in the event this happened.  My oldest, in particular, is super independent and one of those kids who is always running ahead, whether it be at the mall, the trail leading into the Grand Canyon, or even the dentist (we have an awesome dentist, but still).  I specifically pulled him aside when we got to the grounds to remind him where to go and reminded him to stay put if he lost contact with us at any point.

Skip ahead to the end of the day. We are watching the tail end of the midday parade head off into the crush of humanity and packing up to start back to the bus that will take us to where we left our car.  Sawyer, our oldest, tells Sarah that he is going to start walking.  She calmly tells him "No," asks for him to wait, and returns to getting the 18-month-old buckled into the stroller. 

When she turns around Sawyer is nowhere to be seen.  Assuming he just started walking down the street we start heading that way.  When we get to the end of the street where he should be waiting for us, like countless time throughout the day, he is nowhere to be seen.  I am annoyed; Sarah is fearfully annoyed; and his younger brothers are angry because they want to play baseball with their uncle waiting at home (they wanted to leave him at the Fair).

We divide and conquer, another dad and I looping in the directions we think Sawyer might be headed. Two moms head back to the meeting spot and Sarah heads to the police station to report a missing child.  

After an hour and a half of looking, I finally locate him at the very bus stop we arrived at earlier in the day.  This was over a mile away and involved navigating the entire length of the fairgrounds.  Obviously, I was relieved to have found Sawyer, but he was not the least bit bothered by being separated from everybody else for over an hour. 

When he couldn't find us, he returned to the designated meeting spot and didn't see anybody so figured we all headed to the buses.  He remembered the Skyway was located where we came in, so he just followed the tracks through the 180,000 people the entire length of the fairground and out the gate. 

He reasoned "I knew you wouldn't leave me, and you would have to get on a bus eventually so I just came here and waited."  I have to admit part of me was proud of his independence, but he also inconvenienced everybody else and people were genuinely afraid for him.

The next day we talked through the whole event and recapped what had happened and what choices he could have made differently.  I did this with his brothers present. Although they are unlikely to get lost, if they did accidentally get separated, they are also not nearly as independent. They needed to hear how Sawyer solved problems and kept himself safe. They also needed to know what he could have done differently.

Independence is a double edged sword. We want our kids to be independent eventually, but how much is too much?  Sawyer never got upset because he never considered himself lost, even if the rest of us did.  As parents we are continually given chances to help our kids gain confidence and independence that will serve them well as they grow up, but sometimes we wish it wasn't in such stressful situations.

A. Minor Baker is the husband of Sarah and father of four, currently residing in Austin, Texas. When he's not working as a research assistant at Texas State University or riding his bicycle, he can be reached for question or comment at minorbaker@gmail.com.  

To hear Dr. Baker and Josh-the-Dad talk with Minor, click this link.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Helping Our Kids to Succeed in School and in Life

The other day my wife and I overheard a conversation between two young moms regarding preschool. We were amused by the fact it sounded more like an exchange comparing the virtues of Harvard and Yale, than it did one contrasting the arts and craft time at two early childhood programs—ones, I might add, which are held in church basements.

We were amused because we so vividly remember painstakingly mulling over such things, especially in our early years of parenting. You would be hard-pressed to find a parent who does not wish to see his or her child succeed. I am not talking primal parental competitions, such as “my kid has to crawl before your kid.” I am talking about the sincere desire to simply see children find their way in school and life by a competent, confident and complete means.

Research regarding achieving success has been done to death. There are books, seminars, conferences, and TedTalks from which we can gather information on helping our kids make it in both school and life. While many of these things are indeed helpful, we have to keep in mind that each one of our children is unique, just as each of his or her parents.

Like most parents, I wanted my boys to succeed. I want them to find their passions and fan them into flame. In theory, that sounds lovely. In reality, it is tough. Fortunately, I can share a few things from my hits and misses, which I hope will encourage and challenge you in efforts to support your own children in achieving success, not only in their schooling, but also in life!

Time. I know, I know. The experts are always telling us dads to spend more time with our kids. But, in order to clearly see the talents and desires in our children’s hearts, we have to spend time with them. There are no shortcuts to this one.

Discernment. How much money have therapists made off of adult children bemoaning jobs and lives they feel trapped in because it was what “my father wanted?” Use wisdom in discerning if what you are encouraging your child to do is what he or she wants to do or is gifted to do…or what you want him or her to do.

Tools. It’s virtually impossible in both time and money for the majority of dads to spend large amounts of these resources on a myriad of interests and activities, but there are hints to guide us. If you start to notice your little football/baseball/soccer/tennis player whines about going to all of his or her practices, except for tennis you might want to cut back and focus on giving him or her all of the tools you can in that one area. I’m not suggesting your children not try various things, or not be well rounded. Just consider scaling back on doing a little in a lot of things, and instead do a lot in one or two.

Sidelines & Bleachers. This really could be called “Discernment Part II.” Above all else, know when to be a sideline supporter and when to be a bleacher supporter. Sometimes, our kids need us right beside them, cheering and jumping up and down. But sometimes, especially as they get older and make more of their own choices, they need us to sit up in the stands of life, quietly giving our support.  We need to let them know we are there when they need us, but let them shine on their own.

I think of those preschool moms holding hands with their children just entering the stadiums of school and life. I think of myself in an airport traveling home from briefly visiting a grown son and his wife. Now is the time when I sit in the bleachers, at times wanting to shout out what he should do, but remembering it’s his time to carry the ball. I have to trust that the time I spent with him, the discernment I tried to use, and the tools I put in his toolbox, have given him all the support he will need, no matter where I stand or sit in his life.  I think that’s a big part of being a “Good Dad.”

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at kweaver@network211.com.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Helping Kids Succeed -- by Sid Whiting, Springfield Father of Three

How do we measure our children’s success?  Straight As on a report card?  Starting player on the football team?  Popularity among their peers?  Moving out of the house after finishing high school or college?  These are all fine things, and we can encourage them to a healthy level.  But do any of these things equal success?

I know a Dad whose son who will never get straight As, will never be a starting player on the football team, won’t fit the typical definition of “popular” among his peers, and will likely never move out of the house.  His son suffers from severe autism and is confined to a wheel chair.  He requires 24-hour-a-day monitoring, feeding, bathing, and can only communicate his needs through moans and gestures.  How will this Dad measure and encourage his child’s “success?”

As an aspiring Good Dad, I am a life-long servant of those who depend on me and, to a greater or lesser degree, my children will never stop depending on me.  I need to set my expectations for each of my children based on who they are and what they need.  Some children may launch from the nest early and succeed more than I ever will.  I try to imagine being a Dad of such legends as Microsoft founder Bill Gates or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.  Those “kids” probably won’t ever ask Dad to spot them a $20 for groceries or gas to get to work.  But does that mean they still don’t need a Good Dad?

A common characteristic of all Good Dads is availability—at whatever stage in life, to serve their children’s needs and be an encouragement to them.  Unlike the Dad mentioned above with a special needs son, most of us aren’t required to serve ALL their needs for a lifetime.  If our kids are able to work, then they ought to work.  If they’re able to provide for their family, then they ought to provide for their family.  But what if their marriage is a mess or their kids are rebellious and they haven’t got a clue what to do? Perhaps our adult kids get sick and need us to care for them.  We must be prepared to speak with wisdom and caring into their lives when asked, and that means having a solid relationship built on trust.

Dads just a few generations ago needed their kids to stick around to help with the family farm and to care for them in their old age.  Having a solid relationship with one’s kids wasn’t optional: it was necessary for survival!  As Americans, we don’t have that tradition any more, for the most part.  In an ironic twist, we’ve gone 180 degrees opposite.  Today it’s awkward to talk about kids sticking around home past their early 20s.  I know some Dads have an “18 and out” rule that says once you’ve finished high school you are out the door.  Is that kind of attitude going to help me establish the relationship I want, and if not, what would I do differently?

First, I intend to get rid of what anyone else says I ought to be doing and take a good look at who my kids are.  I’m learning about their interests and abilities.  I’m taking stock of their strengths and weaknesses.  I encourage them to try new things, but always let them know that lack of success in one area doesn’t equal lack of success as a person. 

It may take a hundred set backs and failures before finding success, and even after achieving success, who is to say that particular success will last forever?  That’s when my kids need a Good Dad to talk to, to build them up in a world that will constantly try to tear them down and wear them out.  In the end, I’ll measure my kids’ success by whether or not we have a quality relationship.

Sid Whiting is the father of three and the husband of one. He lives with his wife Gail and their children in Springfield, Missouri. He also enjoys real estate investing, serving in the 135th Army Band as a percussionist and bass guitarist, and plays in the Praise Band "Soul Purpose" and the "Hallelujah Bells" hand bell choir.  He can be reached for comment or question at sid.whiting75@gmail.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WiseSteward).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Helping Children Succeed in School and Life -- Jeffrey Sippy, a Dad in Training

If it is true that confession is good for the soul let me confess to you:  I am a meddling parent. I am a helicopter.  I involve myself where I don’t belong.  I hover around where I am not needed.  Forgive me. 

I mean well.  But my best intentions do not always turn out with in the best way.  Sometimes I embarrass my children in ways that they wish I wouldn’t.  They forgive me and accept that this is “just the way Dad is.”  On worse occasions, however, I have completely crossed the line.  I have hurt and angered my children.  This is not the way to be a Good Dad.    

For our children to succeed in school and life they need us close by.  They need us invested and involved.  But they do not need us meddling in their lives or hovering about.  For our children to succeed they need us to be there for them, but they do not need us to be in the way. 

There is a very important and fine line between “being there” for our children and “being in the way.”  We must be willing to admit when we are wrong; say “I’m sorry;” and ask for help and advice.    

Without going into gory detail, I am learning – slowly.  You can learn, too: 

  • Do not talk to your children’s coaches about their playing time or position on the team.
  • Do not pout or shout in the stands.  Suffer Silently. Be a team player.
  • Do not talk bad about your children’s teachers, school, church, or friends.  It will divide your children’s heart.
  • Don’t talk bad about your children to anyone.  Any circumstance.  Even in fun. It’s not funny.
  • Support your children’s dating and romance but no meddling or hovering.
Trust your children.  When we truly care for our children we will value what is important to them.  We are not looking for our children’s success to affirm us as parents.   We are looking to help our children succeed, to grow in confidence, independence, and feelings of self-worth.  They will survive disappointments. They will be o.k.

Our children do not need us fighting every battle for them or paving every path.  Our children need our love and support.  But they also need us to let them fail on their own and try new things.   With increasing age and maturity children can make increasing decisions for themselves.  They might make mistakes.   Who doesn’t? 

It isn’t easy being a parent.  It isn’t easy being a Good Dad.  We are going to make mistakes.  But we can do better when we do it together.  For our children to succeed in school and in life they need us to be there for them; they need us to be close by; but they do not need us to be in the way.

Good luck.  You are a Good Dad. 

Jeff Sippy, a Dad-In-Training, is the father of three young men and the husband of Cindy. He enjoys sailing every chance that he gets. He is the senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Springfield, MO and can be reached for question or comment at jsippy@rlcmail.org

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Engaged Fathers Good for Dads & Business -- Dr. Jennifer Baker, Executive Director

You probably know that father engagement is good for kids. You’re probably not surprised that it is also good for dads. But I wonder if you were aware that engaged fathers are good for companies and their bottom line?

According to a 2015 study in the Academy of Management Perspectives, “the more time fathers spend with their children on a typical day, the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the less likely they want to leave their organizations. Further, they experience less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment.” (Study surveyed nearly 1000 fathers working an average of 46 hours/ week).

In another study, Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley and Kessler found that nearly $6 billion a year is lost in decreased productivity stemming from marriage and relationship difficulties. Included in those relational difficulties are the children impacted by less contact with their fathers.

Beginning Tuesday, September 13, Good Dads will offer a six-week series of Tuesday noon lunches focused on helping dads be more engaged with their children. This fall’s theme, “Helping Your Child Succeed,” includes lively, interactive topics by Dr. Jennifer Baker with “take home tools” to help fathers be relationally better with their kids. Each week will also include an inspirational talk by a local community leader about the difference a dad makes.  (Watch for more details.)

This fall’s line-up includes the following:

Sept. 13 . . . Brandon Beck, KY3                                                
Sept. 20 . . . Dr. John Jungmann, Supt., SPS
Sept. 27 . . . Paul Lusk, Men’s BB Coach, MSU    
Oct. 4 . . . .  Paul Williams, Springfield Police Chief
Oct. 11 . . . . Doug Pitt, Care to Learn Founder
Oct. 18 . . . . Dr. Carol Taylor, President, Evangel

 How can you be involved in this program that will benefit Dads?

  • Make them aware of the Good Dads Lunch Series. (We can provide flyers and weekly-emails.)
  • Take time to attend the one-hour lunch on Tuesdays from September 13 through Oct. 18.
  • Sponsor a lunch. (Lunches are provided at no cost, but we do benefit from business sponsors.)

If Tuesday lunches don’t fit your schedule, Good Dads is happy to work with you to develop a program to benefit the dads you work with or employ, as well as the dads you serve. It’s a win-win for your dads and the places they work. Want to know more? Please contact us at Jennifer@gooddads.com or call (417) 501-8867.

Dr. Jennifer Baker is the wife of one dad, the mother two adult children, and the grandmother of eight. She had a great dad herself and is committed to helping more dads be engaged with their children. She can be reached at jennifer@gooddads.com.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making the Back-to-School Transition: Springfield Dad Kevin Weaver

I recently saw a cartoon that compared and contrasted a young man’s first day of kindergarten to his first day of college. In the first frame, the child was hugging a tree and yelling, “I don’t want to go!” while the mom tugged at her son, trying to ensure he made the bus. The second frame showed the same yard, same tree, same mom, but with a grown child walking to a car at the curb, packed to the gills for a trek to college. The mom was running after her son and yelling, “I don’t want you to go!” Talk about a contrast.

As a parent of grown children, I get this. School changes a lot of things for not only kids, but also entire families. Whether it’s preschool or a year to study abroad, when our children leave our homes and begin to spend the bulk of their days with others, from classmates to instructors, we face times of transition.

When thinking of what our kids faced in heading back to school, my wife and I always relied on the theory that we all, in a sense, were going back to school. Other than our first son’s first day of kindergarten, when my wife hauled our younger two sons with her to stake out a spot across the street from the playground in order to spy on the oldest boy to make sure all was well, we typically haven’t gone to school with our kids. But, in addition to the physical backpacks and supplies our kids carry, they take with them a figurative backpack, one we have helped them pack for their entire lives. More important than the right pencils, paper, flash drives, and markers are the right behaviors, attitudes and overall life management skills. As we help our children choose and pack the right supplies, we also have to keep in mind that they are constantly watching us pack and unpack our own “backpacks.”  The modeling, the investment of time, the love, all of these things contribute to that “little voice” of ours that gets to go back to school with our kids.

In the hustle and bustle of the back to school rush, remember that the effects of transition trickle both down and up in a family. While parents and grandparents readily admit feeling these effects, we often overlook the fact that siblings are also affected. When our eldest went off to kindergarten, our younger two had a hard time understanding why their big brother wasn’t around to play with throughout the day. Likewise, when our eldest went of to university, the younger two had a hard time settling into a routine in a home that seemed “weird” without their big brother around.

Back to school or off to school, whatever you call it, is a transitional time in life we all face as parents and families, sometimes on an annual basis. Some of us will experience the phenomenon for years to come. Take heart and remember, while you are out rummaging through the college-ruled paper bin looking for wide ruled paper, you can also work at filling that figurative backpack. Whether kindergarten or college, our kids need us to “go with them.” 

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at kweaver@network211.com.